In the pantheon of outstanding musical giants in the world, the name of Dr.Victor Abimbola Olaiya, shall reverberate for generations to come. Born in the historical Southern City of Calabar, Nigeria, young Victor, was a gifted child equally endowed with striking musical talents. His parents were active in Church and, his beloved mother, played the organ.
The young man always wished to study engineering and was indeed offered a place at Howard University, USA. However, through a conspiracy of fate, that aspiration never materialized. Paradoxically, the loss to engineering, was a majestic gain to music, and Olaiya deployed his talents to the latter to the fullest, by his own testimony.
Whether on the trumpet (his primary instrument), the originality of his compositions and lyricism, his musical arrangements, or indeed the call-and-response patterns of his horn section; in Highlife, Jazz, Yoruba, Igbo, Itshekiri folk music; his musical dexterity was consistently supreme!
Before launching his Cool Cats Band in pre-Independence Nigeria, Victor Olaiya, honed his skills with the talented band leader, Bobby Benson (of Caban Bamboo fame) and the multi-instrumentalist, Sam Ekpe Akpabot. Subsequently renaming his band the All-Stars Band, Olaiya’s notable contemporaries included the Ghanaian alto saxophonist, Emmanuel Tetteh Mensah (E.T.); the ace guitarist, Julius Araba (of Easy Motion Tourist fame); the trumpeter, Erekosima Lawson (Cardinal Jim Rex Lawson); the saxophonist, John Akintola Ademuwagun (Roy Chicago); the saxophonist, Chris Ajilo; the trumpeter, Eddy Okonta (Eddy Nwanmama); the trumpeter, Agu Norris; the trumpeter, E.C. Arinze and others.
Great at spotting talents, to Victor Olaiya’s eternal credit, he provided a trans-generational platform for the development of Nigerian musicians, many of whom subsequently achieved local and international stardom including Fela Ransome-Kuti (who first played the trumpet in Olaiya’s second band!); Dele Ojo; Victor Uwaifo; Celestine Ukwu; Oluwasina Peters; Ken Okulolo, Tu-Face Idibia to name a few.
Olaiya’s All Stars Band, in its various incarnations, featured a sparkling array of fine musicians including , Sivor Lawson (Sivvy), K’aiyero (Kyro),Skid Okwechime (Skiddo), Y.S. Akinnibosun (Y.S.), Lanre Aloba, Kakaraka, Chico to a name a few. Dr Olaiya’s children are accomplished musicians in their own right too.
Importantly, the thrust of Olaiya’s songs addressed diverse human thematics pertaining to love, socio-economics, politics, hardwork, life and death, jealousy etc. As a multi-linguist, Victor Olaiya sang in English, Yoruba, Igbo and Itshekiri, which enabled him to penetrate a vast audience across the African continent and beyond. Unsurprisingly therefore, Victor Olaiya bequeaths to posterity, evergreen classics like Aigana, Alarede, All Stars’ Invitation, Ekwe Ngbaduga, E wele we kwu ewele, Fami mora, Ilu le o, Iye Jemila, Labalaba, Lafia we Lawani, Omere Boko, Omolanke, So fun funmi, Tina Ma Te, Yabomisa and more.
Olaiya’s club, The Stadium Hotel, Surulere, Lagos, was a musical melting pot where he would always welcome and entertain his friends, and teeming local and international fans, on a weekly basis.
Alas, as Dr. Victor Abimbola Olaiya, the Evil Genius of Highlife Music, Legend, Mentor, and Patriot, is committed to earth today 7th May 2020, Claude Campbell’s aphorism resonates most eloquently: to live in hearts we leave behind, is not to die.
Adieu, Dr Victor Abimbola Olaiya!!!
Femi D. Ojumu Esq.