Dr Victor Olaiya - Highlife Re-Incarnation

Victor Abimbola Olaiya was born on 31st December 1930, in Calabar, Cross River State. The 20th child of a family of 24 kids (WOW!!!). His parents, Alfred Omolona Olaiya and Bathsheba Owolabi Motajo hailed from Ijesha-Ishu in Ekiti State. Upon leaving school he moved to Lagos where he passed the school certificate examination in 1951 and was accepted by Howard University, USA to study Civil engineering. However, due to lack of money he was unable to go, instead he started a career as a musician, a move of which his parents disapproved. He played with the Sammy Akpabot band, the Old Lagos City Orchestra (a dance band) and the Bobby Benson Jam Session Orchestra, where he was leader and trumpeter of the second band.

In 1954 he left Bobby Benson to form 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. On that occasion, he shared the stage with the famous American jazz player Louis Armstrong.

Popularly called the Evil Genius of Highlife, Olaiya's music blends Ghanaian highlife and what would become Afro beat. His musical style was strongly influenced by James Brown, with horn parts harmonized in Brown's style, as opposed to the mostly unison lines of Afro beat. His music is infectious, typifying highlife music, played with great energy.

He played with highlife artist E. T. Mensah of Ghana, and released a best-selling joint album with Mensah. Both the drummer Tony Allen and vocalist Fela Kuti played with Olaiya and went on to achieve individual success. Kola Ogunkoya played in the All Stars Band from 1986 to 1987 and went on to have a highly successful career with his own Afrobeat band.

During the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-1970, Olaiya was given the rank of a lieutenant colonel (honorary) in the Nigerian Army when his band played for the troops at various locations. His band later traveled to the Congo to perform for United Nations troops. He led his band, renamed to the All Stars Band, to the 1963 International Jazz Festival in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

In addition to his successful career as a musician, Olaiya ran a business that imported and distributed musical instruments and accessories throughout West Africa, and also established the Stadium Hotel in Surulere, Lagos.

He has had several hits, one of which is Baby Jo Wo (which has been remixed by several artists) Here is a classic from his bag of tricks, Highlife Re-Incarnation……… Enjoy!


  1. I'm so loving this blog. Great writeup.



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