[email protected]: Iconic Maestro Rides On

By Femi Akintunde-Johnson

In a few days, Thursday, 22 September, 2022, the lithe, lyrical superstar shall be 76 years old, without a hint of waning in musical glory or dwindling in pomp and pageantry. The immensely popular and ‘world-famous’ Nigerian global export, Chief Sunday Anthony Oshola Adeniyi Adegeye further sketches his legendary status into our consciousness – even after almost 60 years on this melody lane – throwing us into nostalgia and reminiscences. Such is this week’s focus which rummages into a volume of an encounter we had with King Sunny Ade, KSA, a few days before his 53rd birthday in 1999. His thoughts, desires and remonstrations are still fresh and poignant…unwrinkled by the passage of time… much like any of his numerous evergreen melodies. Join us, please:

Have you ever lost your voice?

Yes. Not really lost, you know. It was just like faint. If l do about one week non-stop, and there is no space, no time for me to rest, yes it can. I have lost my voice twice.

How did you react? Did you panic, or what was your reaction?

It was like you feel that the heaven is going to fall because when you are talking they won’t hear you, when you want to sing, you can’t. It happened one day, we were there that day but you wouldn’t notice. It was at the National Stadium when I was made to perform after Lagbaja. There was a band again and then I came. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find my voice. What I did immediately was I turned back to the band boys and said give me ‘F’ quickly, instead of ‘G’. Then they put me on G, and then I said, give me F … then they lowered me back to G. That is where I now changed the actual song I wanted to sing. I started singing slow before I could regain my voice, taking almost 30-35 minutes. It was like ‘what is wrong? What is happening?’

Your life history is very well known. But sometimes when you look at all these things, do you think there is nothing that has not been written about you?

Well, I would say like my mother used to say, ‘I’m your mother. I delivered you to the world, so the whole world will not like you’. Whatever anybody wants to know about you they are free (laughs) because I don’t have any skeletons in my cupboard. I am not hiding anything. But the only area is, you know, backstage… people see what is happening on the stage, they see you dancing. Like this question now, ‘have you ever lost your voice?’ It is a one in a million question. But at the backstage it is only a few people that used to ask… when you see the people on the stage, you know that the beauty of the stage, the lighting, the effect of the dressing; but before you get to the stage and after you get off the stage, what is actually happening at the backstage?

Probably, I am alive or dead when the show is about to commence. You remember that Raypower II show, I mean when Lagbaja was coming with his horns, I tried to dodge in order for him not to see where I was sitting, but I heard the song he was singing, my song. How will I do it? And you, unfortunately, were sitting beside me and you were even showing me to him; the next thing I was thinking I would do was dance, but suddenly he just handed the microphone to me; so what would I do?

You have been an inspiration to a lot of people. Most times, you dance for hours, and you are well over 50. Do your legs tell you that it is time to go sometimes?

Yeah, sometimes when you are on the stage you don’t feel it until you are off the stage, especially when the music is good and the people dance and they respond well to you, you won’t feel it. It is like a footballer, unless God wills it, until the end of the match, especially when you are winning, you don’t even feel your legs at all. You can’t feel anything, you want to head and to jump. The goal keeper will just stretch all his body and fall on the floor, he won’t even know until after the match. It is like that, but I thank God that the inspiration from the music and the inspiration from the people, the inspiration from the boys that are really creating the music, I don’t normally feel it.

Okay, as a maestro you created a music idiom recognized all over the world. But one of the “professional” allegations against you is that you don’t create successors. Correct?

It is not correct. First of all, the music I am playing I have never taken from anybody. That is it! Well, I can never be like that. If not that we all are talking to Femi, Femi will never play Fela’s music. So, it depends on him. He may say he doesn’t want to play Fela’s music. He is not Fela. Nobody can be like Fela. All the people springing up, they didn’t spring up when Fela was alive. So, eventually when I go, I believe somebody will play my music. This music, juju music, has come to stay. It is more or less like the Yoruba culture, which says Afileọmọlọwọ (when you go, you hand over to your child). Not everything you hand over nowadays (laughs).

All l want from my own children is that when I go, l want them to be well-read until they decide to do whatever they want to do. Some of them probably will not like to play music, some are being groomed. Like the Michel Jackson family, everyone of them. But like today, it is only one or two that are really doing it. I’m not saying it is not good, l have been thinking about it and I used to tell my kids that what they owe me is not music at all, it is education, and when they do that I can become their manager in future (general laughter).

Anybody can be their manager, I don’t care; but at the moment…I pray that some of my children will become musicians. Yes. I pray. And at the moment, I have kids who play music. Even some in America, they play music. Some are playing together with Dr. Victor Olaiya’s daughter, they are playing music. That is not the way I want. The way I want is, can you beat me to it?

I usually tell them I am a doctorate degree holder and I want them to do the same: get it academically and not in the honorary way. I want them to beat me to it. Now, I am a graduate, so I want them to be much more than that. So, if I am the only one playing my music and nobody at all in the whole world…that kind of question can be difficult for me to answer. When at every corner you go people now play like Sunny Ade, everywhere, eventually anybody can be Ten Juju Music or Five Juju Music. But to fill my vacuum? Even my kids cannot fill my vacuum when I go because they cannot be King Sunny Ade. They can only be the sons or the daughters of King Sunny Ade.

(To Continue)

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