By BENJAMIN NJOKU, OPEOLUWANI OGUNJIMI, ANOZIE EGOLE & IYABO AINA
LAGOS — One of Nigeria’s oldest surviving highlife musicians, Fatai Olayiwola Olagunju, popularly known as Fatai Rolling Dollar died, yesterday morning in Lagos.
85-year-old Rolling Dollars died at Marritol Hospital in Surulere, Lagos, following a brief illness.
Reacting to Rolling Dollar’s death, Governor Rauf Aregbesola of Osun State in a statement by the Director of Bureau of Communications and Strategy, Mr. Semiu Okanlawon, described the octogenarian high-life maestro as a “testimony in perseverance and hope.”
The governor said Rolling Dollar’s life sojourn demonstrated that no time is too late for man to have a breakthrough in life.
He stated that the old artiste, who trained Ebenezer Obey in his heydays, shone at his old age when nobody ever thought of musical success for him again after his initial popularity at the beginning of his career.
Rolling Dollar was reportedly on a musical tour of the United States when he took ill and had to return home.
He was admitted initially at Ahmadiya Hospital in Abule-Egba area of Lagos before being transferred to Marritol Hospital about two weeks ago. He will be buried today.
A close friend of the deceased musician and MTN Project Fame judge, Ade Bantu, said Rolling Dollar had been down with breathing problems and other issues before his death.
Bantu, whose real name is Adegoke Odukoya, reportedly said that he was on his way to Surulere to visit the late Rolling Dollar when one of the wives informed him of the death.
Juju music legend-turned-Evangelist, Ebenezer Obey while reacting to his demise described Rolling Dollars as “an epitome of decency and a talented musician.”
He said: “I’ve lost my boss, my friend and my mentor. And I know the country has lost a talented singer.”
Also, in his tribute, reggae artiste, Orits Wiliki said, Rolling Dollar lived well as a musician, adding “even though his death remains a big loss to the industry, he would be happy that members of the young generation are taking highlife music to the next level. We should be praying to live up to his age and still be strong the way he was.”
For Kunle Tejuosho, whose label, Jazzhole Records, brought out Won Kere Si Number Wa, among other albums of the deceased, Rolling Dollar was a great musician.
He said: “Baba was a great musician. He lived the life of a musician. He was always happy to perform all the time.
“He enjoyed his life. He had a second chance which he used very well.”
Also paying tribute to the deceased, EME boss, Banky W, described Rolling Dollar as the “original pioneer of the hat-look and a legendary Nigerian musician.”
Ironically, Rolling Dollar last week refuted reports that he was in coma, saying that he was surprised that the news of his illness could have gone viral in a space of one week.
He had said: “I have just left the hospital where I had gone to receive treatment, but I am back home now.”
Rolling Dollar was born July 22, 1926 in Lagos as prince of the royal family of Fatai Olayiwola Olagunju, originally from Ede, a Yoruba town lying on the Osun, the river famously linked to Yemoja, the river goddess.
He attended schools in Lagos and was later to move to Ede at the age of sixteen, upon the death of his father. Showing a rebellious streak at an early age, he allowed himself to be drawn towards music.
He started his musical career in 1953 and had mentored other great musicians like Evangelist Ebenezer Obey and the late Orlando Owoh, among others. Known for his dexterity at playing the guitar, Rolling Dollar’s last major hit was “Won Kere Si Number Wa’’.
In 1957, he formed an eight-piece band called Fatai Rolling Dollar and his African Rhythm Band, and they recorded numerous seven-inch singles for Phillips West Africa Records. In this line-up was a young budding star, Ebenezer Obey, who played Maracas in the band. They had some hits with Phillips, then decamped to Jofabro/EMI where they recorded over one hundred and fifty singles and had many hits for the company including “Sisi Jaiye Jaiye” and “Won Bumi”.
After decades of struggling to make ends meet and musical doldrums, Rolling Dollar bounced back to life after the French Cultural Centre, in Lagos, brought him back into public consciousness. He later got a higher lift through Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, while as Lagos State governor.
The late musician was given a house in one of the low cost housing estates in New Oko Oba, Lagos.
Juju music legend, Ebenezer Obey was among those trained by the late musician.
Rolling Dollar, who had three wives and 16 children, died as the oldest surviving music artiste in Nigeria.