Nov 26, 2010
Nigerian classic: Victor Olaiya - All Stars Soul International
Olaiya was born on 31 December 1931, in Calabar, Cross River State, the 20th child of a family of 24. His parents, Alfred Omolona Olaiya and Bathsheba Owolabi Motajo came from Ijesha-Ishu in Ekiti State. 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, USA to study Civil engineering. However, due to lack of money he was unable to go, and instead started a career as a musician, a move of which his parents disapproved. He played with the Sammy Akpabot band, the Old Lagos City Orchestra (a dance band) and the Bobby Benson Jam Session Orchestra, where he was leader and trumpeter of the second band.
In 1954 he left Bobby Benson to form 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 that occasion, he shared the stage with the famous American jazz player Louis Armstrong. During the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-1970, Olaiya was given the rank of a lieutenant colonel (honorary) in the Nigerian Army when his band played for the troops at various locations. His band later traveled to the Congo to perform for United Nations troops. He led his band, renamed to the All Stars Band, to the 1963 International Jazz Festival in Prague, Czechoslovakia
In addition to his successful career as a musician, Olaiya ran a business that imported and distributed musical instruments and accessories throughout West Africa, and also established the Stadium Hotel in Surulere.
In 1990, Olaiya received a fellowship of the Institute of Administrative Management of Nigeria. For a period, he was president of the Nigerian Union of Musicians.
Olaiya's music bridges between Ghanaian highlife and what would become Afrobeat. His musical style was strongly influenced by James Brown, with horn parts harmonized 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. His music is infectious, typifying highlife music, played with great energy. The unique style of some of his recordings is inimitable.
He played with highlife artist E. T. Mensah of Ghana, and released a best-selling joint album with Mensah. Both the drummer Tony Allen and vocalist Fela Kuti played with Olaiya and went on to achieve individual success. Kola Ogunkoya played in the All Stars Band from 1986 to 1987 and went on to have a highly successful career with his own Afrobeat band.
"They thought I moved Highlife music out of the ordinary. Then, it was believed that my Highlife was a little bit out of this world, beyond explanation. This was why Alhaji Alade Odunewu of the Daily Times styled me The Evil Genius of Highlife."
Victor Olaiya is certainly one of the legendary foundation stones of modern Nigerian music, yet he has never received much acknowlegement or really had his albums released or promoted in any quantity outside of Nigeria. So this Vampisoul release is a step in the right direction and not before time, for a 77 years old who was probably Nigeria’s leading star of 50's and early 60's, his golden years. Dr. Victor Abimbola Olaiya, the evil genius of Highlife, is still sockin’ it to them after 60 years on stage. If you’re lucky you can catch him blowing that trumpet and singing his heart out at his own celebrated 'Stadium Hotel' in Lagos, Nigeria.
This album from 1970 is from Olaiya’s Highlife / Funk phase, but its worth taking a trawl through his back pages to see how he became the Evil Genius, before you roll back the rug and get down with the Highlife-Funk.
In his own words
I was born to the family of Alfred Omolewa Bath Sheba Owolabi Olaiya in the ancient city of Calabar on 31st December 1937. I am from Ijesha-Ishu in Ekiti State. I had my early education at Big Qua Town at Calabar, while my primary education was at African school, Onitsha. I came to Lagos in search of greener pastures and for greater challenges and I had an opportunity to further my education, regarding music as a past time. I started attending classes in the day and playing music in the night, until I sat for and passed the school certificate examination in 1951. I later gained admission into Howard University, America to read Civil engineering but finance became I stumbling block and as such I couldn't go to Howard to study.
Incursion Into music
I was not to be a musician. I did not have any premonition of my calling into the music profession. Like I said I was to be a civil engineer and by the time I got a scholarship to go overseas, I asked my uncle the late S. O. Rotimi who was then living at Owerri, to lend me some money to aid my transportation by sea to Howard. But he turned me down. At that instance I couldn't embark on the journey and the opportunity of the scholarship failed. So, I started playing music, which was my hobby then. With God's guidance I started paying attention to music which today has earned me fame.
A Stumbling Block
At that time my family was against my going into music. They believed naturally, that, anyone who plays music is an irresponsible person who belonged to the group of Indian hemp smokers. To them, music was a No-Go-Area until providence smiled at me. The maiden issue of Daily Times had on the front page reported that Victor Olaiya was to play at one of the big ceremonies. My elder brother saw it and was furious. he called me and every member of the family and I was made to explain to every one whether I am the person talked about in the papers. I couldn't answer and I was shivering. at the end, I said yes. They asked me if I play music, I also said yes. It was then they prayed for me and gave me the go ahead and this was how I got my freedom to be in music.
Like Father, Like Son
Today, my children play different kinds of instrument; some play trumpet just like me, others play piano, guitars etc. It is a matter of choice and it appears that they are stepping into my shoes. As at now six of them read music and they play piano. There are three girls, Yejide is good on clarinet, she is a graduate of the University of Lagos, she is currently doing her masters degree at the University of Ibadan. She also plays the auto-sax. The two other girls play electric guitar and piano. Dupe also plays clarinet and auto-sax. The male, Bayode plays the trumpet and takes the lead, he is also a graduate of Lagos State University. There is also Abidemi, a student of the University of Ibadan studying Civil engineering, he plays the tenor saxophone. And the third boy, Abiodun Olaiya, plays the trumpet. They form the front row instrumentalist of the band. I have always desired that all of them play the piano and major in one instrument. A number of them have taken after me and as at now they are playing in the band and are doing very well. Just come here on Saturday, you will see them performing.
