ORLANDO OWOH GOES HOME
Veteran musician Stephen Oladipupo Olaore Owomoyela popularly known as Orlando Owoh, has ended his journey on planet earth.
The 76 year-old highlife musician and band-leader lost a long, debilitating battle against stroke on Tuesday night when he gave up the ghost on Tuesday October 4 at exactly 9pm.
A family member who spoke with Me early Wednesday said the musician died at the Ikeja General hospital, Lagos, in the presence of his wife Muyibat and manager Chief Arotibo. His body has since been deposited at the mortuary of the Lagos state General hospital, Ikeja.
Before his death, he had been receiving treatment at Orile-Agege General hospital in Lagos, before he was transferred to the Ikeja General hospital.
‘‘We usually took turns to sleep with him’’, one of his daughters told AyeniTheGreat. ‘‘It was my mom’s turn on Tuesday, that’s why she was the one with him’’.
There were speculations last month that the ailing musician had been taken home to his village Ifon in Ose, Ondo state for traditional intervention, after his condition refused to stabilise. Orlando Owoh was down with stroke for many years; initially bed-ridden, unable to use his limbs. But according to him, in a 2006 interview with this writer, he was able to rise again, after quitting marijuana and getting medical assistance through the aid of Osun State governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola And other ‘‘fans’’. Soon he was able to walk partially; in slow, calculated steps. Later that year, he attended a musicians’ gathering in Osun State, and in his Iyana-Ipaja-Lagos home, he could be seen several times walking un-aided; determined to show he was still capable of bouncing back and living a normal life.
‘‘I have stopped smoking. The doctors said it is not good for me. I will never go back. And I thank all those who have been good to me. Especially (Gov) Oyinlola. See that thread-mill there, he got it for me. He paid for my treatment and usually sends me money. I thank God for my life. And my new album coming out will show people that I am still active’’, he told this writer during a 2006 visit.
Unfortunately, his condition would later relapse, causing his family and friends to search desperately for help. Plans to fly him abroad never materialised as necessary funds could not be raised. And just at a time when many industry watchers were imploring the media and other stakeholders to bring the musician’s case to the public glare for an umpteenth time, the sun has set for him, causing all those who knew him- personally or through his Kennery sound – to weep profusely, wearing anguish on their faces as they mourn a true music genius.
‘‘That’s so sad o’’, cried Latoya El Gill, wife of another ageing highlife giant Orlando Julius. When the news of Owoh’s death broke, many erroneously put calls through to Latoya and her husband, thinking death had paid them a visit. ‘‘OJ is still very alive and working on his new album. I thank God he’s not dead o. But I will be sad if it’s true that Orlando Owoh has died. We’re very close to him. And first time I eat bush meat was in his house. His wife made it for me’’.
Kennis Music CEO Keke Ogungbe told Me ‘‘this is very shocking news. May his soul rest in peace. I think we need to educate younger musicians on the sacrifice the likes of Pa Orlando Owoh made when the Nigerian music industry was starting. If not for them, we might not be here today’’.
Owoh’s music, since he formed his first band in 1958 has continued to take a top spot in the catalogue of brilliant, locally-made music; music that captured the pulse of the ‘independence’ generation; with a firm grip on the core elements of traditional African lifestyle, history, lore and idioms. With a story to every song, a musical ensemble uniquely his, a queer baritone voice like no other, and a dramatic private-public life, the musician stayed on top of his game, remaining relevant through different era, and eventually influencing a generation of musicians who continue to derive inspiration from his timeless pieces. Take for example, Iyawo olele, a parody of ‘the cheating wife’ which has been reworked by dozens of present-day musicians including Nomoreloss. Or Kangaroo – an excellent cut whose beats and chorus have been sampled by many Nigerian and Ghanian musicians.
Many of Orlando Owoh hits are still relevant today; their musical direction, their message. From Logba Logba to ibaje eniyan, Money palava, Alagbon, Yellow sisi, and Laiku egiri, Orlando Owoh made music that can stand the test of time; music that’ll endure the most volatile changes and guide future generations on how to go about documenting a tradition musically. Orlando Owoh had over 45 albums to his name, most of them his own original compositions.
