Journalism of Courage

Victor Olaiya, highlife music legend dead at 90

Victor Olaiya, highlife music star, legendary singer and multi-instrumentalist with an ear-to-ear smile who headlined the radio and TV shows for nearly a quarter century, has died. He was 90.

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 Iloijos Bar stood on 2 Bamgbose Street,  Lagos Island, until it was demolished on September 11, 2016.

Olaiya 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.

Olaiya 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.  

Olaiya married many wives. He has children and grandchildren. One of his daughters, Moji Olaiya, was an actress who died in Canada on the 17th of May 2017 just two months after giving birth to her second child.  He has a son, Bayode Olaiya who sings along with him.

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