Wednesday, 21 April, 2021

Victor Olaiya: Nigeria’s ‘evil genius’ trumpeter who influenced Fela Kuti

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Nigeria has been mourning music legend Victor Olaiya, who developed Nigeria’s highlife rhythms and affected a era of musicians like Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Nduka Orjinmo appears to be like back again at the everyday living of the trumpeter, who died past month at the age of 89.

Just like the very well-turned out federal government filing clerk that he was, Olaiya usually carried a pen in his breast pocket. This was not for noting guidance that experienced to be exactly adopted, but somewhat simply because he wanted to generate down the musical notes and phrases as they came to him.

This was at the commencing of the 1950s, his early times as a performer, when the trumpeter was seeking to develop Nigeria’s highlife rhythms.

Additional musician than bureaucrat

At this stage, music was a thing he did in his spare time and Olaiya considered he had shed his work in the civil support when his boss observed a newspaper picture of him undertaking at a nightclub.

Alternatively, he was informed that he was a far better musician than a bureaucrat at the survey department of Lagos mainland regional government.

He remaining the position and took on tunes comprehensive time.

Victor Olaiya

Olaiya’s family

Victor Olaiya

Highlife’s ‘Evil Genius’

  • Bornin Calabar, southern Nigeria in 1930

  • FormedCool Cats band in 1954

  • Doneat Nigeria’s independence ball in 1960

  • Renamed Cool Cats to All Stars Band in 1963

  • Awarded Get of the Niger in 2009

  • Retired from new music due to the fact of failing health in 2017


Born to wealthy Yoruba dad and mom in the southern town of Calabar, Olaiya experienced an early start out in tunes.

His father was a church organist and his mother a folk singer from the western metropolis of Oyo.

He was also affected by Caribbean calypso and incorporated the common song Sly Mongoose in his repertoire that he recalled initial hearing when he was 9 a long time outdated.

As a teenager, though, he was taught Western classical audio, and played the clarinet and French horn in his school orchestra in japanese Nigeria.

Several years later on, wielding his gold trumpet and dabbing his face with a white handkerchief, Olaiya would execute a new form of new music in Nigeria that would go on to inspire a young Fela Anikulapo-Kuti among the some others.

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Victor Olaiya is hailed as the father of Nigerian highlife music

After his secondary faculty, Olaiya moved to Lagos where by he joined the Lagos City Orchestra and then the band of composer Sammy Akpabot, taking part in ballroom songs for wealthy urban audiences.

But it was as the head of Bobby Benson’s Alfa Carnival Group that his talent would be correctly nurtured.

Benson took a variety of musicians under his wing and it was here that Olaiya polished the skills that would assist him form his possess band, the Awesome Cats.

Listening to the recordings now, the light swinging rhythm and the prominence of the horn section, you perception a sepia tinge to Olaiya’s tracks.

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Victor Olaiya rose to fame as Nigeria was going away from British rule

They evoke reminiscences of the fading British Empire and changeover to independence, conjuring up pictures of afro hair combed into a dome, of center-class Nigerians appearing overdressed in tuxedos and robes with a cigarette neatly tucked between the fingers.

By the late 1950s, the colonial administrators were being on their way out and a youthful technology of educated Africans was about to acquire over.

As the disco bars and ballrooms progressively thinned out of the British and their songs, in stepped the elite class of Africans looking for that exact same higher daily life but fused with their own lifestyle.

And the bands responded to fulfill their new patrons, incorporating community rhythms and melodies into their repertoire.

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The songs were intimate and the lyrics, which to modern eyes surface sexist, usually utilised erotic imagery.

Olaiya’s 1961 keep track of Adelebo Tonwoku (Solitary Lady On the lookout for a Partner) claims that if a girl, referred to as “Cinderella shaking her buttocks”, finds a husband she should “forgo education”.

As a musical expression, highlife was very first utilised in Ghana in the 1920s to describe a band participating in a fusion of foreign and area devices pushed by various guitars and horns.

Olaiya’s influence came from Ghana, as he was a eager admirer of the Tempo band of highlife legend ET Mensah, who toured Nigeria many moments from 1951.

When Olaiya shaped his Great Cats band, he adopted Mensah’s type and had Ghanaian Sammy Lartey as saxophonist. A long time later on, Olaiya and Mensah would launch a joint album.

In bombastic type, Olaiya was the moment explained by a newspaper editor as “the evil genius of highlife”, possibly because once somebody heard his new music it was unattainable not to dance.

His new music turned so common that in 1960 he performed at the bash to celebrate Nigeria’s independence in front of Queen Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret.

Fela will come to Olaiya

Olaiya was a multi-linguist and sang in Twi, Igbo, Efik, Pidgin and Yoruba and his band would go on to serve as a teaching floor for musicians who would revolutionise music in Africa.

Chief between individuals that interned with Olaiya was Fela, creator of the Afrobeat style and arguably Nigeria’s most influential musician.

New from secondary school in 1957, Fela spent time enjoying with Olaiya’s Interesting Cats in Lagos and headed an additional of the maestro’s bands.

Olaiya recognised a prodigy and gave him a platform, in the exact same way that he had been supported by Benson.

Fela’s drummer, Tony Allen, was also between people who played with Olaiya. Other noteworthy musicians that passed as a result of his band had been guitar wizard Victor Uwaifo, juju musician Dele Ojo and saxophonist Yinusa Akinnibosun.

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Olaiya collaborated with American soul musician James Brown (R) for the 1970 album Up-To-Day Mover

By 1970, beneath the impact of James Brown, Olaiya had branched into soul and funk new music. His Up-to-Day Mover album of that yr bundled five tracks co-published with Brown.

But Olaiya will eternally be linked with highlife, and this steadily faded from the scene until finally the genre grew to become a stacked selection of dusty vinyl for senior citizens who hung on to the recollections of an era when “items ended up very good”.

The Interesting Cats had been no extended interesting, as initial Fela’s Afrobeat and later Afro hop swept succeeding generations off their toes.

Olaiya attempted to hold up in afterwards many years by accomplishing items like capturing songs video clips but he by no means looked cozy with the format.

He was made use of to the disco bars, the significant orchestra and the much larger-than-existence bands performing for dandy crowds.

Recognised by a later on technology

There were attempts to introduce his audio to a new viewers.

In 2013, Tuface Idibia, a audio legend in his have right, remixed Olaiya’s Newborn Jowo. It was a homage to a different period but only underlined how issues had changed.

A handful of highlife musicians are continue to scattered in the japanese and western areas of Nigeria but their tunes are now typically read at funerals.

When Olaiya is laid to relaxation, probably a band led by an immaculately turned out trumpeter will be at the entrance of the procession?

And when he is lowered into the floor, it may be additional than flesh that is returning to dust. The highlife music he pioneered might just be buried alongside with him.

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