Highlife maestro Victor Olaiya passes at 89

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The world is still recovering from the shock news of the death of Nigerian Highlife music icon, Sir Victor Olaiya, who was proclaimed dwas this evening. His demise was made known by the Managing Director of Evergreen Music Company Ltd, Bimbo Esho.

The Nigerian legend who celebrated his 89th birthday last December passed away after a brief illness at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital on Wednesday.

Although Victor Abimbola Olaiya might have passed on to the other life there is no doubt his music lives on in this life. His song has impacted lives not just within the boundaries of Nigerian but out his Father’s land.  His impact spread across the shores of Africa. He rose to global fame in the 1950s and 1960s through his blend of gripping highlife sound.

It is no exaggeration that many Nigerians still prefer to listen to music tracks by the gifted trumpeter.

His songs were enriched with educative lyrics and beats that make you move gently enjoying individual sound; while you feel the gentle movement of the breeze and nod your head minding your business.

In 2013, When the late musician was interviewed after his collaboration with 2baba on the single “Baby Mi Da (Baby Jowo)” he said: “Most of my mates no longer exist. The chances of collaborating with them are just dreams.”

Victor was born on 31st of December, 1930, in Calabar, Cross River State. Victor named the “Evil Genius of Highlife,” by Alhaji Slade Odunnewu of the Daily Times was the 20th child from 24 children of Alfred Omolona Olaiya and Bathsheba Owolabi Motajo, who hailed from Ijesha-Ishu in Ekiti State . [3] 

Olaiya who came from a rich family learned to play the Bombarding at a tender age. After leaving school he moved to Lagos , where he passed the school certificate examination in 1951 and was admitted by Howard University , US, to study civil engineering. Olaiya disapproved his parents decision to pursue a career as a musician. 

Olaiya’s music bridges gap between Ghanaian highlife and what would become Afrobeat. He began his music career playing with the Sammy Akpabot Band. He also played trumpeter for the Old Lagos City Orchestra and later joined the Bobby Benson Jam Session Orchestra.

In 1954, the Cool Cats emerged, Olaiya’s own band,b 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 has shared the stage with the American jazz musician Louis Armstrong . During the Civil War Nigeria, 1967–70, Olaiya was given an honorary rank of a lieutenant colonel 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.

He later reneamed his band to “the All Stars Band” when they played the 1963 International Jazz Festival in Czechoslovakia. 

Olaiya also has a sideline business which is importing and distributing musical instruments and accessories throughout West Africa, and established the he stadium Hotel in Surulere.

Olaiya married many wives. He had children and grandchildren of which, Moji Olaiya, a Nollywood actress. He collaborated with his son Bayode Olaiya during his time. 

Africh Royale

Africh Royale

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