Sunny Ade at 77: 10 Reasons He  Still Remains Relevant

King Sunny Ade

In spite of the coming of pop artistes, King Sunny Ade refuses to be relegated to the background. Here are the factors

David Edremoda

 The time was 10 pm. King Sunny Ade (Chief Sunday Adeniyi Adegeye), dressed in white buba and sokoto lace material, breezed into the premises of LASCOFED (Lagos State Cooperative Federation Limited), on Wempco Road, Ogba Ikeja, Lagos in the night of 24 October 2015. He just arrived from the 80th birthday party of Sir Kessington Adebutu (Baba Ijebu, for style), owner of Premier Lotto Limited, in Ishara Remo, Ogun State.  The show, that night in Ikeja, meant to mark Sunny Ade’s 69th birthday, was to start by 10 pm. However, by 3pm, the premises of LASCOFED was jammed to the rafters. No free seats! Every available space was fully booked. People were on tip-toe expectancy.

Bulk of the audience was made up of middle class people: bankers, insurance magnates, medical doctors, journalists , lawyers, captains of industry and other high heeled music aficionados. Sunny came with his full band. He mounted the stage at 11.15 pm. For three hours, nobody could sit down. That was because of his out-of this-world performance. His dance steps did not reveal his nearly 70 years on earth. He would spread his two hands as if he wanted to fly, look sideways like a cockerel doing a mating dance and his legs would waltz in dizzying frequency into the rhythm of his musical ensemble.

He exhibited this virtuoso performance on 21 July the same year in Abuja when former President Bill Clinton of the United States visited Nigeria and was hosted by his Nigerian counterpart, Olusegun Obasanjo. Sunny’s tune that night in Abuja was, Ni Faaji, kelele! The way he swayed his torso, craned his neck as he played his guitar so enthralled the audiene that President Clinton sprang to his feet and did a foxtrot. Everyone howled in appreciation.

These two shows and more kept many wondering how, in spite of the challenges posed by new artistes and their pop culture, Sunny refuses to be banished into artistic oblivion. The landscape is  filled up with many artistes doing well in their chosen genres: Tubaba (Innocent Idibia), Burna Boy, Morello or Sunkami Temitope Ojudu (Senator Babafemi Ojudu’s son), Wizkid, Davido, Simi, Yemi Alade, Mayorkun, Tiwa Savage, Omawunmi, Patoranking, Timaya, Falz (Femi Falana’s son), Teni, Niniola, Omah-Lay, Zlatan, Bella-Shmurda, Naira Marley, Kizz Daniel, Fire Boy, Joe Boy, Olakira, Zinoleesky, Tems, Tekno, Adekunle Gold, Olamide, and others.

Classics/Evergreen Works

One of the talents standing Sunny in good stead is his ability to produce classics or evergreen records. His songs of over 40 years ago are still relevant today. The new musicians have their crowds in the millinnials who enjoy them. However, some of their songs do not stay in the market for more than six months. That

Patronage by Rich People and the Middle Class

The old, rich people and middle class still enjoy him. This is what keeps Sunny busy so much so that he is fully booked in advance from January to December every year. In fact, Sunny has his fans too among the young. Conversely, the audience of new artistes is restricted to members of their generation. Put differently, Sunny is not idle; he is busy all the year round, doing shows. Put differently, Sunny’s audience is elevated or high caliber. Akani Okoya, eleganza boss and Alhaji Aliko Dangote, the richest man in Africa, are his patrons. In fact, at a live play, Sunny Sang: “Dangoo, Dangote, Seriki me sugar…” 

His Music Cuts Across Ethnic Groups

In line with Joseph Conrads assertion about the “universal suggestiveness of music,”

Sunny’s songs and beats goes beyond his Yoruba enclave. When he played at the opening of FESTAC 77, he went universal:

“Welcome welcome, ladies and gentlemen,

You are welcome to Nigeria (2)

Where the FESTAC is taking place,

You are welcome to Nigeria

His Full Albums Stand Him in Good Stead

Sunny Ade, like his other contemporaries, were (and are still) capable of producing full Long Playing Albums (LPs). An album can take between 10 and 15 tracks.

However, the new artistes dwell on singles.

That is why Sunny’s songs remain in constant demand. In fact, Mr Femi Esho Evergreen Records Limited took it upon himself to package the works of the old musicians like Sunny for people who need them. Sunny’s song, as listed below, are among.

Merciful God,  Ja fun mi, Mo to ko, Aye Nreti Eleya Mi o, Ma Jaye Oni,  

Ariya, Suku Suku Bam Bam, Sunny Ti De, Eje nlogba ara mi, 365 is my number 

No beru agba,Ode mi ti pogidan soko, Sijuade, Ekilo fomo ode, Kiti kiti, Maa jo

His Mastery of Instruments

Unlike the new artistes, Sunny Ade’s mastery of instruments is legendary. According to Art historians, he introduced the pedal steel guitar to Nigerian pop music. He introduced the use of synthesizers, clarinet, vibraphone, tenor guitar into the jùjú music repertoire such as dub and wah-wah guitar licks. Another art critic, Jason Gross, in June 1998 quoted Sunny as explaining that he used these instruments not as an attempt to innovate, but “as a substitute for traditional jùjú instruments which were too difficult to find and/or impractical for touring. The pedal steel guitar, for instance, was added to his repertoire as a sound-alike for an African violin.” For these and more, Sunny is on demand internationally.

