West African highlife is a well-known musical and dance style that peaked in the 1950s. Highlife music was initially only associated with Ghana’s aristocracy in colonial Africa because it was primarily performed at upscale clubs along Ghana’s coast. Because the majority of Ghanaians lacked the means or social standing to enter these concert halls, the music came to be known as “high life.”
Below are some greatest highlife musicians in Nigeria;
1. Osita Osadebe
Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe often referred to as just Osita Osadebe was born in Atani, on March 1936. During his career spanning over four decades, he was highly popular and he became one of the best-known musicians of Igbo highlife.
His 1984 hit single “Osondi Owendi” established him as a leader in the highlife genre and was one of Nigeria’s most popular records ever.
As a prolific composer, Osadebe unleashed his first album in 1958, and went on to write over 500 songs; half of which were released commercially. He was also a record producer and songwriter, and in 1958 he released his first album.
He later founded his record label “Polygram Records Nigeria.” During his career, Osita Osadebe wrote over 500 songs. The most significant album of the singer is “Kedu America.” Chief Osadebe passed away on 11 May 2007.
He is still regarded as one of the most prominent Igbo highlife musicians.
2. Oliver De Coque
Oliver Sunday Akanite, born on 14th April 1947 better known by the stage name Oliver De Coque, was a Nigerian guitarist and one of Africa’s most sensational recording artists. De Coque was born in Ezinifite, Anambra State, Nigeria to an Igbo family.
Oliver De Coque was known as one of the most popular Igbo Highlife singers, musicians, songwriters, and guitarists. Oliver De Coque originated the “Ogene sound super of Africa” band. They combined traditional Igbo music and modern highlife style.
After performing in London in 1973, De Coque gained international attention, and his guitar work was featured on Price Nico Mbarga’s 1977 album Sweet Mother.
The musician died on June 21, 2008.
3. Dr. Sir Warrior
Christogonus Ezebuiro Obinna birthed in 1947, known professionally as Dr. Sir Warrior, was a Nigerian Igbo highlife musician who was the founder of the Oriental Brothers International Band which was popular in the Nigerian Igbo highlife music industry for several decades.
When Dr. Sir Warrior joined the Oriental Brothers International Band in the 1970s, he was able to turn his performance into a successful career. Later, the band splintered, resulting in Prince Ichita & the Great Oriental Brothers International Band, Oriental Brothers International, and finally, the original Dr. Sir Warrior & His Oriental Brothers International, simply known as The Oriental Original. In his career, he had about 12 platinum and 10 gold hits.
Dr. Sir Warrior began performing at the age of 11 and rose to fame at the age of 16. During the civil war, the Oriental Brothers were extremely important and supportive of the Igbo people. Dr. Sir Warrior’s music is based on the concept of Oyorima. “Oyorima” is an Igbo word that means a clean feeling of rhythmic movement.
Sir Warrior died on June 2, 1999, following a brief illness after his last two performances.
4. Jim Rex Lawson
Rex Jim Lawson popularly known as Cardinal Rex was a singer, trumpeter, and bandleader from Buguma, Nigeria birthed on the 4th of March 1938. When Cardinal and his band dominated Nigeria’s highlife scene in the 1960s, he became one of the most well-known highlife musicians in Africa.
Rex Lawson began his career as a band boy for Lord Eddyson’s Starlight Melody Orchestra in Port Harcourt. Later in his career, he collaborated with Sammy Obot, Bobby Benson, Victor Olaiya, Chris Ajilo, and other Ghanaian and Nigerian musicians and bands. His greatest success came as the leader of the Majors Band (later renamed the Rivers Men); their recorded hits included “So ala teme,” “Yellow Sisi,” “Gowon Special,” and “Jolly Papa.”
Lawson had written over 100 songs by 1965. In July 1970, he traveled to the United Kingdom, where he recorded an album, Rex Lawson in London, from July to September.
Unfortunately, Lawson passed away in 1971 in a car accident. Although his band continued to play after his demise.
5. Celestine Ukwu
Celestine Ukwu birthed in 1940 was a Nigerian Igbo highlife musician during the 1960s and 1970s, best known for his hit songs “Ije Enu”, “Igede” and “Money Palava.” He was born in Enugu, Nigeria, to music-oriented parents. His father was a native performer of Igbo music’s igede, ikpa, and ode genres, and his mother was the lead singer in a women’s musical group.
In 1966, after his return to Nigeria, he started his own group called Celestine Ukwu & His Music Royals of Nigeria. The group later disbanded in 1967 after the Nigerian Civil War broke out, but not before it released a song called “Hail Biafra” at the start of the conflict. Celestine Ukwu & His Philosophers National, a new band Ukwu founded after the war, released several albums, including Igede Fantasia, which was commercially successful.
Celestine Ukwu died in an auto crash on May 7, 1977.
6. Prince Nico Mbarga
Born to a Nigerian mother and a Cameroonian father on 1st January 1950 in Abakaliki, Nigeria, Nico Mbarga, also known as Prince Nico Mbarga, was a Cameroonian-Nigerian highlife musician. He is well-known for the number-one song “Sweet Mother,” which he and his band Rocafil Jazz recorded and has been dubbed the best-selling song ever recorded by an African recording artist.
In 1970, he performed on the xylophone, conga, drums, electric guitar, bass guitar, and guitar. He first began performing in school bands, and the Melody Orchestra, a hotel band, was where he made his professional debut.
