By SYLVESTER ASOYA
A gifted guitarist, prolific composer and highlife musician, Oliver De Coque was truly a symbol of creativity, peace, charity and friendship
His giant statue with his trademark guitar stands tall in the heart of Ezinifite, a town in Nnewi South Local Government Area of Anambra State. But Oliver Sunday Akanite, aka Oliver De Coque is also a telling example of genuine love and popularity among members of his community and fans. In Anambra State, two communities bear Ezinifite. One is in Aguata Local Government Area while the other, where Oliver De Coque hailed from, is now closely associated with the musician for distinguishing purposes. Usually, the recurring question is: are you going to Ezinifite in Aguata or Oliver De Coque’s Ezinifite?
For a first time visitor to his home town, this fame and reverence begin from Abanato Market Square in Ezinifite where Oliver’s imposing statue stands. Finally, this engaging highlife musician was unveiled by Gaius, one of his younger brothers who speaks about his brother’s mystical birth, his extraordinary life, their supernatural mother, the creativity that runs in the family and a fertile musical career that recorded over 72 works.
According to Gaius, when Oliver De Coque was born, he was nicknamed Sunday Oyibo because of his white European features like his complexion and curly hair.
Like most children in the community, he attended Ezinifite Central Primary School before proceeding to a commercial school known then as Eastern Academy in Aba, Abia State. However, he dropped out after a few years due to his poor family background even though he had a promising academic future ahead of him. Shortly after leaving Eastern Academy, he went straight into selling shoes at Ekeoma Market in Aba. From there, he learnt guitar and branched out when the urge to develop and showcase his skills as a musician became unbearable.
Coming from a creative family where imagination thrives, Oliver De Coque had a smooth ride transiting from education and shoe business to music. However, he met a road block when extended family members and friends back home, started mocking his parents for endorsing music as a first child’s career choice. Naturally, a meeting was held and a search and rescue party headed by Oliver’s father was dispatched to Aba. Eventually when his father got to the commercial city, he met his son performing confidently before a big crowd. Immediately, he changed his mind and returned home to share the good news. That was how Oliver De Coque became a regular fixture at naming and burial ceremonies. He was also engaged at other social and cultural events, not only in Aba but in other parts of the old Eastern Region. From his growing clientele and fan base, a career began in earnest.
“But I must say that at the beginning, nobody gave my brother any chance. They even mocked him the more because of his skinny size. Those who vehemently opposed his choice of music, including my maternal grandfather, Chief Duru Egwuchukwu Nzediegwu had argued that nobody ever became rich or successful through music. In fact, Nzediegwu who loved palm wine a great deal did everything possible to discourage Oliver De Coque. But when Oliver asked him if he would ever stop drinking palm wine, he responded, saying palm wine was his life. At this point, Oliver also told him to his face that he would never stop playing music because music was also his life. That was how the matter died a natural death”, Gaius discloses.
Gaius also sheds light on his brother’s mystical birth and their mother’s spiritual powers as a healer and diviner. “Our mother was a spiritualist who was well known for seeing into the future. Oliver De Coque stayed 10 months in my mother’s belly before he came out. Before he was eventually delivered, a native doctor from Ihiala Local Government had informed my mother that the baby in her tummy was talking and holding a metal gong (a musical instrument) and staff of office (ofor) in his two hands”, he says.
At this point, it had become clear to everyone that baby Oliver who was declared a musician and native doctor at birth, had a rendezvous with music and destiny. Eventually when he returned after kick-starting his music career, his mother took away the staff of office which symbolized mysticism and gave him a gong (Ogene) for his music and life.
That appointment with music and providence started yielding fruits when he joined a certain Jonny, a musician in Lagos, a trip that was made possible with the sale of his father’s precious Raleigh Bicycle. After studying guitar under Jonny, he joined different musical groups before eventually traveling to the United Kingdom in 1975. Interestingly, that trip overseas turned Oliver’s life around. Apart from the fact that he was the only band member apart from the band leader who returned to Nigeria, the journey also came with exposure and opportunities.
The following year, he formed Oliver De Coque and His Expo ’76, Ogene Sound Super of Africa. With his debut, Messiah Messiah, success came knocking almost immediately. But before the triumph that came with Messiah Messiah, Oliver De Coque had tested the bitter pill of failure and disappointment. For many years, he was a local Ekpili minstrel, a hopeless migrant singing and moving from place to place. He later became a reggae musician but also failed woefully. After struggling for a long time with Ekeoha Fire Disaster, his earliest Demo, respite finally came when Olumo Records accepted him. As they say, the rest is now history.
Oliver De Coque was loved by many people across Nigeria. He was a personal friend of Oba Lamidi Adeyemi 111, the great Alaafin of Oyo. He also bagged a chieftaincy title in Oyo, the Yoruba historical town where the Alaafin reigns.
However, Azuh Arinze, a journalist and author of many books captures Oliver’s generosity and good nature. In a tribute, Remembering Highlife Maestro, Oliver De Coque, Azuh recalls his unforgettable encounter with his good friend, the guitarist many years ago during the celebrated traditional marriage between Bianca Onoh, Ex-Miss Intercontinental and Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, Ikemba Nnewi, at Ngwo, Enugu State.
“Already on stage as I sauntered in, he beckoned on me to share his electrifying stage with him. Resting one of his hands on my shoulder, he so sang my praise that I didn’t know when I started spraying my transport fare. Sensing perhaps that I was spraying more than I should, under normal circumstance, he pulled me closer and whispered into my ears: “Don’t worry, see me after my performance for all the money you sprayed. Plus my ‘own’ and we burst into laughter. True to his words, he shocked me as soon as he was through by fulfilling his promise. That gesture, I must confess, so humbled me even as a young reporter that I will eternally cherish the memories”.
Oliver De Coque was great in every way and he will always be remembered for his laughter and cheerfulness. He composed meaningful and melodious songs that are rich in proverbs and everyday realities and challenges. Great songs that were inspired by love, marriage, life, identity, good neighborliness, charity, relationships and accomplishments. He was indeed, one of Africa’s most prolific musicians. His most popular works include: Father Father, Ana Enwe Obodo Enwe, People’s Club, Biri ka Mbiri, Abada, Mama and Papa, Opportunity and Esi Nuno Di Nma, among many others.
This article was first published in alice, the in-flight magazine of Air Peace.