KSA@70: I didn’t know music would take me to this level
The highpoint of it will be a mega international concert in Lagos, featuring notable African music stars such as Awilo Logomba, Youssou N’Dour and many others. There are indications that America musician, Stevie Wonder, who he once worked with, may join the star parade to celebrate him.Born to a Nigerian royal family in Ondo, thus making him an omoba of his people, Sunny Ade’s father was a church organist, while his mother was a trader. He left grammar school in Ondo in the pretense of attending the University of Lagos. It was in Lagos that his musical career started.
His career began with Moses Olaiya’s Federal Rhythm Dandies, a highlife band, before he left in 1967 to form a new band, The Green Spots. Over the years, for various reasons, ranging from changes in his music to business concerns, Ade’s band changed its name, first to African Beats and then to Golden Mercury. But no matter what he has been able to achieve as a bandleader, KSA says he owes his success story to his mentor and boss, Baba Sala.
He asserted, “Let me say that Baba Sala is my boss and will continue to be my boss for life. I played percussion in his band. We used to play IK Dairo’s music; I was the youngest in the band. When he decided to have a theatre company, he told me to see to the music side. So, I was the one in charge of the music; I handled opening and closing glee. In-between, I was always back stage playing music; I played every instrument.”
In recounting his experiences with the theatre group, the master guitarists remarked: “It was a traveling theatre; we danced to the town to encourage people to come and watch the show. From 8am in the morning till about 6pm, we will be playing non-stop. Sometimes, when you want to eat something or drink water, you will use one hand to play and use the other to drink; not in a bottle, but in a cup. In the end, half of the water is spilled, but you would have taken some. Sometimes, you missed the beat and the other person will knock your head. It was interesting.”
It was while working with the band that the big break came.He recalled, “It was from Baba Sala himself, through his friend, that I became a bandleader. His friend gave me instruments. He had it in his home and he told me to come and see it, but I told him I wouldn’t be able to come because I didn’t have the intention of forming a band. ‘How will I bite the fingers that fed me?’ But he persuaded me; he told me he was Baba’s friend. But I said, ‘well, good luck to you, sir.”
Eventually Baba Sala, who must have seen KSA’s shinning stars, stepped in.“He said to me, ‘Sunday, this is an opportunity for you; go and try. From nine months to one year, if you cannot do anything, come back here; I’m your father.’ I’m yet to go back till today. I didn’t know music would take me to this level. Today, I used to say to my band members, ‘if you feel like forming a band, go and try; if it didn’t work, let me know.’ Maybe I’m lucky.”
After the death of Bob Marley, Island Records began looking for another third world artiste to put on its label. Arista Records had just signed on Fela Kuti. Producer Martin Meissonnier introduced King Sunny Ade to Chris Blackwell; this led to the release of Juju Music in 1982. Robert Palmer claimed to have brought KSA to Island’s attention, his familiarity stemming from his stay on Malta, in the 1960s listening to African Radio and Armed Forces Radio. Ade gained a wide following with this album and was soon hailed as ‘the African Bob Marley.’However, his refusal to allow Island to meddle with his compositions and over-Europeanise and Americanise his music was the reason Island then decided to look elsewhere.
Though he belongs to the ‘old skool’, Ade has worked with some young Nigerian artistes on different platforms.“We are all new generation artistes,” he said, bursting into laughter. “You know why, because they play along with me and I play along with them, too. Wizkid is one of the musicians in this country who is on the line up with me for collaboration. I have 9ice, even Dare Art Alade; a lot of them want to do something with me. My door is open for anybody to come, as along as you really know what you want to do with me and I know what I want to do with you.”
He observed: “There are good musicians today who we are proud of. But what I used to tell those I meet is, ‘we have made some mistakes in the past. Please, check what we did wrong in the past; remove them and replace them with good ones. When you join it to your own good ones, then you will have a better industry.’ Our ancestors, too, made some mistake, but from their own mistakes, we inserted good ones that worked for us.”
On the quality of Nigerian music today, KSA commended the creativity of young talents, but decried the disappearance of major recording studios from the country.“Before now, you can tell the quality of our music; it depends on how it is being recorded, where it’s being recorded and what you used to play it. I will say music is always there; it’s for the producer to find that particular sound that will suit the ears of listeners. In Nigeria today, you can count how many studios we have; you can even count how many are the good ones. In the olden days, we had so many good studios around – Philips, Decca, EMI, etc. Today, everybody has a small studio in his room and many of our stars are going to South Africa to mix so that the sound will be up to quality level.”
He continued: “Every musician in this country is struggling. Piracy is killing us. Nowadays, your music can be downloaded by anybody. They can even come and tell you, ‘come and listen, it’s even better than the ones you recorded.’ How do you feel about that? Even the younger generation today, they are struggling because we have much music on air today. God knows how many of them are being given money. I would count myself one of the luckiest.”
For Sunny Ade, touring with a 50-man band is not an easy task, adding, “We have about 22 to 23 persons on stage and when you include the engineers, dancers, and 10 set up persons, it comes to 50 persons. We have two trucks that move our instruments because we might not be able to tell where we are performing next. It is not easy to move a big band; it is all by the grace of God.”
Notwithstanding the challenges, Ade had always wanted to lead a big band, saying, “I knew I was going to move a big band. The way we do our things is more or less like a family; if we go to a show and it is ok, we are happy. Even when the show is not up to our expectation, we still play very well because we don’t know who is watching. Also, in the 1980s and 1990s, I moved about 29 members abroad, but now I cut down; from five dancers, we have two. From 23 band members, we have 17, plus two engineers.”