He gave up music and focused on running the four-star hotel he owned, the Sweet Mother Hotel. in the Nigerian town of Ikom, in the Cross River State, not far from the Cameroon-Nigeria border.
On June 23, 1997, Prince Nico Mbarga was killed in a motorcycle accident in Calabar while attempting to purchase spare parts for his car along the extremely congested Mayne Avenue Road, leaving behind “Sweet Mother” as the nation of Nigeria’s most well-known song.
7. Bright Chimezie
Bright Chimezie was born on October 1, 1960, hails from Abia State, Nigeria, and is married to Chinyere Chimezie. His music style became known as Zigima Sound — a genre that became popular in the Eastern part of Nigeria in the early 1980s. It combines Igbo highlife and traditional Nigerian music with chanted vocals. With lyrics that humorously addressed social issues in Nigeria, Bright Chimezie used it to revolutionize the country’s musical landscape.
African-style songs like “Ube Nwanne” and “because of English” was created by Bright Chimezie. Because he used these songs to mock social issues, his album Respect Africa propelled him to fame. He is renowned for his dance moves as well. widely referred to as “legwork.” He earned the moniker “the duke of African music” thanks to his stylish mixing of excellent steps and a cautionary chant.
He and Chinyere Chimezie have five children together and are happily married.
8. Mike Ejeagha
Mike Ejeagha who was born in August 1932 is a Nigerian folklorist, songwriter, and musician from Enugu State, Nigeria. Ejeagha began his career in music in the mid-20th century. He is also known as Gentlemen, Ejeagha has been influencing the evolution of music in the Igbo language for over 6 decades. In 1960, the year of Nigeria’s independence, he made his first hit.
The distinct storytelling style of Ejeagha, who also plays the guitar, and the proverbs that pepper his lyrics give his music a didactic feel. He composes his own music, and the Igbo language is used in his lyrics. Ejeagha said in 2004: “Life in old age is quite enjoyable, especially when the Almighty God gives you good health”.
The National Archives of Nigeria now has over 300 recordings made by Ejeagha as part of his fieldwork to study Igbo folklore highlife music.
Pulse Nigeria reported on September 12, 2022, that a documentary about his life called “Gentleman” is currently in production. Michael Chineme Ike is the director of the movie.
Unfortunately, Ejeagha lost his first wife in 1963 and he remarried in 1966. He has 10 children altogether although he later lost one.
9. Victor Uwaifo
Victor Efosa Uwaifo born 1st of March 1941 was among the best Nigerian musician. He was also a writer, sculptor, musical instrument inventor, university lecturer, music legend, and the first Honorable Commissioner for Arts, Culture, and Tourism in Nigeria.
However, he won seven other gold discs in the categories of Guitar Boy, Arabade, Ekassa series, and Akwete music in addition to the first gold disc in Africa (Joromi), which was released in 1965. Under the moniker “Victor Uwaifo and His Titibitis,” he made recordings.
Born in Benin City, Edo State, Colonial Nigeria, Victor Efosa Uwaifo attended Western Boys’ High School in Benin and St. Gregory’s College in Lagos from 1957 to 1961 for his secondary education. His earliest popular music influences, which included records of Spanish and Latin American music, came when he was 12 years old and started playing the guitar. He attended the Yaba College of Technology in Lagos State to study graphics, and at the age of 22, he graduated in 1961–1963.
At the University of Benin, where he majored in sculpture and graduated with first-class honors when he was 54 years old (Valedictorian), he also earned master’s degrees in 1997 and 1997, respectively. His architectural sculpture doctoral dissertation was titled A reinvention of Benin Royal Ancestral Pieces, University of Benin, Nigeria
Uwaifo was propelled to the limelight when he won the first golden record in Africa for his song”Joromi” in 1966. To date, he had a total of 12 golden records. He was also a lecturer at the Department of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Benin.
On the 28th of August,2021, he passed away at the age of 80.
10. Victor Olaiya
Victor Abimbola Olaiya was born on 31 December 1930, in Calabar, Cross River State, the 20th child of a family of 24. His parents, Bathsheba Owolabi Motajo and Alfred Omolona Olaiya are natives of Ijesha-Ishu in the state of Ekiti.
Olaiya, also known as Dr. Victor Olaiya, was a trumpeter from Nigeria who specialized in highlife music. Olaiya was well-known in Nigeria during the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s, but he was largely unknown outside of his home country. He was dubbed “The Evil Genius of Highlife” by Alhaji Alade Odunewu of the Daily Times.
He learned the bombardon and the French horn at a very young age. After graduating from high school, he relocated to Lagos where, in 1951, he passed the school certificate exam and was granted admission to Howard University in the US to study civil engineering. Olaiya chose to pursue a career as a musician instead, much to his parent’s displeasure. He performed with the Sammy Akpabot Band, served as the band’s conductor and trumpeter, and then joined the Bobby Benson Jam Session Orchestra.
Olaiya also established the Stadium Hotel in Surulere and ran a company that imported and distributed musical instruments and accessories throughout West Africa.
Olaiya had a number of wives. He had children as well as grandchildren. Moji Olaiya, one of his daughters, worked as a Nollywood actress. He sang with his son Bayode Olaiya.
At the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Olaiya passed away on February 12, 2020, at the age of 89.
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