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And the trumpet sounds… exit of Victor Olaiya

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He was an enigma. He was a different thing to different people. With his trademark white handkerchief and trumpet that glistened, he was a fascination to everybody, who listened to his music. His unrelenting voice called everyone to attention. He possessed an energy, which many tried to pontificate in books, videos, theatrical performances and plastic arts.

That was Sir Victor Abimbola Olaiya, who passed on yesterday at the ripe age of 89. The musician passed away after a brief illness at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital on Wednesday. The Managing Director of Evergreen Music Company Ltd, Bimbo Esho, announced Olaiya’s demise.

The Chairman/CEO of Evergreen Music Company Ltd, Mr. Femi Esho, told The Guardian that Olaiya’s death was a national loss, stressing, “he was the last of the original.”“He was not properly honoured in Nigeria. He played for the country’s independent celebration in 1960. Prior to that, he played for the Queen of England, when she visited the country in 1956. Evergreen celebrated him eight years ago, and that was honour he got from this country.”

According to a playwright, culture activist and former Deputy Editor of The Guardian, Ben Tomoloju, Olaiya’s death “is the winding up of an epoch.”Among other musicians in the genre who have passed on are Roy Chicago, Rhythm Dandies, Adeolu Akinsanya, Rex Jim Lawson, Eddy Okonta and Bobby Benson. Tomoloju said this epoch might not be regenerated easily because, these artistes, “made a landmark in the consciousness of African music.”

For Prof Duro Oni, former Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Management Services), University of Lagos, Olaiya’s death is a great loss to the creative arts. He said, “Olaiya promoted highlife music in Nigeria and across the world, wherever he played. He was a very successful musician and entrepreneur. He owned the very first hotel I stayed in Lagos, Stadium Hotel, in 1976. He successfully combined his music career and business, as he owned a nightclub. May his soul rest in peace and may the Lord grant his family the fortitude to bear the loss.”

The thousands of members of Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON) spread all over Nigeria mourn the passing on of one of Nigeria’s greatest musicians of all times.Reacting to the news of the passage of the great highlife superstar, singer and trumpeter, COSON Chairman, Chief Tony Okoroji, said, “this passing of Olaiya is like the fall of a big Iroko and the end of an era. Olaiya was in every way one of Nigeria’s greatest musicians of all times who held on to his art decade after decade after decade.

“His influence on Nigerian music and musicians is immeasurable. His impact on entertainment in the country is unequalled. Yes, there will be other musicians over time, but there will not be another Victor Olaiya. Fare thee well great maestro.”

A gifted trumpeter, Olaiya rose to global fame in the 1950s and 1960s through his blend of gripping highlife sound. He sang songs that have remained evergreen. Described by the late Alhaji Alade Odunewu as the, “evil genius”, the octogenarian said, “highlife music is 10 per cent inspiration and 90 per cent perspiration. I am called evil genius because I make my fans sweat through dancing while enjoying my music. To make a difference in the music, you need to sweat.”


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Victor Olaiya
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