By Hakeem Jamiu
My father, Alhaji R.A Jamiu had been a fan of this genius of highlife, Dr. Victor Abimbola Olaiya a.k.a Papingo Dalaya, since I was born. His own evil genius was not in a negative sense like another evil genius in Nigerian politics rather, he is an evil genius that attracts lovers of highlife from within and outside the country. Sir Victor Olaiya through his music had impacted on many lives. It was the former Managing Director of the Nigerian Daily Times, Alhaji Alade Odunewu who gave him the nickname, “Evil Genius of Highlife” and the name stuck ever since.
My attention was first drawn to his music as a young boy during the 1979 General Elections in Nigeria. One of his evergreen numbers, Baakodaya which he waxed in 1960 was used as the soundtrack in announcing election results. As expected then in the Southwest where the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) held sway, whenever Bakodaya was playing on the radio, everybody would rush to hear the result of the election which would be predictably in favour of the UPN. Baakodaya became a sound track of announcing the failure of the NPN candidates at all levels during the 1979 general elections. The music goes thus, Obo n bo Sokoto lona Baakodaya, Baba Iyabo Mama Iyabo nko , Baakodaya etc. I became interested in his music right from that period and I later discovered he sang other hit tracks like Omopupa, Aigana, Pambotoriboto, Opataritius, Mo fe Muyan, Oruku tinditindi, Jemila, Erewelewekunewele, Kosowo obe, Odale Ore, So fun mi, Omolanke, Tina Mate, Trumphet Highlife, Africa, Fa mi mora, Yabominisa, etc.
Dr. Victor Abimbola Olaiya is an enigma. At 80, he was still is fit as fiddle as he performs regularly on stage at his Stadium Hotel located in Surulere area of Lagos State. When the committee that put together the 100 days-in-office- programme of events in Ekiti State decided to honour him on his 80th birthday by inviting him to play at the event, Sir Olaiya was playing on stage when the S.A Media to Ekiti State Governor, Mr. Mojeed Jamiu, called him. He graciously agreed to play at the occasion fixed for January 23, 2011 at the trade fair complex, Ado-Ekiti. Little did Victor Olaiya know that the invitation to play would bring a pleasant surprise as the Governor presented him a brand new Toyota Avensis car as his birthday gift. He was overwhelmed with emotion and he prayed for the governor from the bottom of his heart saying, all his life, he has never been shown such kindness and bestowed with such honour!
When his band took the floor at the event, the atmosphere became electrified as his music brought back sweet old memories. The elderly Ekiti people at the event took to the floor and danced their hearts out. To them, it was the home coming of a star of highlife music and recognition of their generation by the youthful governor. Most of the elderly people who took to the floor at the occasion were those who had watched Victor Olaiya perform on stage in the 60s. Of particular note was an ex-Managing Director of the Federal Mortgage Bank, Chief S.B. Falegan who was so passionate about Highlife music and music that he once anchored a programme on Ekiti radio mainly on music of yester years. He was the first to take to the floor while other elders followed. Olaiya thrilled the audience when he sang for the Governor’s wife whose name; Bisi was one of his popular tunes.
The young also danced because they met the man whose popular tunes like Omopupa and Onilegogoro had been remixed by many of our young hip-hop artistes such as Nomoreloss. Coincidentally, my father who was an ardent fan of Olaiya in the 60s was in attendance and he introduced himself to the highlife maestro. They discussed and reminisced on events that occurred about 40 years ago when Sir victor Olaiya came to play in Ado-Ekiti and many young men and women then, including my father came in their hundreds to watch him live but not satisfied, moved again to Ikare (a distance of about 100 kilometres to Ado-Ekiti ) the same day to watch him again. It was at the 100 days event that many people learnt Sir Victor Olaiya hailed from Ijesa-Isu Ekiti, Ikole Local Government Area of Ekiti State. Dr. Fayemi said such achievers like Dr. Victor Olaiya should be honoured for their immense contribution to music and for being a good ambassador of Ekiti State. The governor noted that 80 is not an age easy to reach for musicians, and Olaiya’s constant relevance to music in Nigeria, made him worthy of celebration.
Dr. Victor Abimbola 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 were natives of Ijesha-Isu, Ekiti State. He started his musical career 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 but 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. Olaiya is a multi linguist who speaks Yoruba, Hausa and Ibo fluently.
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 travelled 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. He later renamed his band The All Stars Soul International.
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. He was once president of the Nigerian Union of Musicians. His music is a bridge between Ghanaian highlife and what would later become Afrobeat. His musical style was strongly influenced by James Brown, with horn parts harmonised in Brown’s style, as opposed to the mostly unison lines of Afrobeat. His music is not only infectious; it is also captivating and evokes memories of the good old days in Nigeria. His music typifies the orthodox highlife music, played with great energy.
Olaiya was philosophical in his music. A particular track, “Ilu le o” which he released in the 60s is still very apt today. In Ilu le, Olaiya sang about the economic melt-down of that period such that ladies would dress gorgeously and visit a man unannounced with the real motive of collecting money to cushion the effects of the hardship. The unique style of some of his recordings is inimitable. The way Olaiya and his fellow trumpeters in his band blow the saxophone during live shows is marvellous and magical.
In 1986, I watched Dr. Victor Olaiya on stage as a student in the University of Lagos. He came to play at the University’s auditorium. Professors and other members of staff danced their hearts out to the evergreen tunes such as Mofe muyan, Omo pupa and Bisi.
He played with a popular Ghanaian highlife artist E. T. Mensah of Ghana, and together they released a best-selling joint album. Both the drummer Tony Allen and vocalist Fela Kuti played with Olaiya and went on to achieve individual success. Kola Ogunkoya of (Pe mi loruko fame) played in the All Stars Band from 1986 to 1987 and went on to have a highly successful career with his own Afrobeat band. Before he came to play in Ekiti, many highlife musicians whom he had inspired had organised a befitting birthday celebration for the evil genius on Sunday January 9, 2011.
Great highlife crooners such as Fatai Rolling Dollar, Alaba Pedro, Duro Ikujenyo, Anjola Aboderin, Eji Oyewole, Orlando Julius and his wife, Latoya Aduke, patriarch of the Arts, Segun Olusola; Femi Esho of Evergreen Music; newspaper columnist, Benson Idonije; flutist Tee-Mac; and actor, Dejumo Lewis were all in attendance. Younger musicians affiliated to the genre were not exempted. Yinka Davies, Nomoreloss, and Jojo Bodybeats also came to pay homage to Olaiya, the inimitable artist. The event was put together by the Highlife All Stars Club. What baffles many people about Dr. Olaiya is that despite his fame and nature of his job which attracts women, he is married to only one woman Mrs. Victoria Olaiya and they are blessed with children who are all doing fine in their chosen fields. Olaiya’s 62 -year old wife is always supportive of her husband and she was with him in Ado-Ekiti when he performed at the 100 days celebrations.
As lovers of Highlife throughout the world celebrates this extra ordinary musician whose music lives till today and would definitely outlive him, Ekiti people are proud of this achiever.
-Hakeem Jamiu who was Senior Special Assistant to Ekiti State Governor on Research and now Deputy Speaker, Ekiti State House of Assembly wrote this piece nine years ago when Victor Olaiya turned 80