Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Oliver : We Cannot Ask For More

Growing up in Lagos, we have known several Igbo families as neighbours and friends and with some, we now consider each other as family. You know the ones you call the Dads, 'Uncle', the Mums 'Auntie' and you introduce the children as your 'cousins'. On the streets of Lagos, I have severally been addressed as 'Omo Nna' (or Omo Yibo!) probably on account of facial resemblance or for the company I kept and still do keep.

I have known of only three Nigerians called 'Oliver', one is the late Chief Dr. Sunday Akanite (a.k.a Oliver de Coque), the other two are young men named after him. Obviously, their fathers were ardent fans of the musician. One is a lawyer; the other is a trader.

It was my Oliver the lawyer who introduced me to the music of Oliver de Coque sometime in the 80s when we hijacked his father's copy of the hit album 'Identity'. The lyrics of the song were rather funny to us as kids and we played it just for fun but along the line, I got interested in some other tracks and even earlier albums particularly 'People's Club'. Luckily for me, my Oliver had the patience of Job.

We would play each track and he would translate every thing the musician said in Igbo to me in English (or Yoruba) and even explain the idioms and proverbs. I got so good at it that we would sing along with the track at the top of our voices to the annoyance of his mother who would chase us out to the balcony where we would sing to the amusement of passers by.

That was how I learnt Igbo.

Oliver the trader was my neighbor sometime in the 90s. One day he was cleaning his brother's car and playing 'People's Club'. You should have seen the shock on his face when I joined him and sang it from the beginning to the end. We became instant friends.

The passing away of Oliver de Coque on June 20, marked the end of an era in Igbo Highlife music and indeed highlife music in Nigeria because Oliver in particular tried to take his music outside the mainstream Igbo audience to other parts of the country. Along with the late Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe and the late Sir Ezebuiro Obinna (Sir Warrior) they represented the veritable triumvirate of Igbo Highlife particularly in the decade after the Civil War.

Considering their peculiar music styles and lyrics, it could be said that Osadebe catered for the Igbo elites while Dr. Sir Warrior catered for the lower cadres, Oliver catered for the 'middle class'. In fact, Oliver has been accused of 're-creating' the Igbo middle class - a class of young Igbos who had made their marks in various businesses in the 80s and 90s. They were the so-called 'Traders Class'. He courted them and catered to their ego needs. Unfortunately, in his crowd were also some notorious drug barons and 419 kingpins.

Like all forms of African music, praise singing had always been a part of Igbo highlife but Oliver took it to another level. In the 70s, Yorubas used to say that 'Igbo people come to the dance floor with coins in their pockets' unlike the Yorubas who stuff their pockets with mint-new currency notes to paste on their musicians foreheads to show appreciation for his music.

By the time the monster hit 'Bili ka Mbili' (Live and Let Live) came out in '92, the Igbos turned the tables. Igbo people now came to the dance floor with cartons and bags of mint new currency notes and not just Naira but also US Dollars and British Pounds. The Yorubas could be said to have 'created' the art of 'spraying' but the Igbos perfected it. To a nauseous extent.

For more than a week now, I have been unsuccessfully trying to upload a copy of the video of his song 'Identity' from You Tube and not even an audio file could I upload. Please find the audio here courtesy of John B:


And you can sing along,

My Papa advice me,
Make I play my music with honesty
My Mama advised me
Make I respect all my seniors

Always cut my coat
According to my size
I no dey promise
Anything wey my power no reach

My Yes is my Yes

My No is my No
I no dey make yanga
I'm a simple man by nature

O o o, funny money identity
Ewo o o Mama, funny money identity

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