Rave singer 9ice, who is presently on a performance tour of the United states, called Owoh’s death a ‘‘tragedy’’. ‘‘He was one of the best musicians Nigeria will ever produce. He was a blessing to me through his music, and I will surely miss him’’.
The musician’s family is yet to issue a statement on his death. And as at 1pm yesterday, a condolence register was yet to be opened. Also, no prominent musician or government official had paid the family a visit.
With his death coming barely two years after that of one of his wives, the family is in shock and disbelief. Early Wednesday morning, they gathered in the living room to console one another, as visitors were screened and phones kept ringing incessantly.
Born Stephen Oladipupo Olaore Owomoyela in 1932 at Osogbo to Jeremiah and Morenike Owomoyela, Orlando was a romantic who refused to break his affair with music despite his father’s strong opposition. Having suffered as a failed musician, Orlando’s father warned his son against setting foot on the path of music. But nothing would stop Orlando. As if aware of what fate had in stock for him, he remained adamant, keeping his eyes on music, even after embarking on an eight-year apprenticeship with his father’s construction company. His mind was not on the job; neither was it on formal education (he only managed to obtain a standard six certificate). So it was not surprising to those who knew him when he left Oshogbo for Ilesha and began building relationships that’ll cement his future in music. He joined the popular Chocolate Randies in Ibadan, playing the konga drums. He also performed with the Fakunle Major band and Kehinde Adex.
He formed his first band Orlando Owoh and his Omimah band in 1958 and two years later, the band released their debut album Oluwa lo ran mi under Decca records. If the first album (with its hit song oriki ilu oke) registered him as a new kid on the block, it was the second Alantere Ijo Oyege that convinced doubters he was no fluke.
From an unsure, scared kid, he was soon hitting stages and headlining gigs. He was earning royalties and heading his own band. But all that was a tip off the iceberg. Soon, he was touring England, receiving honorary degrees (especially one from the University of London) and getting offers from foreign labels. And the years to follow would establish him as a profound songwriter, arranger and performer. He became a darling of fans and critics, although many continued to frown at his private life – dominated by women, marijuana and alcohol.
Following a dispute with Decca over royalties, Owoh moved to Electromat records, but the relationship was short-lived and he soon returned to Decca, which was by then under a new name – Afrodisia. He left Afrodisia in 1981 to join Shanu-Olu records- the label where he released some of his most daring, most saucy and most provocative materials.
In 2006, during an interview with this writer, he narrated his ordeal in the hands of Ibrahim Babangida, under whose government he was incarcerated for 18 months. ‘‘I can never forget that experience’’. And Alagbon his post-prison album best describes his experience of ‘‘humiliation, torture and unlawful detention’’.
‘‘My father lived a very interesting and eventful life’’, with tears dripping down her eyes, his daughter ‘Bolanle Omowoyela told Me at the family’s home on Wednesday. ‘‘He had a cup of tea last night. I think that was his last meal. We really miss him and will forever love him’’. ‘Bolanle is one of the daughters of Muyibat Omowoyela, one of Owoh’s wives. The musician’s other wives include Folashade Omowoyela and Funke Omowoyela.
The musician’s death, following the recent passing away of contemporaries Sonny Okosuns, Steve Rhodes and Ambrose Campbell marks the end of an era in the Nigerian music scene. A lot of pre-independence and early 60s’ music heroes are exiting the stage, after brilliant careers that spanned decades. But many of them, just like Owoh have since faded to the background, largely obscure and under-celebrated by a media and an industry that’s been overwhelmed by a dominant, omnipresent pop culture and its apostles.
A huge painting of Orlando Owoh sits outside his home. Passersby take a peep and pay homage, many neighbours and residents gather round, discussing in small groups; wiping tears off their eyes and sweat off their brows. Many of them in their twenties and thirties. Inside the family living room, it’s a chorus of wailing and children, wives, friends and close associates hit verse after verse of tears, trying to console one another, yet all remaining inconsolable. ‘‘We’ve not made any plans. We’re just calling people now. We’re trying to be strong, not to cry. But it’s difficult. That man, (pointing to a portrait of Orlando Owoh) was our father’’, a family member told AyeniTheGreat.