Sunday Adeniyi Adegeye will be 62 on September 22.
The tireless performer and band-leader has enjoyed a career than spans over four decades. And as you read, he’s most probably getting his band boys together, in preparation for this weekend’s engagements. Attempting to tell the story of Sunny’s life, is attempting to tell the story of juju music. From an unsure enthusiast, to naïve guitarist and band member, KSA has grown to become a successful band leader. And he’s not just the most successful Juju musician of all time; he has earned a reputation as one of the most renowned artistes to emerge from Africa. He’s got stints with major records labels, a global fan base, and two Grammy nominations to show for it.
KSA has had it good. Most of his contemporaries have since faded away. Some died young. Some gave up the art, while others failed to find favour with fans. Since his 1967 debut (Alaanu l’Oluwa), KSA has, with each passing song and album, continued to hypnotize us until he overwhelmed us and took us all prisoners. Now, he has become such an oracle that it’s certain he’ll never leave the scene except death comes calling.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for the genre the veteran represents – Juju.
If Tunde Nightingale, Ayinde Bakare, Julius Araba, I.K. Dairo and other pioneers were to look back and assess the situation, they’ll be happy for Sunny and Ebenezer Obey and Shina Peters. But they’ll shed some tears when they see the situation of a genre they helped found. Truth be told, Juju is dying. Long abandoned by her caretakers, ignored by fans and bullied by younger, stronger genres, the once-upon-a-tine cherished art-form appears to be in a coma, and the possibility of her resuscitation is very uncertain.
There’s been Dayo Kujore, Wale Thompson, Dele Taiwo and Yinka Best. And we’ve seen less prominent apostles like Tunde Samson, Mega 99 and Segun Blessing. But since KSA and Obey, the only other act that made any meaningful impact on the growth and evolution of Juju, is certainly Shina Peters. The radical change he effected on the genre is similar to what Wasiu Ayinde wrought on Fuji music.
But while KWAM 1 has been able to inspire a generation of Fuji stars – like Pasuma, Saheed Osupa, Sule Malaika and Abass Obesere- who are now leading the genre into the future, no Juju musician has shown any remarkable promise since Shina Peters.
To make matters worse, today’s music fans are not very patient. Instead of waiting for a messiah who’ll save Juju and other traditional genres from extinction, they’re tuning to something else – pop.
So while we’re crying that Juju music is dying, that highlife is going extinct and that Fuji is growing at snail speed, a new artform is gaining ground; enlisting our young ones in their millions, and providing them with the kind of lifestyle they’ve always craved. Take a look around you. Ask the average youth around what time it is, and they’ll gladly tell you it’s ‘pop-o-clock’. There’s no juju or highlife in their dictionary. There’s no agidigbo or ikpokrikpo. Who cares about some local, ‘primitive’ form when there’s hip hop, R&B, Soul and dancehall to bounce to?
To the casual observer, it may appear easy to figure out: Juju, highlife and other traditional genres are simply endangered species, going out of fashion; giving way to more hip, more vibrant forms the young ones can identify with. But looked at deeply, couldn’t it be that it’s today’s pop-centric musicians, and their legion of fans that stand the risk of going ‘extinct’ in the emerging global village? Thanks to sporadic technological advancements, the whole world is shrinking into one little hut. What relevance, what influence we have as a people depend on what we bring o the table. And, as we continue to shun our own original artforms for borrowed creations, isn’t it obvious we’ll sooner than later, lose our identity and end up being lumped up with the crowd?
We may feel sorry now for the dozens of juju musicians battling hard to get their music heard. We may look at highlife aficionados and laugh behind their backs. We may look at Fuji evangelists and tell all who care to listen that they’re ‘just wasting their time’. We may plot all the graphs in the world and employ all the statistics available to show that these genres are endangered species; with no place in the present or future of our music. But if we don’t begin to encourage our music makers to look more inwards and imbibe elements from these pure, traditional forms, then it may just be our future as a people who have a history, a story, a culture, that’s endangered.
Maybe we should start by making traditional Nigerian music compulsory for primary and secondary school students. Maybe there should be some incentives from government, radio and TV stations for artistes who incorporate some level of local elements into urbane music.
Who knows, we may still create that hybrid music of Nigerian origin that’ll spread like a virus into homes and hearts across the world. Yes it is possible!