Veteran musician, Dr. Olaiya, is dead

Dr. Victor Abimbola Olaiya, a veteran musician and national merit award winner, is dead.

Bimbo Esho, Managing Director of Evergreen Music Company Ltd, who made the announcement in a statement on Wednesday, said Olaiya passed away at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) Wednesday afternoon.

“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”, he said.

Olaiya was born on 31 December 1930 in Calabar, Cross River State, and 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, 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.

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.

Olaiya married many wives. He has children and grandchildren. One of his daughters, Moji Olaiya, was a Nollywood actress.

Olaiya’s music bridges between Ghanaian highlife and what would become Afrobeat.

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