BREAKING: Highlife Legend, Victor Olaiya, Dies At 89

High life legend, Dr Victor Olaiya, is dead.

He was 89.
A statement by his label, Evergreen Music Company, confirmed his death.
Its Managing Director Bimbo Esho said: “The entire music world wish to announce the death of a Legend of Highlife music, One of  the last man standing, the last of the original Dr Victor Abimbola Olaiya OON..
“We pray that the soul of the Doyen of highlife music find repose with his creator while wishing the family and entire music community the fortitude to bear this irreplaceable loss.”


Victor 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 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, USA to read Civil engineering. However, due to lack of money he was unable to go, and instead 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.[2][3]

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 England 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, Victor Olaiya 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 traveled 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.[2]

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.[3]

In 1990, Olaiya received a fellowship of the Institute of Administrative Management of Nigeria. He was awarded an honorary doctorate by the City University Los Angeles, California, USA. For a period, he was president of the Nigerian Union of Musicians.[2]


Dr. Victor Abimbola Olaiya’s music bridges between Ghanaian highlife and what would become Afrobeat. His musical style was strongly influenced by James Brown, with horn parts harmonized in Brown’s style, as opposed to the mostly unison lines of Afrobeat. The music includes the swinging percussion of Tony Allen, but not the syncopated style that Allen later pioneered.[4] His music is infectious, typifying highlife music, played with great energy. The unique style of some of his recordings is inimitable.[5]

He played with highlife artist E. T. Mensah of Ghana, and released a best-selling joint album with Mensah.[2] Both the drummer Tony Allen and vocalist Fela Kuti played with Olaiya and went on to achieve individual success

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