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Music Through The Ages: How Old Births The New

By Guardian Life
14 April 2019   |   11:00 am
Once upon a time, highlife was the music. The names of artists of old who thrilled audiences at parties and homes, include: Dr Victor Abimbola Olaiya, Bobby Benson, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, Orlando Owoh, Cardinal Jim Rex Lawson, Oliver DeCoque, Sir Warrior and his Oriental Brothers, and many more. There were some in other genres…

Once upon a time, highlife was the music. The names of artists of old who thrilled audiences at parties and homes, include: Dr Victor Abimbola Olaiya, Bobby Benson, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, Orlando Owoh, Cardinal Jim Rex Lawson, Oliver DeCoque, Sir Warrior and his Oriental Brothers, and many more.

There were some in other genres like Fela Anikulapo Kuti, whose Afrobeat was close to highlife, except that it is a combination of traditional Nigerian music, jazz, highlife, funk, chanted vocals, fused with percussion and vocal styles, popularised in Africa in the 1970s.

But no soon, the old artistes began to give way and new trends emerged on the scene. But with a vey strong link to the old. Hence, either as collaboration or direct influence, the adaptation is always obvious —A master and the apprentice walking the same rope. The trend may not be new, but each passing day, a new artiste climbs on the back of an old to hit fame, which has some wondering the influence old artists are having on the young.

Though Tuface, 2Baba, as he is now called, made his name before his collaboration with Dr Victor Olaiya, the song has in a way put him ahead of others as an artiste whose future is defined. Baby Mi Da (Baby Jowo) remix ft. 2face Idibia and Olaiya is a fusion of the best of both worlds, old school meets new school. The legendary highlife trumpeter, Olaiya, featured 2Baba Idibia in a remix that seems to have enjoyed tremendous blend of voice and musicianship. The song, which was done in 1960 originally, has been remixed thrice by Art Alade (1985), Lieutenant Shotgun (1992) and Olaiya ft 2Face Idibia in 2013.

Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe’s Osondi Owendi (1970s) has also been remixed by MC Loph ft Flavour – Osondi Owendi (2009). While Bobby Benson’s Taxi Driver (1960s) also influenced his son, Tony Benson’s song of the same track and Mandy Brown Ojugbana. Sunny Bobo equally did Love Adaure in 2009, which and Cardinal Jim Rex Lawson had done earlier, while Joromi by Victor Uwaifo has been retouched by Yemi Alade.

Victor Abimbola Olaiya and Innocent Ujah Idibia (2Baba)

Victor Olaiya

Victor Abimbola Olaiya (born December 31, 1930), also known as Dr. Victor Olaiya, described by the late Alhaji Alade Odunewu of the Daily Times as ‘The Evil Genius of Highlife’, 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. The music includes the swinging percussion of Tony Allen, but not the syncopated style that Allen later pioneered.

Before now, pop songster, Innocent Idibia, also known as Tuface, cuts the picture of an apolitical person, whose chief concern is his music, fame and wealth. His alluring voice has drawn him to many. Tuface’s musical career since he was with the defunct Plantation Boyz has grown considerably. Tuface was actually the true face of the now rested Plantation Boyz, which made wave a few years back on the local music scene. As the three artists that made up the defunct group went on solo run, Tuface has turned out to be an instant hit of the lot.


Since he released the blockbuster single, African Queen, Tuface has continued to churn out one monster hit after the other. Till date, he remains one of the most decorated Nigerian artists of all time. 2Baba has to compete with younger peers nowadays, so his music has grown sleeker and more up-tempo. Last summer, he released an infectious dance track called “Gaga Shuffle.”

Orlando Owoh and Yinka Ayefele

Yinka Ayefele

Stephen Oladipupo Owomoyela, popularly known as Orlando Owoh, no doubts, has influenced some of the younger generation artists such as, Yinka Ayefele and  Nomorelos. Ayefele’s Tungba is wholly a chip of Orlando Kennery sound. But what has become quite revealing was when Nomorelos remixed his Iyawo Olele as Iyawo Asiko.

Since the 60s, Owoh remained popular in Nigeria, even as tastes moved to the newer jùjú and fuji styles. He had over 45 albums to his credit. Since Ayefele began his music career in 1997 after he was involved in an automobile accident, which damaged his spinal cord and confined him to a
wheelchair, he has continued to make waves with his danceable songs. His debut album titled, Bitter Experience, in 1998, brought him into limelight. Bitter experience was followed by the release of Sweet Experience. Other albums released by the gospel musician are Something Else, Divine Intervention and Life after death, released in honor of Gbenga Adeboye, a Nigerian radio presenter, musician and comedian. The beauty of Ayefele’s songs is the manner in which human experiences are brought to bear to give room for reflection.

Ebenezer Obey and Simi

Ebenezer Obey

Simi specialises in songs, not in dance tracks: she is an expressive singer and writer, and her music coasts along on gentle, rippling rhythms. Simi is popular for the hit track, Aimasiko, a rhythm that was created by Chief Commander Ebenezer Obey. Ebenezer Obey has had a strong influence on Simi.


Obey, who began experimenting with Yoruba percussion style and expanding on the band by adding more drum kits, guitars and talking drums, is respected for his musical strengths, which lie in weaving intricate Yoruba axioms into dance-floor compositions. This is what is characteristic of Simi’s songs, which is appealing to the Nigerian
Yoruba social-circle music.

Osita Osadebe and Flavour

Born in March 1936 as Stephen Osita Osadebe, but popularly known as Osadebe, he was one of Nigeria’s most successful highlife musicians during his lifetime with a career that spanned over 40 years.

With his focus on Igbo Nigerian highlife music, his best-known hit is the classic 1984 single, Osondi Owendi (one man’s meat is another man’s poison). As a leading highlife musician, his works have greatly influenced the works of millennial artists singing in the same genre, one of which is Flavour. Their heavy reliance on the use of Igbo language in their songs to pass across their messages is easily noticeable and their dependence on Igbo customs and traditions is noticeable,

Flavour Nabania

Both artists started their careers in Lagos, with Osadebe beginning his musical journey singing at nightclubs while Flavour Nabania started his musical career as a drummer for a local church. Osadebe’s music encompassed Igbo and traditional musical elements, which is very much evident in Flavour’s style and made him a wedding favourite performer for most Igbo families that can afford his fees. Like the Afrobeat legend, Fela, Osadebe included social commentary, although not as confrontational as the latter. Interestingly, Osadebe often extended his tracks for his audiences’ enjoyment, allowing room for ‘people on the dance floor’ to indulge in the songs. The same attribute can be seen in Flavour’s love songs. Osadebe’s brand of music was not the convention in his time, as pioneers relied heavily on big band format that favoured melodic progressions that were in the common meter, church hymnal tradition. Osadebe, however, took things to a new level by completely transforming highlife into the call-and-response pattern of African music. It is in the same vein that Flavour has been able to carve a niche for himself in highlife music at a time when most lean heavily towards afrobeat.

Flavour released his self-titled debut album, N’abania, in 2005 and following its success, he instantly became one of Africa’s most celebrated and sought after music acts with high demand to have him at shows, concerts and social events. Highlife is the bedrock of Igbo music, the foundation of their recording prowess, and performance skill. And Flavour excels in it just as much as Osadebe — From music arrangements to performances. If you still doubt it, just listen to Osadebe’s Onyem Obi Gi and Flavour’s Ada Ada.

Grab a copy of  Guardian Life to read more about older artistes and the new artists they influence.

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