Related Articles: Music, All

King Sunny Ade

Enjoyment at the Fillmore

The best experience in life for a "world music" lover like myself is to be immersed. Gnawa, the hottest, undiluted regional dance-trance music, is performed nightly in the main square of the Moroccan city Marrakech. Gamelan music always sounds sweeter on the lush island of Bali. Backpack through Eastern Europe and you may find yourself invited to dance the polka at a village wedding. At the Fillmore, we will be treated to the best of both worlds as King Sunny brings a traditional Nigerian party to one of San Francisco's best dance floors.

In Nigeria, the home of King Sunny Ade, no all night party would complete without the infectious beat of juju music. Juju is the national pop music of Nigeria and King Sunny reigns supreme. Juju blends different styles of music -- Cuban rumbas, traditional tribal percussions and call and response vocals -- to achieve an infectious beat. Over the years, King Sunny's band has grown to include modern keyboards, Hawaiian guitars and plenty of back up singers and dancers.

King Sunny, or "The Minister of Enjoyment" as he is called back home, has a long history with the Bay Area. His first ever stateside show was at Zellerbach Hall back in 1983. In 1985, Ade was given the Key to the City. His last Bay Area performance was in 2001. This visit the band will bring a typical Nigerian "spraying party" to us.

"Spraying", the pasting of dollar bills on the performer's forehead in exchange for "praise singing", is common practice at every juju concert in Nigeria. Keep the money flowing and the band will keep singing your praise. Ade will perform with some 20 musicians and dancers for this tour. Spraying will be encouraged.

I spoke with the King over the phone from his tour bus in Colorado. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

SFS: The Bay Area is familiar with the music of fellow Nigerian Fela Kuti and his son Femi Kuti, who has visited San Francisco several times in the last few years. How does juju differ in style from the Kuti's Afro Pop?

King Sunny: My music is more traditional music of the Yoruba people. It is more call and response, which is good for spraying. We play with more percussion instruments, drums and such. I try to make sure all kinds of music are in my music. If you are fan of jazz, rock and roll or rhythm and blues, you'll find it in my music. Fela's music is more horns and he is more political. I am not a politician. I am The Minister of Enjoyment. Juju is happy, happy music. It's about dancing and celebration.

SFS: How did you receive the name King Sunny?

King Sunny: I was a prince by birth, my family are rulers of the Yoruba (the largest Nigerian ethnic group). I was given the title King as an award for my music by my people and as a sign of respect. I was born on a Sunday, which was translated to Sunny.

SFS: You will perform with Prince Obi Osadebe who is unfamiliar to most Americans, but is famous in Nigeria for highlife music. What is highlife?

King Sunny: Highlife and juju music are like friends or cousins. Obi plays pure highlife, which has horns, keyboard, guitar, bass and drums. They don't play any traditional instruments. They will join us onstage. I have never played with the Prince, but I played with his father many times before.

SFS: How was the big birthday party? Did it last all night long? (3 Nigerian brothers brought the band to the US for their birthday party)

King Sunny: Very nice, we danced until 4 or 5 in the morning. Then we had to close because the workers wanted to go home. When you come to Lagos (Nigerian capital), the party starts at 8 at night and goes till 8 in the morning.

SFS: When we come to Lagos, where can we dance to juju?

King Sunny: Please, you can come to my club in Lagos . It is called Ariya, which translates into 'enjoyment'. You can party all night.

King Sunny Ade performs with Prince Obi Osadebe at The Fillmore on Friday, April 22nd. The show start 9 PM. Tickets are $27.50. The show is all ages.

Extra tour information can be found here: