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Life, Times, Music Of Iconic Highlife Musician, Victor Olaiya – “The Evil Genius of Highlife”, Who Died At 89

By AbuSatar Hamed
LAGOS: The Nigeria entertainment industry has once again lost another legend to the cold hands death.

He is a multi-instrumentalist, Victor Abimbola Olaiya, OON, who ruled the airwaves in the 1950s and early 1960s with a music which was heavily inspired by Ghanaian highlife died on February 12, 2020 at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) at the age of 89years.

The news of his death was announced by Yinka Esho’s Evergreen Music Company record label.

“The entire music world wishes to announce the death of a Legend of Highlife music, One of the last man standing, the last of the original Dr Victor Abimbola Olaiya OON,” Evergreen Music Company.

“We pray that the soul of the Doyen of highlife music finds repose with his creator while wishing the family and entire music community the fortitude to bear this irreplaceable loss.”

Victor, the 20th child of a family of 24 was born on December 31, 1930, in Calabar, Cross River State. He was from a wealthy home.

At an early age, he learned to play the Bombardon and the French Horn. After leaving school he moved to Lagos where he passed the School Certificate Examination in 1951 and was accepted by Howard University in the United States to study Civil Engineering.
Olaiya instead, pursued a career as a musician to the disapproval of his parents.

He played with the Sammy Akpabot Band, led and played the trumpet for the Old Lagos City Orchestra and joined the Bobby Benson Jam Session Orchestra.

In 1954 Olaiya formed his band, the Cool Cats, playing popular highlife music. His band was chosen to play at the state ball when Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom visited Nigeria in 1956, and later to play at the state balls when Nigeria became independent in 1960 and when Nigeria became a republic in 1963.

Olaiya renamed his band to the All-Stars Band when they played the 1963 International Jazz Festival in Czechoslovakia.

Though extremely famous in Nigeria during the 1950s and early 1960s, Olaiya received little recognition outside Nigeria. Alhaji Alade Odunewu of the Daily Times described him as “The Evil Genius of Highlife.”

His parents, Alfred Omolona Olaiya and Bathsheba Owolabi Motajo, came from

Ijesha-Ishu in Ekiti State. His father’s house called Ilọijọs Bar stood on 2, Bamgbose Street, Lagos Island, until it was demolished on September 11, 2016.

On the latter occasion, Olaiya shared the stage with the American jazz musician Louis Armstrong. During the Nigerian Civil War of 1967–70, Olaiya was given the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel (honorary) in the Nigerian Army and his band played for the troops at various locations. The Cool Cats later travelled to the Congo to perform for United Nations troops.

Olaiya also ran a business that imported and distributed musical instruments and accessories throughout West Africa, and established the Stadium Hotel in Surulere, Lagos.

In 1990, Olaiya received a fellowship of the Institute of Administrative Management of Nigeria, and for a period, he was also president of the Nigerian Union of Musicians.

Olaiya’s music bridges between Ghanaian highlife and what would become Afrobeat.

His musical style was influenced by James Brown, with horn parts harmonised in Brown’s style, as opposed to the mostly unison lines of Afrobeat. The music includes the swinging percussion of Tony Allen, but not the syncopated style that Allen later pioneered.
Olaiya released an album with Ghanaian highlife musician E.T. Mensah. Both the drummer Tony Allen and vocalist, Fela Anikulapo-Fela played with Olaiya and went on to achieve individual success.

In July 2013, Victor Olaiya released a music video remix of Baby Jowo (Baby Mi Da) with 2face idibia and was received with much acclaim.

Olaiya married many wives. He has children and grandchildren. One of his daughters, Moji Olaiya, who was a Nollywood actress,and his son Bayode Olaiya also performed with his father.

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