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

Victor OlaiyaImage copyright MYDRIM GALLERY

Nigeria has been mourning music legend Victor Olaiya, who created Nigeria’s highlife rhythms and influenced a technology of musicians together with Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Nduka Orjinmo seems again on the lifetime of the trumpeter, who died final month on the age of 89.

Just just like the well-turned out authorities submitting clerk that he was, Olaiya at all times carried a pen in his breast pocket. This was not for noting directions that needed to be exactly adopted, however fairly as a result of he wanted to put in writing down the musical notes and phrases as they got here to him.

This was firstly of the 1950s, his early days as a performer, when the trumpeter was attempting to create Nigeria’s highlife rhythms.

More musician than bureaucrat

At this stage, music was one thing he did in his spare time and Olaiya thought he had misplaced his job within the civil service when his boss noticed a newspaper photograph of him acting at a nightclub.

Instead, he was advised that he was a greater musician than a bureaucrat on the survey division of Lagos mainland native authorities.

He left the job and took on music full time.

Victor Olaiya

Olaiya’s household

Victor Olaiya

Highlife’s ‘Evil Genius’

  • Bornin Calabar, southern Nigeria in 1930

  • FormedCool Cats band in 1954

  • Performedat Nigeria’s independence ball in 1960

  • Renamed Cool Cats to All Stars Band in 1963

  • Awarded Order of the Niger in 2009

  • Retired from music due to failing well being in 2017


Born to rich Yoruba mother and father within the southern metropolis of Calabar, Olaiya had an early begin in music.

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

He was additionally influenced by Caribbean calypso and included the favored track Sly Mongoose in his repertoire that he recalled first listening to when he was 9 years previous.

As an adolescent, although, he was taught Western classical music, and performed the clarinet and French horn in his college orchestra in jap Nigeria.

Years later, wielding his gold trumpet and dabbing his face with a white handkerchief, Olaiya would carry out a brand new kind of music in Nigeria that might go on to encourage a younger Fela Anikulapo-Kuti amongst others.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Victor Olaiya is hailed as the daddy of Nigerian highlife music

After his secondary college, Olaiya moved to Lagos the place he joined the Lagos City Orchestra after which the band of composer Sammy Akpabot, taking part in ballroom music for rich city audiences.

But it was as the pinnacle of Bobby Benson’s Alfa Carnival Group that his expertise can be correctly nurtured.

Benson took a lot of musicians underneath his wing and it was right here that Olaiya polished the talents that might assist him kind his personal band, the Cool Cats.

Listening to the recordings now, the light swinging rhythm and the prominence of the horn part, you sense a sepia tinge to Olaiya’s songs.

Image copyright MYDRIM GALLERY
Image caption Victor Olaiya rose to fame as Nigeria was transferring away from British rule

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

By the late 1950s, the colonial directors have been on their approach out and a younger technology of educated Africans was about to take over.

As the disco bars and ballrooms step by step thinned out of the British and their music, in stepped the elite class of Africans in search of that very same excessive life however fused with their very own tradition.

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

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The songs have been romantic and the lyrics, which to right now’s eyes seem sexist, usually used erotic imagery.

Olaiya’s 1961 observe Adelebo Tonwoku (Single Lady Looking for a Husband) says that if a girl, known as “Cinderella shaking her buttocks”, finds a husband she ought to “forgo education”.

As a musical time period, highlife was first utilized in Ghana within the 1920s to explain a band taking part in a fusion of overseas and native devices pushed by a number of guitars and horns.

Olaiya’s affect got here from Ghana, as he was a eager admirer of the Tempo band of highlife legend ET Mensah, who toured Nigeria a number of occasions from 1951.

When Olaiya shaped his Cool Cats band, he adopted Mensah’s type and had Ghanaian Sammy Lartey as saxophonist. Years later, Olaiya and Mensah would launch a joint album.

In bombastic type, Olaiya was as soon as described by a newspaper editor as “the evil genius of highlife”, maybe as a result of as soon as somebody heard his music it was unattainable to not dance.

His music grew to become so in style that in 1960 he performed on the social gathering to have fun Nigeria’s independence in entrance of Queen Elizabeth’s sister, Princess Margaret.

Fela involves Olaiya

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

Chief amongst people who interned with Olaiya was Fela, creator of the Afrobeat style and arguably Nigeria’s most influential musician.

Fresh from secondary college in 1957, Fela frolicked taking part in with Olaiya’s Cool Cats in Lagos and headed one other of the maestro’s bands.

Olaiya recognised a prodigy and gave him a platform, in the identical approach that he had been supported by Benson.

Fela’s drummer, Tony Allen, was additionally amongst those that performed with Olaiya. Other notable musicians that handed by way of his band have been guitar wizard Victor Uwaifo, juju musician Dele Ojo and saxophonist Yinusa Akinnibosun.

Image copyright MYDRIM GALLERY
Image caption Olaiya collaborated with American soul musician James Brown (R) for the 1970 album Up-To-Date Mover

By 1970, underneath the affect of James Brown, Olaiya had branched into soul and funk music. His Up-to-Date Mover album of that yr included 5 tracks co-written with Brown.

But Olaiya will perpetually be related to highlife, and this step by step light from the scene till the style grew to become a stacked assortment of dusty vinyl for senior residents who hung onto the reminiscences of an period when “things were good”.

The Cool Cats have been now not cool, as first Fela’s Afrobeat and later Afro hop swept succeeding generations off their ft.

Olaiya tried to maintain up in later a long time by doing issues like capturing music movies however he by no means regarded comfy with the format.

He was used to the disco bars, the massive orchestra and the larger-than-life bands performing for dandy crowds.

Recognised by a later technology

There have been makes an attempt to introduce his music to a brand new viewers.

In 2013, Tuface Idibia, a music legend in his personal proper, remixed Olaiya’s Baby Jowo. It was a homage to a different period however solely underlined how issues had modified.

A handful of highlife musicians are nonetheless scattered within the jap and western components of Nigeria however their tunes are actually principally heard at funerals.

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

And when he’s lowered into the bottom, it might be greater than flesh that’s returning to mud. The highlife music he pioneered may be buried together with him.

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