By Benjamin Njoku & Sylvester Kwentua
News of Victor Olaiya’s death went viral in another day of grief, sending shockwaves throughout the Nigerian music industry, with many entertainers mourning and expressing their condolences.
Dr. Olaiya passed away at the age of 89.
Breaking the sad news in a statement, Bimbo Esho, Managing Director of Evergreen Music Company, said the highlife music maestro died while on admission at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH.
“The entire music world wish to announce the death of a legend of highlife music, one of the last men standing, the original Dr. Victor Abimbola Olaiya,” Esho said.
“This untimely incident happened at LUTH, Lagos State, at exactly 12 noon. We pray that the doyen of highlife music finds repose with the creator, while wishing the family and entire music community the fortitude to bear this irreplaceable loss.
“Olaiye’s death will create a big vacuum in the music industry. He was one of the last of the originals. He used his stadium hotel as a base to support the growth of music in Nigeria, as many of the popular acts today gained popularity using his base.
“He contributed immensely to the growth of highlife music in Nigeria and Ghana. Today, his songs will continue to remain evergreen in our hearts,” Esho added.
Born in December 1930 to Alfred Olaiya and Bathsheba Olaiya, the late musician was the 20th child of a family of 24.
Olaiya was one of the legendary foundation stones of modern Nigerian music. His music bridges between Ghanaian highlife and what has today become Afrobeat. Just as 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.
Olaiya released an album with Ghanaian highlife musician E. T. Mensah. Both the drummer Tony Allen and vocalist Fela Kuti, 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.
A trumpeter, who plays in the highlife style, though extremely famous in Nigeria during the 1950s and early 1960s, Olaiya received little recognition outside his native country.
Alhaji Alade Odunewu of the Daily Times described him as “The Evil Genius of Highlife.” Mourning the big loss are some celebrities who expressed their grief on social media.
A sad day for Nigerian music— Don Pedro Agabi
Don Pedro Aganbi, National Coordinator of the Nollywood Mandate Group, described the death of Olaiya as a sad day for Nigerian music.
His words: “Sad day for Nigeria music as the last of the last highlife iroko departs. No doubt he has written his name in gold. He has also left shoes behind difficult to fill. I appeal to government to turn the Stadium Hotel into a national monument in memory of this music cum highlife legend.”
A living legend even in death—Ara, the drummer
Leading female Nigerian talking drummer, Ara, has described Victor Olaiya as a living legend, who will continue to remain a legend, even in death.
The celebrated drummer, who was in tears while speaking to Vanguard on the telephone, said: “He was a role model and a music legend. His kind of music is rare to find in Nigeria.
“I was in shock when Bimbo Esho, the Managing Director of the Evergreen Music Company broke the news. He was an artist who knew how to re-invent himself.
“The remix of his song featuring Tuface, is an example of a great artiste, who knew how to flow with the events of the current time. I pray God gives the family the strength to carry on now that he is dead. Death is a no respecter of anybody and no matter the age one dies, it is a painful thing.”
Goodnight rare legendary icon—Emma Ugolee
Also, paying tribute to the late musician, film maker, Emma Ugolee, who wrote: “This one hit home for me. Dr Victor Olaiya was among the first musicians in the world I came to know while growing up.
“Thanks to my Dads vinyls, Dr Olaiya and Victor Uwaifo are in my top 10 greatest musicians in the world …of all time. I would remain his huge fan forever.
“I remember reading about how he stunned everyone in the arena when the queen visited in 1959/60. Genius, even Louis Armstrong acknowledged it. He was in a class of his own. Never to be replaced. Good night a rare legendary, Nigerian musician.”