Highlife Never Dies
A number of us were playing Highlife in the past because it was the reigning music at that time and every type of music played then had to borrow one or two things from Highlife. This is why I always say that "For Highlife I live and for it I shall die". Anybody who is coming up directly or indirectly borrows something from Highlife and will continue to do that, but you see because we are very few remaining now people believe that highlife music is not what it used to be, but I think it is still what it used to be.
Cool Cat Orchestra
The cool cat was formed in 1954. The group was made up of the likes of Professor Abayomi of University of Lagos (UNILAG), he was my saxophonist, we had Akanni Akinde who designed the Cool Cat with all the cat features. K.K Ajilo (saxophone) and K Anifowose, (trumpet), Dennis Lawani (Drum), Sammy Latte and the late Bala Miller, Fela played in my band too. as a matter of fact that was where he learnt how to play the trumpet. A number of those we started the band are still with me, although very aged but they are still agile and going strong. Most of them are over 70.
Then I had late John Akintola aka (Roy Chicago), Cardinal Jim Rex Lawson who played in my band before going to form his own, Late Agun Norris of Empire Orchestra, Celestine Ukwu of Anambra, late Bala Miller and many that I cannot remember now. But amongst those who are still living are those who have been promoted. Providence has promoted them, they have worked themselves to limelight, the likes of Sir Victor Uwaifo, A.C Arinze and Osita Osadebe.
A Career In Business
I have the biggest musical instrument shop, which deals in importation, distribution and marketing, in West Africa. I have been in the sales and marketing of musical accessories for the best part of 50 years and my shop is still existing. It is located at Tinubu square, Lagos. Then I go annually to the world biggest musical exhibition, which is usually held in Frankfurt in Western Germany. In 1963, when the Czech government held the first world international jazz festival and they wanted a band to represent Africa because they too believe that jazz originated from Africa, I was nominated and invited to represent the continent of Africa.
When I discovered that we could get the musical instrument we needed, I decided to go into hotel business because over the years I suffered seriously at the hand of hoteliers. Then we used to move from one hotel to the other performing but each time we tried to build up, the hoteliers tried to frustrate us by ejecting us. We attributed all these to the fact that they are our rivals. That made me move from one hotel to the other in different parts of Lagos. I kept rolling like a rolling stone until we finally thought we had found the place and named it PAPIGO DAVALAYA along Apapa. No sooner we thought we had settled down and made a conquest than we saw an ejection letter and a court injunction terminating the contract of our principal agent. There wasn't much we could do other than to start touring and I was touring the country three times every year because I had no permanent place to perform. I decided to start taking my music to everyone in Nigeria even to the remotest village in the country and that helped my popularity then. This was why I tried to put up a place of my own to help free musicians from this unwarranted harassment and I started saving towards building a night club which eventually metamorphosed into a hotel. I just wanted a wall, a round place where I could play and people could come and listen to my band and enjoy it but as providence would have it I ended up building a hotel enclosing a nite club which today we named 'Pappingo Nite Club Of Stadium Hotel'. The stadium Hotel has been in existence since 1972.
It is just one National honors award that I have received, that is Officer of the Order of Niger (OON) which I got about three years ago. That is the only award that I have actually accepted, although I have one very important award which I accepted when Ondo State was still with Ekiti State and my name was engraved in gold at the Cocoa House as one of the illustrious sons of Ekiti and Ondo State. Many awards having been coming, but I have not accepted any of them because they are local and cheap. A situation where someone would come up to say because I am a highlife king he wants to give me an award; I don't honor such. I don't believe in that and I don't even go. I think it was peculiar to me and late Fela Anikulakpo Kuti.
They shouldn't just come in search of money, they must ensure and search their respective conscience that they have callings in the field of music. They should make sure they do it conscientiously with prayers. I have not come into music because of money. mine was accidental although I maintain and claim that music runs in the blood of my family and I have demonstrated it.
The influence of James Brown in West Africa in the '60s and '70s is utterly astounding, as any fan of the Ghana Soundz compilations is aware. Dr. Victor Abimbola Olaiya, known as the "evil genius of highlife," serves as the bridge between Ghanaian highlife and what would become Afrobeat. Fela Kuti and drummer Tony Allen are notable alumni of Olaiya's groups. Olaiya is equally indebted to Brown here. Nigerian highlife is clearly a transitional music — the horn parts are harmonized in the style of Brown and Ghanaian highlife, as opposed to the mostly unison lines of Afrobeat. The percolating, swinging percussion is present but the syncopated style Tony Allen would later pioneer is in its infancy. The unfortunate thing about this reissue is the lack of documentation. While Vampisoul has done the best with the information it has, the musicians are unidentified and much is unknown about these 1970 sessions. It's a shame because these sides are important to the Diaspora of African music.
Spain's Vampi-Soul picked the perfect album with which to enter into the African-funk reissue game. Big-band leader Victor Olaiya's 14-minute funk/highlife medley of James Brown's "There Was a Time/Cold Sweat" sounds like a modern-day DJ mash-up of Brown's Live at the Apollo performance and, well, one of Olaiya's highlife numbers. Elsewhere on the album, Olaiya's version of "Mother Popcorn" offers another excellent take on the JB sound. His female vocalist also makes a glorious mess of Marva Whitney's "Things Got to Get Better."
1. Let Yourself Go
2. There Was A Time
3. Okere Gwonko
4. I Feel Alright
5. Soro Jeje Fun Arogbo
6. Cold Sweat
7. New Nigeria
8. Things Got To Get Better
9. Everybody Needs Love
10. Magic Feet
12. Mother Popcorn
Labels: Victor Olaiya