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Nigeria’s Top Highlife Musician Is Dead

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Veteran Highlife musician, Dr Victor Abimbola Olaiya, is dead.

His demise was confirmed by his label, Evergreen Music Company in a statement on Wednesday.

He was 89 years old.

“The entire music world wish to announce the death of a Legend of Highlife music, One of the last men standing, the last of the original Dr Victor Abimbola Olaiya OON,” Bimbo Esho, Managing Director, Evergreen Music said.

“We pray that the soul of the Doyen of highlife music find repose with his creator while wishing the family and entire music community the fortitude to bear this irreplaceable loss.”

As a musician, Olaiya’s musical genre straddled both highlife and afro beats.He also had popular hits such as ‘Ilu le Kosi owo L’ode’, ‘Omo Pupa o’, Baby J’owo and so on.

According to his biography, Olaiya was born on 31 December 1930, in Calabar, Cross River State, the 20th child of a family of 24.

At an early age he learned to play the Bombardon and the French Horn. After leaving school he moved to Lagos, where he passed the school certificate examination in 1951 and was accepted by Howard University, US, to study civil engineering. Olaiya instead pursued a career as a musician, to the disapproval of his parents. He played with the Sammy Akpabot Band, was leader and trumpeter for the Old Lagos City Orchestra and joined the Bobby Benson Jam Session Orchestra.

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In 1954 Olaiya formed his own band, the Cool Cats, playing popular highlife music. His band was chosen to play at the state ball when Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom visited Nigeria in 1956, and later to play at the state balls when Nigeria became independent in 1960 and when Nigeria became a republic in 1963. On the latter occasion, Olaiya shared the stage with the American jazz musician Louis Armstrong. During the Nigerian Civil War of 1967–70, Olaiya was given the rank of a lieutenant colonel (honorary) in the Nigerian army and his band played for the troops at various locations. The Cool Cats later travelled to the Congo to perform for United Nations troops.

Olaiya renamed his band to the All Stars Band when they played the 1963 International Jazz Festival in Czechoslovakia.

Olaiya also ran a business that imported and distributed musical instruments and accessories throughout West Africa, and established the Stadium Hotel in Surulere.

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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.

Olaiya married many wives. He had children and grandchildren. One of his sons is Bayode Olaiya.

May His Soul Rest In Peace.