KSA is among a select few of the world’s greatest artistes, whose musical instruments have been preserved in the hallowed Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S. Also preserved for posterity and tourism is the costume of KSA for tourists and visitors to the museum, which accommodates not less than 16,000 instruments of great artistes, including the piano of the Beatles’ John Lenon, Stradivarius violin and Taylor Swift’s guitar.
He enthused, “It was donated to them because they are using it to raise money for charity. One day, you will go to Arizona and see that museum; it’s one of the biggest museums in the whole world. You will see what you haven’t seen before. I will say that in my 70 years on the planet, there are some musical instruments I haven’t seen.”
During his recent tour, KSA and his band had the opportunity of playing at the museum.“I went there to play because, all the while, people have been going to sign at that corner, but they haven’t seen me perform. So, during our last tour, I played there; the whole place was filled up. Even if you clapped, you would think you are in a studio. I had to control the sound to make them know that this is African music. I thank God we had standing ovation; I made them to sing along.”
Just recently, Sunny Ade was awarded N500 million in damages, after suing record manufacturing company, African Songs, and its subsidiary, Take Your Choice Records. The suit was filed in 1975, and Justice James Tsoho of the Federal High Court in Lagos, ordered both companies to pay the damages.A contract dispute had first arose between both parties, and the court had then ordered that the master tapes of the original musical works belonging to Ade, produced under the label, be returned to him. The then CEO of both companies, Chief Bolarinwa Abioro, died before the tapes were returned, and in 1997, KSA dragged both parties again before a Federal High Court, claiming the unreturned master tapes had been used to reproduce his work and were sold without his permission.
“I won the case by God’s grace and they were told to pay damages,” he stated. “They are yet to do that. The next thing I saw now is an appeal. So, I can’t say more on that now. I believe by God’s grace, we will get them to give me my master tapes, which is much more higher than the money they will pay. Master tapes are for life. If they join it together with the money, that will be good because I need money and I pray they will be able to do so. But at the moment, my lawyer told me that they brought an appeal. So, we are going to work on that.”
AS for his Grammy nominations, KSA said, “I’m lucky to be one of the nominated artistes, alongside Femi Kuti. When Femi came with his Grammy nomination document, I was the first to go and meet him at Raypower FM to congratulate him. But we are not the ones doing it; it’s an American award organisation. However, one day will be one day! If I didn’t get it, someone else will get it. But I want to get it first because I was the first to be nominated.”
However, the future, as far as KSA is concerned, lies in God Almighty’s hands.“Let me say it clearly to you, ‘I’m not God,” he said. “I can only think of what I think I can, but God has the final say. We hope to have another album this year to celebrate my birthday. We are working on so many of them, but we just have to do something by God’s grace.”
At 70, Sunny Ade has just one fear. “The only fear that used to come to me is, ‘I don’t know when God will say, ‘stop giving your fans what they want.’ But I don’t fear simply because God does His own things in His own way. If He wants me to play for so many years to come, who am I to say no.”
… Drums Roll For King Of Music
TO herald the yearlong celebration, a world press conference was held recently in Lagos. The room was packed. It prompted him to remark, “I was a little bit shocked when I came inside and saw a lot of people in this room. If I had known it would be like this, I would have gone for a bigger space. I’m so happy that what I expected is not what I got; I got more than I expected.”
Every year, KSA normally met with friends, colleagues and family members in his Ondo palace to mark his birthdays. But being his 70th, things are taking a different shape.“My birthday celebrations usually last a week before now from September 22 till the end of that particular week,” he noted. “But this time, it has been spread from September 21, which is a day to my birthday, to December 31.” He noted that his latest U.S. music tour was very significant.
“In the last two years, I didn’t go for the tour simply because we were told by the American Embassy that they had technical problem. It did not affect only my band, it was all over the world. They actually posted it on their website that they won’t be able to issue visas. This year, we didn’t have problems; we got our visas.
“First of all, we went there in order to redeem our name simply because, even before the tour, someone said, ‘Sunny Ade is dead!’ You saw it in some papers. But I quickly refuted it; I’m alive, which was part of the reasons we had to go there for the people to see us live.”Sunny Ade’s 70th birthday celebration started on September 1, with a special prayer by Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, which is planning a special birthday gig for the king of music.
“I’m so glad that I was also given the Holy Communion on that day,” he mused. “The Headquarters of Redeem will also be celebrating me; they will be having 70 children celebrate Sunny Ade at 70 with songs, instruments and dance. I’ve witnessed the rehearsals and it’s going to be something great. It has never been done in my presence before.”
On September 21, there will be a special Gospel Music Night in Ondo in honour of KSA, while special family prayers will be held on his birthday (September 22) and a party to be hosted by his children in his palace.“The same day, my children will host a special party in my resident; they will celebrate their father. They asked for it and I’m happy to let them do as God direct them. I’m happy that I have children now that can say, ‘father, we are celebrating you.’ I pray that God will give you all kinds that will celebrate you in a fantastic way.”
There will be charity visits on September 23, when the celebrant and his team will visit motherless babies homes, old people’s homes, prisons and other charity outlets, while the following day will featured family celebration.On Wednesday, September 28, a special lecture being organised by Apreel 1 and His Royal majesty, the Ooni of Ife, will be held at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile-Ife. From there, the celebration will move to the Ooni’s palace. After the South African leg of the celebration, a book launch will follow in Nigeria on October 27.He remarked, “The book has been ready for about two years now and we’ve been looking for an opportunity to launch it. So, with this celebration, we all agreed that it’s the right time to launch it.
“We will be having foreign musicians coming to Nigeria to celebrate with me; that will be a special concert with people from Africa in performance. In fact, a South African production company has taken it upon itself to produce the event. Stevie Wonder is still celebrating King Sunny Ade; he did a special song for me. Currently, his management is still checking their concert booking. So, we are hoping he will also be in Nigeria for the concert.”
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