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


badderchic said...

Hmmn what an interesting read, I never quite appreciated him till now. r.i.p legend

Naapali said...

I can always count on you to display a strong, well reasoned approach to everything including this beautiful obituary.

Farafina is looking for writers, you should send them this as a sample. I know you have a day job.

Jaja said...

This is very good. There are people whose lives, work affect our lives that they become a part of it.
You have shown this about Oliver in a rather touching way.

some people have been known to pull their Ghana-must-go bags of Naira notes to spray on a celebrants and praise singers. I kid you not.

Carlang said...

A fitting tribute to a man who lived in my family.

Whose music brought smiles to my admiring mum.

WHose beats forced my Dad to lower the paper.

Whose videos left my sisters frustrated as they pondered the unavailabilty of MTV.

Whose beard left me green with envy.

We'll miss you..

Jinta said...

well done. it is a name i know well, the music less well.

Chari said...

A well placed tribute the highlife colossus...wish I'd known him better...

ablackjamesbond said...

Like Jinta, i know the name more than i know the music. 'Bili ka Mbili' i knew well though..i fell in love with the track the first time i learned the meaning.

Very well written.

badderchic said...

An update if you please

guerreiranigeriana said... mean it is august and i am left with only this one unread post from end of june?...n.i.m.m.o...i thought you were back?...come and update while i go read this post...

Afronuts said...

Beautiful lyrics!

I never knew he had such lines in his music.

Thanks for sharing. I'll download the track


May his soul continue to rest in peace. Sorry you couldn't watch Chiedu Ifeozo's clip on my site. It seems to work just fine but everyone is having trouble with it, so I will include a direct link to it on Youtube.

BTW, I updated with thoughts on the latest Ribadu wahala. As always, i would appreciate your thoughts...

take care!

kay-shawn said...

Living in the UK, a very racist society has mad me appreciate every Nigerian a lot more, Ibo, Hausa, Efik, name it. That was a beautiful dedication to OLiver De Coque.
Saw your comment on my blog and came over to express my gratitude. It really doesn't matter whether you were commenting on the post or on the comments. Infact, commenting on the comments shows that unlike other bloggers you do read the comments.
I would recommend readers of my blog to pay particular attention to the comments because sometimes that's where you find the answer to the questions raised in the post.
I intend to make my blog quite interactive and you have done a lot to make that a reality.

badderchic said...

will you answer and update?

theres a parry on my page o!

Adorable said...

ohmigosh!!! Is that what He says in that song?! "funny money identity"... I was once made to listen to Oliver de Coque all the way on a journey of about 4hrs from Enugu to Port Harcourt. After the shock treatment I became an instant fan of his. Thanks for writing this N.I.M.M.O.

and to answer ur question at Kay Shawn's, yes I'm in a r/ship actually engaged. But I am the first to say: no two r/ships are the same. You guys had better worked out the best way to be together. Don't play by anyone's rules but yours.

I agree with you though... Men are from earth and Women are from earth!

badderchic said...

you wont believe it.

check out prt 3

Carlang said...

Oliver was an entertainer.
He was always searching for new ways to make us smile.
Even he would be alarmed at the lethargic state of your blog.
Update already!

Standtall said...

Last update was in June. are you cool mi-pal?

N.I.M.M.O said...

@ALL: Let me start by apologizing to you all for the lateness in my responses. I will promise again that I will get better.
@Chairlady: hmmmm ... more later
@Naaps: Bros, no be my fault o. Na so I see am. Farafina? Abeg, when you finish pulling my legs, let me know. But, you know I had actually been thinking about it..
@jaja: It sure did happen, though not anymore I daresay. Many thanx. Many thanx.
@Carl: I can assure practically every Naija male wanted Oliver's beards. damn they were fine!
@Jinta: Thanx bro
@chari: Thanx.
@Black007: Who didn't know Bili ka Mbili? It was a monster hit all over.
@BC: So just becos you updated before me this one time ....
@GNaija: Almost 2 months after the post was up, you try o. Many thanx though...
@Afronuts: many thanx for stopping by..
@Solo: I have marked the register...
@Kay: You're welcome anytime
@Adorable: Just wanted to know cos your comment pointed either way. As said sha, there's always something to learn in relationships. That school no dey ever end....
@Carl: Yessir! I have Sir!
@Standtall: Just cool like that and I have finally updated.

Now lemme go read Badderchic.

Chukbyke.Okey,C. said...

Just 'crashed' on you through SOLOMONSYDELLE.

What a wonderful tribute and interesting analysis of a cross section of contemporary Igbo music and Igbos. A lot of facts many never sat down to think about.

Your analysis of 'the art of spraying' is true. Personally, I have not still come to terms with that traditoin
Thanks a lot.

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