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Remembering the Father of Nigerian Highlife Music

Nigeria has been mourning music legend Victor Olaiya, who created Nigeria’s highlife rhythms and influenced a generation of musicians including Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. Born to wealthy Yoruba parents in the southern city of Calabar, Olaiya had an early start in music. His father was a church organist and his mother a folk singer from the western city of Oyo. He was also influenced by Caribbean calypso and included the popular song Sly Mongoose in his repertoire that he recalled first hearing when he was nine years old. As a teenager, though, he was taught Western classical music, and played the clarinet and French horn in his school orchestra in eastern Nigeria. Years later, wielding his gold trumpet and dabbing his face with a white handkerchief, Olaiya would perform a new type of music in Nigeria that would go on to inspire a young Fela Anikulapo-Kuti among others. Olaiya was a multi-linguist and sang in Twi, Igbo, Efik, Pidgin and Yoruba and his band would go on to serve as a training ground for musicians who would revolutionise music in Africa.