It was the gathering of the Nigeria’s old greats in their evergreen colours and numbers, coming to honour Victor Olaiya, Nigeria’s Grandmaster of Highlife Music
Nigeria’s Godfather of Highlife, Victor Abimbola Olaiya demonstrated age is no barrier to talent display when he exhibited some of his distinctive talents recently at a birthday bash, organised on his behalf by a committee of friends.
Even though, wisdom dictates that one flees when evil approaches but Highlife lovers paid no heed to this on Sunday, January 9 as they dared the ‘devil’ to still pluck from the genius of the top Highlife hero. It was a day of unlimited fun and excitement.
They embraced, ate, drank, danced and congregated round the ‘Evil Genius’ of Highlife music himself, Sir Victor Abimbola Olaiya.
The Highlife All Starts Club had chosen that date to honour one of their most illustrious members. Olaiya had clocked 80 on December 31, 2010.
The Highlife All Stars were there in force: the ageless Fatai Rolling Dollar, Alaba Pedro, Duro Ikujenyo, Anjola Aboderin, Eji Oyewole, Orlando Julius and his wife, Latoya Aduke. Patriarch of the Arts, Segun Olusola; Femi Esho of Evergreen Music; newspaper columnist, Benson Idonije; flutist Tee-Mac; and actor, Dejumo Lewis. Younger musicians affiliated to the genre were not exempted. Yinka Davies, Nomoreloss, and Jojo Bodybeats also came to pay homage to Olaiya, the inimitable artist.
One of the younger generations of Highlife musicians, Roy Olokungboye and his De Afro Classique Projectors entertained while guests awaited the arrival of the celebrant. Olokungboye opened with some Afrobeat instrumentals before launching out with Fela’s ‘Kolomentality’. The fast paced ‘Se e o mo?’ from the artist’s album came next and was followed by ‘We Need Freedom’.
“Nobody will give us freedom, we have to set ourselves free,” Olokungboye noted after the song lambasting Nigeria’s thieving politicians.
Clutching his ubiquitous trumpet, Olaiya walked into the venue in company of Rolling Dollar, Olusola, Tee-Mac and others some minutes after 6pm while Olokungboye was doing Fela’s ‘No Agreement’. The show, which had commenced an hour behind the advertised 4pm, began in earnest thereafter. Olaiya’s All Star Band rendered three of the maestro’s timeless tracks including ‘Omo Pupa’ and ‘Kiriji Kenkeluke’ while guests signed the birthday card specially made for the occasion.
“We have looked forward to the birthdays of our members since the inception of the club,”disclosed Bambo Ademiluyi, one of the coordinators of the Highlife All Star Club, who welcomed guests. He recalled that the London-based Tunji Oyelana was celebrated when he attained the age of 70 late 2009 while it was the turn of Alaba Pedro last year. He also touched on what the club is about.
Chair of the event, Olusola, reiterated why Olaiya deserved the honour being accorded him, noting that “we must honour him first before the world will honour him.” Olusola ended his address with a prayer for longevity for Olaiya. “80 is good, but not good enough. We are praying that we are around when he marks his 85th and 90th birthday.”
Grandfather of Afrobeat
Columnist Idonije’s toast was preceded by ‘Cherry Koko’, another Olaiya song from the band. The music writer adduced two reasons why the man some call ‘the innovator’ deserves all the accolades. The fact that Olaiya clocked 80, an age not easy to reach, especially for musicians, and his continued relevance to music in Nigeria, Idonije noted, made him worthy of celebration. Idonije said that despite setting up his band in 1954, the Octogenarian continues to wax strong and continues to attract accolades.
He further described Olaiya as the father of Highlife music in Nigeria, adding that but for him, “Highlife won’t be known in Nigeria. Ghana would have continued to claim the credit; but only the name came from Ghana.”
Idonije, who also touched on Ghanaian, E.T Mensah and Olaiya’s collaborative relationship, noted that the latter influenced generations of musicians including Fela. He said that Fela’s style in the early days when he played Highlife was Olaiya’s style and that while Fela is credited with originating Afrobeat, Olaiya is the godfather of Afrobeat because of his influence on Fela. He prayed that the ‘Mo fe mu’yan’ crooner lives till 90 and beyond.
Latoya vs Tee-Mac
Olaiya went down memory lane in his response to the toast. Still clutching his trumpet, he thanked Olusola and Idonije for their kind words. He also told the gathering that he and Idonije clashed and fell out some 40 years ago but thanked God that they are now best of friends.
“Today is a happy day in my life. It is a wonderful evening, an extension of my 80th birthday celebration,” said the celebrant who also thanked and prayed for his professional colleagues. “You will clock 80, 90 and 100!”, he said. A resounding ‘amen’ naturally followed.
A mini drama was staged before, during and after the cutting of the birthday cake. Veterans including Olusola, Rolling Dollar, Pedro, Julius and Aboderin amongst others joined the celebrant and his wife, Victoria, in cutting the cake. A long happy birthday song lasting almost 15 minutes then started. Lewis, Tee-Mac, Jojo Bodybeats, Yinka Davies, Oyewole, Rolling Dollar, Latoya Aduke and Nomoreloss all sang and danced to the song with Olaiya joining in later with his trumpet.
Julius, a saxophonist confirmed his mastery of the instrument with a long, pulsating display of sound while his dancer wife and Tee-Mac provided another spectacle. The duo did a mixture of tango, ballroom dance and traditional ‘Owambe’ to the admiration of the crowd. But more was to come from Latoya Aduke who wowed the gathering when her husband and Aboderin sang his popular ‘Jagua Nana’.
Dejumo Lewis, the king in ‘Village Headmaster’ is a known actor but it appears he also moonlights as a singer. He and Olusola started ‘Omo Oniresi’ before Olaiya joined them. Olaiya’s band led by Bayode, his banker son who got married the previous day, also joined in the merriment before leaving the stage for Rolling Dollar.
Though released years ago, Rolling Dollar’s ‘Won Kere si Number’ has lost none of its appeal. What made it more unique at the occasion was the way the minstrel sang it for his ‘aburo’ (younger brother). He did it in the best tradition of the Yoruba praise singer, eulogising Olaiya, himself and praying for the celebrant.
“Rolling Dollar, olohun arere, agbalagba to nse bi omode” (sonorous voiced Rolling Dollar, old man acting like a young man), he said at a point to hoots of approval from the crowd. The tireless Latoya Aduke also danced during Rolling Dollar’s performance.
The Evergreen Band added to the fun with Olaiya’s popular ‘Bisi’ and one of Fela’s early Highlife numbers. They took the audience back to the swinging 60s with a song from Trinidad and Tobago. Couples, Julius and Latoya and Rolling Dollars and his wife who held themselves tightly while the song was on were a sight to behold. Alaba Pedro and some others later rounded up the party for the ‘Evil Genius’.
By Akintayo Abodunrin, Next.