The ranks of Nigerian veteran highlife musicians got further depleted with the death late Thursday night of saxophonist, singer and producer Orlando Julius at the age of 79.
A viral message by music promoter Bimbo Esho of Evergreen Music first announced Julius’ passing before his wife, Latoya Aduke, also confirmed it.
Esho’s post read: “Bimbo, Daddy Has Passed On….This was the message I stumbled on waking up at exactly 3 am to peruse my WhatsApp page. It was a message sent to me by Orlando Julius’ beautiful and supportive wife Lady Latoya.
“Orlando Julius, a native of Ijebu Ijesha, succumbed to the cold hands of death and breathed his last few hours ago at the age of 79.
“We shall miss one of Nigeria’s Afro/Highlife Music fathers, a gentleman and a fine Saxophonist.
“May daddy Orlando Julius’ soul journey well. To the entire Ekemode family, may God give you the fortitude to bear this irreplaceable loss.”
Latoya Aduke later disclosed, “Yes, my husband passed on late last night, there was no indication that death was coming, he was not ill, he only slept and died in his sleep.”
Named Julius Aremu Olusanya Ekemode by his parents, OJ started music early in elementary school in Ikole, where he was born. The sudden death of his father at the commencement of high school made him head to Ibadan to learn music professionally.
In a 2018 interview at his Ijebu-Jesa, Osun State home, where he had relocated to after leaving the hustle and bustle of Lagos, he had explained his choice of Ibadan thus. “The city was the Mecca of entertainment in Nigeria. The big names in music and other spheres of life emerged there. Ibadan is a place where you need to be close to music; it’s where everything that is first in Africa started.”
Upon arriving in Ibadan, there was no music school, so the then Premiere of the Western Region, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, made his party, the Actin Group, establish one at Oke-Ado.
Orlando Julius recorded his first single, ‘Igbehin Adara’ through the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation (NBC) in 1960 but retuned to Ilesha, where he joined his kinsman, the late Dr IK Dairo’s band. He led the band until he established his 10-piece band, Orlando Julius & His Modern Aces. The band performed regularly at Independence Hotel, Oke-Bola, Ibadan before releasing his first single, ‘Jagua Nana’ on Phillips Records Label. He later travelled to the then Western Germany and later the US.
In 1974, OJ relocated to the US, where he remained till 1998 before moving back home. While in God’s Own Country, he produced an album entitled ‘The Boy is Doing It’ with late South African musician Hugh Masekela. However, he came home in 1984 to start recording the album’ Dance Afro Beat’ at EMI Studios.
His song, ‘Ashiko,’ was a hit on the album. His track, ‘Isedale Baba a wa’ in an album produced with Lamont Dozier during FESTAC ’77, was also popularly accepted.
But it wasn’t just performances that occupied him in the US; he also seized the opportunity to improve himself. He studied Audio Engineering and Production at Bear West Studios and Film Production at the Berkeley Film Institute. That’s not all. He made a film with Jimi Solanke in the US.
The artiste and his wife, Latoya, also spent five years in Ghana (2003 to 2008) before he eventually returned home and subsequently moved to Ijebu-Jesha.
Explaining what made him move to his hometown, the artist who also featured on the Bar Beach Show on Channel 10, where he worked with the late Art Modupe Alade, said, “I have lived in many places, and it’s not that I’m in Ilesa to hide. I’ve always wanted to stay in a place where I can set up a music school to train people and have a performance venue and a studio. I feel this is the place to do that, and our arena is almost ready. It’s also giving back to my hometown. I wanted to ensure that my people have access to me, and I want to make them happy.”
His popular songs include ‘Ijo Soul’, ‘Adara’, ‘My Girl’, ‘Columbia’, ‘Jaiyede Afro’ and ‘Ololufe’. He collaborated with several foreign artists and bands, including Hugh Masekela, Lamont Dozier, James Brown, The Crusaders and the British band, The Heliocentrics.
With Orlando’s passing, Ijebu-Jesa, the home town of the late masters Ambrose Campbell, IK Dairo and Chris Ajilo, has lost its last major veteran.