Nigerians grief at the death of Victor Olaiya

Victor Olaiya

News of the death of veteran musician, Victor Olaiya, has left many music lovers in grief.

According to a statement released by the Managing Director of Evergreen Music Company, Bimbo Esho, the highlife music maestro died while on admission at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH. He was 89 years old.

“The entire music world wish to announce the death of a legend of highlife music, one of the last men standing, the original Dr. Victor Abimbola Olaiya.

“This untimely incident happened at LUTH, Lagos State, at exactly 12 noon. We pray that the doyen of highlife music finds repose with the creator, while wishing the family and entire music community the fortitude to bear this irreplaceable loss.

“Olaiye’s death will create a big vacuum in the music industry. He was one of the last of the originals. He used his stadium hotel as a base to support the growth of music in Nigeria, as many of the popular acts today gained popularity using his base. He contributed immensely to the growth of highlife music in Nigeria and Ghana. Today, his songs will continue to remain evergreen in our hearts.”

National Coordinator of the Nollywood Mandate Group, Don Pedro Aganbi, has described the death of Olaiya as a sad day for Nigerian music.

In Pedro’s words, “Sad day for Nigeria music as the last of the last highlife iroko departs. No doubt he has written his name in gold. He has also left shoes behind difficult to fill. I appeal to government to turn the Stadium Hotel  into a national monument in memory of this music cum highlife legend.”

Journey of the highlife maestro, Dr. Victor Olaiya

Olaiya was born on 31 December 1930, 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. Olaiya came from a very rich family. His father’s house called Ilọijọs Bar stood on 2 Bamgbose Street, Lagos Island, until it was demolished on 11 September 2016. 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, US, to study civil engineering. Olaiya instead pursued a career as a musician, to the disapproval of his parents. He played with the Sammy Akpabot Band, was leader and trumpeter for the Old Lagos City Orchestra and joined the Bobby Benson Jam Session Orchestra.

In 1954 Olaiya formed 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 the latter occasion, Olaiya shared the stage with the American jazz musician Louis Armstrong. During the Nigerian Civil War of 1967–70, Olaiya was given the rank of a lieutenant colonel (honorary) in the Nigerian army and his band played for the troops at various locations. The Cool Cats later traveled to the Congo to perform for United Nations troops.

Olaiya renamed his band to the All Stars Band when they played the 1963 International Jazz Festival in Czechoslovakia.

He also ran a business that imported and distributed musical instruments and accessories throughout West Africa, and 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 also president of the Nigerian Union of Musicians.

Fast-forward to July 2013, Victor Olaiya released a video remix of his famous evergreen song Baby Jowo(Baby Mi Da). He partnered with 2Baba to create this masterpiece which was apparently warmly received.

Watch the video of Baby Jowo remix ft 2Baba;

In reaction to the great loss, 2Baba, via his social media page, describes the death of the veteran as ‘devastating’.

victor olaiya

He however went on to thank Victor for the beautiful music he put out and regards working and sharing stage with him as a great honor.

In 2Baba’s words;

“Devastated by the news of your passing. 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.”


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