Sunny Ade, the king who has ruled our world with his blistering electric guitar and his melodious voice is 70. And my wife, a big fan of KSA like so many other women, will not allow me to rest.
“You have to write a column on King Sunny Ade,” she orders me the way only a wife can order. “Your fans will not forgive you, if you don’t pay homage to the king.”
That explains why I am writing this piece. To please my wife. To please my fans and Sunny Ade’s fans. To praise the man whose whole life has been a life of praise. The man who sings like King David psalms of praise to his Maker. The man who waxes vinyl and albums of praise to every big man or woman to whom praise is due. Today, let us praise the praise-singer. Let us celebrate our griot extraordinaire. Let us pay homage to the king of Juju music—the Peter Pan-like Sunny Ade, so ageless and agile on stage that it is difficult to believe he can be that old. To help me write this column, I turn to YouTube, there to listen to the evergreen music and albums of Sunny Ade posted there. I come across this Sunny Ade documentary where the griot tells his personal history:
“I was born on the 22nd of September 1946 in a town called Ondo in Ondo State in the western part of Nigeria. First of all I was born into royalty, but they made me to be the King of World Music. I don’t want to be on the throne. I love to play music. I taught myself to play the guitar because I just love to see people play guitar.
In the hands of King Sunny Ade, the guitar weeps, it groans, it wails, it cries out orgasmic, it inspires everyone to dance. And when he chants your praise, it’s a money-spinner. The praised dancers will bring out truckloads of money and paste them on the forehead of the singer or spray them like confetti. For the super-rich, it is an opportunity to grandstand, to show off by “spraying” money in hard currency, in dollars, in pound sterling. Such lavishness, such frittering away of money, such vanity had been our way of life, our culture, until now that this recession has woken us all up to face the brutal reality of life. May God punish this recession and everyone that has made us to suffer recession!
In those halcyon days when King Sunny Ade and Chief Ebenezer Obey jointly ruled Nigeria with their Juju music, our country was a land of milk, honey and miliki—meaning enjoyment. In his golden voice, Ebenezer Obey would enjoin us to “miliki” while Sunny Ade would bend our waist with his “Syncro system.” On the political scene, the military were in control, after kicking out the civilian governments in one coup after the other, calling them corrupt, treasury looters. But then, they come in and even beat the record of the civilians. So rich was Nigeria that our war-time leader, General Yakubu Gowon, told the world that: “Nigeria’s problem is not money, but how to spend it.”
Today, the story is different. Nigeria’s problem is money. Our money is now worthless. Our economy is in shambles. Against the dollar, the naira keeps falling and falling. We are going the way of Ghana and Zimbabwe. Soon, it will be one thousand naira to a dollar, the way the naira is tumbling. Today, if you spray a musician with naira, you are just pasting a worthless paper on his forehead. May God punish all those who brought us this recession!
I am not the only person angry. Today, every Nigerian is angry. Angry that we did not save for the rainy day. Angry that we did not make proper use of our petro-dollars when we had them. We did not build the necessary infrastructure that would have been the foundation for our economy. No good roads, no light, no good hospitals, no good schools, nothing good. Look at our airports. Compare it to airports in other countries and it’s such a shame. With all the money we had, we couldn’t afford to build a decent airport. Instead what we have are airports that cause us great embarrassment. Stone Age airports.
Just as I am writing this column, I hear our ex-President Obasanjo speaking at the World Pension Summit in Abuja and shamelessly telling the world how he had wanted to save for the rainy day, but the state governors twisted his arm and told him that the rainy days are here already. What a shame! It makes me wonder: On whose desk does the buck stop? What is true leadership all about, if the leader can so be arm-twisted? That, to me, is a declaration of failure of leadership. The same goes for any leader who says the governors prevented him or her from saving for the rainy day. Again, may God punish all those who plunged us from the tower of riches and glory into this pit where we now wallow and gnash our teeth as a beggar nation.
In the good old days, musicians used to shape and influence public opinion through their music. When the going is good or bad, you hear it from the music of Sunny Ade or Ebenezer Obey. Sometimes they sing in parables or in metaphors. They are not just praise-singers. They can bark like dogs. They can attack like the media, albeit subtly.
Today, things are so bad that if you ask King Sunny Ade to compose a song for Nigeria, it will be a song of lamentation, a song as funereal as the Bobby Benson dirge which is my favourite Sunny Ade album, next to ‘Authority’, the fast-tempo album he released when a young Juju star Sina Peters threatened his kingship and authority with his afro-juju music.
Things are bad, but I am sure Sunny Ade will be the first to ask Nigerians not to lose hope because the sun will soon shine on Nigeria once again—if we work hard to redress the wrongs of the past, if we cut down on our profligacy and prodigality, if we think out of the box and above all, if we look up to God in songs and prayers to breathe life into our valley of despair and dry bones.
Meanwhile, I wish you a happy 70th birthday and thank you for the joy you have brought to many through your scintillating music and showmanship. Thank you for your music that cuts across many genres: highlife, jazz, gospel, soul and afrobeat. In my book, you are one of the finest guitarists in the world. As a jazz lover, I once advised you to do a jazz album—an instrument piece where all you do is playing the guitar and not singing. There is so much jazz in you which the world is waiting to listen. I really want you to explore that territory, if it is not too late.
At 70, I know you are not yet finished. There is still something to offer the world. May God bless you with more years filled with good health and the goodness of the Lord whom you have glorified so much in your works. May your latter rain be better and more glorious. In the early ‘90s, I wrote the biography of your colleague and brother, Chief Ebenezer Obey. (Mike Awoyinfa; Ebenezer Obey (1992). Ebenezer Obey: The Legend’s Own Story. Egret Books. ISBN 978-978-2432-89-6).
That was my first attempt at biography writing. You deserve a full-fledged biography or autobiography because a great life like yours without a biography or a memoir is incomplete. Your life is a book waiting to be read. Think about it and do something about it. Just like the American rocker Bruce Springsteen, The Boss, who has just released his autobiography which took him seven years to write. Once again, happy birthday KSA.