One of Nigeria’s legendary highlife musicians and iconic trumpeter Sir Victor Olaiya has passed away at the age of 89 after a brief illness. According to news reports, he passed away at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) today Wednesday, February 12, 2020. Confirming Sir Olaiya’s death, Bimbo Esho, Managing Director of Evergreen Music Company Ltd, said, “We pray that the soul of the Doyen of Highlife music finds repose with his creator while wishing the family and entire music community the fortitude to bear this irreplaceable loss.”
Born December 31, 1930 in Calabar, Cross River State, the 20th child of 24 children. His family is from Ijesha-Ishu, Ekiti State. At an early age, he learned to play the Bombardon and the French Horn and moved to Lagos after finishing secondary school. In 1951, he took and passed the school leaving certificate and got accepted into Howard University in the US to study Civil Engineering. He never attended though, instead opting to chase a music career.
In the early 50s, he played with various bands, including the Old Lagos City Orchestra and the Bobby Benson Jam Session Orchestra. Sir Olaiya started his own band, called the Cool Cats, in 1954 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 he played at two other state balls in 1960 (Nigeria’s independence) and 1963 (when Nigeria became a republic). At the latter event, Sir Olaiya shared the stage with jazz legend Louis Armstrong.
During the Nigerian Civil War of 1967–70, Olaiya was given the honorary rank of a lieutenant colonel in the Nigerian army and his band played for the troops at various locations.
The Cool Cats also travelled to the Congo to perform for United Nations troops during this time. In 1963, when his team played at the International Jazz Festival in Czechoslovakia, Olaiya renamed his band to the All Stars Band.
His career spans over five decades with hits like Omopupa, Aigana, Pambotoriboto, Opataritius, Mo fe Muyan, Jemila, Kosowo l’ode, Odale Ore, So fun mi, Omolanke, Tina Mate, among others. He released over 30 projects under labels like Polydor and Philips and officially retired in 2017.
Speaking on the legends demise, 2Baba, who Sir Olaiya featured in a 2013 remake of his song “Baby jowo,” said, “Devastated by the news of the passing of Dr. Victor Olaiya – maestro, mentor, legend. Thanks for the beautiful music. Thanks for the inspiration. Blessed for the honour of sharing a mic and stage with you. Rest in peace baba.”
“Indeed, Sir Victor Olaiya’s death, though at the advanced age of 89, is a profound loss to the Yoruba race and global music industry; we are nonetheless comforted by the fact that he used his talent to bless humanity in general,” said legendary fuji musician King Wasiu Ayinde Marshall (K1 De Ultimate), the Maiyegun of Yorubaland, in a statement from his media office. “The world would forever be grateful to him for the joy he propagated and has bequeathed posterity through his music. The thoughts and prayers of Yorubas across the world are with the Olaiya family at home and abroad.”
Olaiya built the Stadium Hotel in Surulere and for a period, he was also president of the Nigerian Union of Musicians. He reportedly married many wives and is survived by his children (including actress Moji Olaiya) and grandchildren.
May his soul Rest In Peace.
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