In “Ẹ Ṣù Biribiri,” Odolaye Aremu, another art critic, argued that the flip side, “was and still my best. The guitar riffs in four spatial chords that announced the song and the smooth welcome of the bass by Sarafa Bello [his drummer] is still something I marvel over. Even back then I had a huge sense that Sunny was going to be huge. For his uncanny understanding of melody stood him apart from the rest…” 

His Songs Are Issues Based

Sunny Ade, like his contemporaries, sing about universal themes like love, religion, parenting, matrimony,  issues of the day or personal tragedies and conflicts with others. This is contrary to what obtains today about sensationalism and absurdities like “Nigeria jaga jaga”!

Odolaye Aremu, the art critic, gave an example of the conflict that Sunny Ade had with Bolarinwa Abioro, the owner of his recording company. It was an issue that he waxed into lyrics that carried everyone along.

In the words of Aremu: “Asides the music itself, the images he (Sunny) deployed in full, on that track are just too powerful! His voice was confident and compelling as he paid homage to the phantom forces behind the scene: “à mọ́ mo ti ṣ’èbà Èdùmàrè Ọba tó láyé, mo ti seba gbogbo àgbà tí nbẹ niwaju mi o dede ọmọ àwo ó, mo ṣ’èbà àwọn ìyá mi ọ̀pàké ọ̀làké, aké ruru a là ruru…” A discerning listener with that very powerful line would surmise that Sunny, then at just 28 – a damn young man- was nobody’s Mugun. He evidently just blew out one of the biggest forces in the industry at the time in court. “… nítorí ọ̀wọ̀ kókó la fí n’wọ ‘gi. Ọ̀wọ̀ òrìṣà la fí n’wọ àfín. Enikan kii bá idà lọrun eṣinṣin…ẹnikan kii bá ṣẹkẹ́ṣẹkẹ̀ pàdé lẹsẹ eṣinṣin láyé nbi…”

The bass kept on in a funky, smooth, bluesy roll. “…àní won lọ para wọn pọ ó jàre ó, wọn ní wón fẹ́ẹ́ bá t’ẹyẹ agbe jẹ, wọn ṣe’ṣi wọn lọ t’ìyẹ́ ẹyẹ agbe b’aró…” And his voice: cool, calm, young, assured, commanding, confident with an unmistakable tinge of victory mixed with relief, without missing a beat kept on delivering those powerful, poetic images – we, the Yorubas beautifully refer to as Ọfọ̀, or Àyájọ́ or simply – incantations. Of course the specific message the young music star was sending out was direct as it was coded: “Go ahead and mess with me at your peril!”  The rhythm section stay steadily on point. Alhaji Tiamiyu in the background was doing his thing. The lone question I may have for the King peradventure we meet is: ‘What was the mood like in the studio the day the album was recorded?’”


Why stage drama is rated higher than movies is that in the latter, editing can be done to eliminate errors. But on stage, an actor should be in his best performance by all means, because he is in direct contact with the audience. This also applies to Sunny who can, during a live play, come up with new songs to sing his high heeled clients’s panegyrics.

That is why Sunny’s fans will never forsake him.

With Sunny’s Performance, You Will Never Be Bored.

Sunny is both a performer and singer. His acrobatics on stage is legendary. He displayed this sometimes in 2006 in Ilobu near Oshogbo in Osun State during the burial of Chief Joseph Afolabi, owner of Ogo Oluwa Kiitan Records. He handled Sunny’s record label before Abioro took over.

That day, the VIP area was cordoned off by cops. Sunny held everyone spellbound with his dance steps. At a point, Sunny told the Police to allow the over 800 towns people behind the cordon to come in. And did he dance! Ilobu people howled in appreciation.

Sunny is Still Fit

Sunny is 75 years old and he is not tired yet. This keeps his old and new fans close to him perpetually. In fact, he is so much in high demand that he determines when his clients will fix their functions. In other words, you have to fix your wedding or burial or remembrance or house warming to fit into Sunny’s yearly or monthly itinerary.

Providence, Grace or Luck!

At any gathering, Sunny is always ready to acknowledge God in his life and professional trajectory. Call it grace, God or Providence or mother luck, Sunny did not suffer creative atrophy, debilitating disease or untimely death. These tragedies have cut shut the career of many creative people. That is why Sunny is still in high demand.

The Man, Sunny

Born on 22 September 1946, in Osogbo to a Nigerian royal family from Ondo and Akure, his father was, according to Wikipedia, a church organist, while his mother, Maria Adegeye (née Adesida), was a trader. Sunny left grammar school in Ondo City under the pretense of going to the University of Lagos. It was thus in Lagos that his mercurial musical career began.

Sunny’s musical sound has evolved from the early days. His career began with Victor Olaiya’s (Baba Sala, the late comedian) Federal Rhythm Dandies, a highlife band. He left to form a new band, The Green Spots, in 1967. Over the years, for various reasons ranging from changes in his music to business concerns, Sunny Adé’s band changed its name several times, first to African Beats and then to Golden Mercury.

King Sunny was influenced by Juju pioneer Tunde Nightingale and borrowed stylistic elements from his ‘So wa mbe’ style of juju.

He founded the King Sunny Ade Foundation, an organization that includes a performing arts center, a state of the art recording studio, and housing for young musicians.

He is a visiting lecturer at the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and recipient of the Order of the Federal Republic.

*David Edremoda, an art critic who is based in Benin City, wrote this originally for alice, Air Peace inflight (tourism) magazine