In a recent interview with Punch NG, legendary Nigerian artiste King Sunny Ade talked about his music, growing up as a child, the industry and much more.
Excerpts from the interview below.
A lot of people might find it very difficult to believe that you are 67 with your looks; what is the magic?
There is no magic; I just find myself like this. It’s true people tell me that I don’t look my age and whenever they say so, I get back home and look at myself in the mirror. But within myself, I know I am old. Truth is, I don’t have any magic than to give God the glory for a good health.
Before some artistes go on stage, they either drink some stuff or smoke to be able to perform very well. What do you depend on that makes you do what you do on stage?
Let me just put it this way that I am just lucky. I don’t drink and I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs and I don’t like people who do drugs. Even within my band, ordinary cigarette smoking irritates me; I don’t like it. I believe that music on its own is enough to make me high because I love doing it with passion. I don’t need any drug to make me high on stage. I am addicted to music without necessarily taking anything to make me high.
What was your dream as a young boy?
When I was young, I wanted to be an engineer and at the same time, I wanted to be a lawyer. At another time, I wanted to be a doctor. In fact, there was no time I wanted to be a musician because being born into royalty, it was unthinkable to think that way. But I loved music; I loved dancing and people who danced. I loved to dance to any kind of music.
Then as a young boy of seven or eight, I used to pray for branded vans promoting new products like Michelin, to come to my community where I could listen to music and watch people dance. At times, I would just join to dance and people would be clapping for me. I would forget myself so much until one relative came along to pull my ears or beat me for dancing around.
So, when I realised that nobody in the family wanted me to dance or watch those who danced or played music, it did not occur to me to wish to become a musician. I thought I would be a good lawyer because nobody won me over in any argument. At the same time too, I thought I would be an engineer because then, you would find me at any refuse dump where I would be looking for used wire and batteries which I coupled together to produce light.
Then I would like to know what was doing the talking in the radio and people thought I would end up as an engineer. I learnt carpentry and painting.
How? What of school?
I was going to school but anytime I closed, I went to the carpentry workshop to learn. During holidays too, I was always at the workshop working. Again, I had a brother who repaired motorcycles and his shop was beside where I was learning carpentry. I more or less was learning so many things at the same time.
But why did your parents take you to the carpentry workshop to learn even when you were schooling?
No, it was on my own. I was very bright at school because the little I could read was enough for me to pass. Once I did my homework, I would dash across to the workshop and learn. Despite this, I never failed in school except once when my teacher intentionally failed me. I reported him to the headmaster and the teacher was sacked. We were 39 in class and the teacher said I came 14th instead of being in the first three.
Even at that, how could I be said to have failed in the 14th position out of 39? It looked very strange to me and I walked into the headmaster’s office and reported the teacher. After reporting the man, the headmaster told me not to tell anybody and that he knew what to do. I just discovered that I didn’t see the teacher again; it was later that I learnt that the teacher had been sacked.
But as a bright boy, why didn’t you proceed to the university?
That was my dream and intention. You know, I lost my father when I was young and I loved my mum so much that I thought it would be a burden for her to continue to fund my education alone with that of my siblings. So, out of pity for her, I decided to be doing something to help rather than depending on her to cater for me. When I was still very young in school, my mother who used to weave aso oke always gave me new cloth for my school uniform every term with different designs.
I joined the Boys Brigade and during the holidays, we used to go to the white people’s home like the DO (District Officer) for any job and sometimes, they would dash us some money. I used to go to the farm to look for bamboo to make cages for the birds that I caught. I would then give out the birds together with the cage and asked to be given anything in exchange.
I wanted to go to the university; in fact when I ran to Lagos from Abeokuta, my people back home thought I was in the University of Lagos. When I was leaving Abeokuta for Lagos, I actually told some colleagues that I was going to Lagos to try my luck but that if my family asked of me, they should tell them that I gained admission to University of Lagos.
For almost three years, my family thought I was in the university in Lagos. It was not until I formed my own group that an uncle came and asked me whether I was actually Sunny Ade. I said yes and he said how come; what happened to your university education? I said well, I had to take to music when I could no longer pay myself through school.
He almost slapped me, accusing me of lying to the family that I was in school. Then I now made him to sit down and explained to him and he understood and promised to tell the family what I was actually doing. My family didn’t approve of what I was doing for almost 15 years until I really made the name. They found it difficult to know that I was actually Sunny Ade instead of Sunday Adeniyi.
Again in those days, they could only hear you on the radio; the television then, WNTV was very competitive for everyone to be featured. My mother insisted that I must go to school instead of playing music. She asked me how I wanted my father to feel in the grave that his son was only good enough to sing instead of being a lawyer or an engineer as the case may be.
Why are you so close to almost all Yoruba obas? Is it because of being from a royal family?
I believe God gave me that and till now, I still don’t know why they all love me. I am the son of all the obas and I respect them because obas are born. As a Yoruba boy and being a royal blood, one must know how to behave in their presence. Whenever I go to the Oba of Benin, he is always the one that beckons to me to come closer to him. He would say but I knew him as a permanent secretary, so why keeping a distance and I would say that was when he was just a prince.
When you and Onyeka Onwenu did a song, Wait for me, there was a rumour that you two had an affair…
That was the gimmick we used for that particular record to be widely accepted. Because the collaboration was very unusual, people were thinking we were dating but we were not. People were thinking we were getting married until the record came out. Onyeka is a very good friend and an energetic musician. The song was sponsored by Hopkins University in Maryland, USA and we even went there to collect the award together.