Sunday, 8 February 2009

Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe - Osondi Owendi (1984)

This is what Nigeria's Guardian Newspaper had to say about Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe after his death in 2007:

"A remarkable man, Stephen Osita Osadebe, began life as an ordinary Nigerian lad under the gaze of austere parents in colonial Nigeria. He schooled at Onitsha where his parents wanted him to pursue academics. When the young lad began taking an interest in music, they did not approve; as musicians in those days were often associated with hooliganism and loose living. However, in his secondary school days, he was a member of the college brass band. He was also a good footballer. In later life, still bowing to family pressures, Osadebe went to the Soviet Union where he studied trade unionism. On his return however, he again promptly went back to his old love by forming the Nigerian Sound Makers International Band.

Osadebe's early life began in Lagos where he initially worked in SCOA as a clerk by day and minstrel-for-hire by night. His meeting with the great Zeal Onyia of the Vicky nyem afum (Vicky give me my half-penny) fame changed his life. It was under the fabled trumpeter that Osadebe learnt the essence of melodic progressions, poise, dynamics and big band arrangement techniques. His career took off when he was hired as a supporting vocalist by the Empire Rhythm Orchestra under E C Arinze. Empire Hotel, Idi-Oro, in Lagos, was owned by Chief Kanu who is remembered among other things for providing employment and accommodation for early struggling musicians. The great Fela Anikulapo Kuti used to perform there.
From Empire Hotel, the young Osadebe migrated to Central Hotel, Yaba where his unique ability to instantly compose and improvise beautiful lyrics was recognised. Buoyed by his success, he later established his own band in 1964. The rest, they say, is history as he went on to record song after song --- more than 500 in all. Some of his memorable songs include, one pound no balance, makojo, onye achononam (do not provoke me), nke onye diliya (let yours be yours), onye ije anatago (the wanderer has returned). But it was with his inimitable Osondi Owendi (some are happy; some are sad) that he struck gold. The album, which outsold the iconic Sweet Mother of Nico Mbanga, was snapped up in millions all over Africa and beyond. The boy who began life playing the maraca in seedy Lagos hotels had arrived.

Chief Osadebe had made a financial success of his calling and felt himself comfortable to follow his vision of highlife which was a mixture of meringue, rumba, samba, waltz, calypso, jazz, and twanging guitars. His sonorous voice decisively influenced all aspects of his music. He never lost his voice and was playing his music, like a true artiste, until the very end.
Although not the inventor of high life, he played a unique role in its development by remaining faithful to the genre at a time when other musicians were scrambling to imitate western pop music and hip-hop. Interestingly, Chief Osadebe accurately described himself as the "Constant King of Highlife". His melodious tunes have held sway from the sixties till now. Among his many admirers, he was to acquire yet another title when he was described as "Doctor of Hypertension": an allusion to the sweet, soothing nature of his songs. His songs often waxed philosophic as he commented on the ups and downs of Nigerian life. He was not "political" in the sense of a Fela Anikulapo Kuti but among ordinary folk he was supreme in capturing the essence of their joys and sorrows in pithy phrases and idioms. His music cut across the length and breadth of Nigeria and even those who did not understand the Igbo language in which he sang often, nevertheless, enjoyed his rhythms. Praise singing of notables who have made it, was a feature of Osadebe's music. He gave as much to his rich patrons as he got from them. He was himself a member of the People's Club of Nigeria where self-made millionaires were often eulogized. He perfected the African art form of call-and-response and since he intended his music to be enjoyed on the dance floor, he often played for a longer stretch."

This is one of the best albums I've heard in recent months. It's a rip of a bootleg cd picked up from a stall on London's East Street market, and it is sweet, sweet, sweet. The man had a beautiful voice with an amazing texture...he starts singing and I melt like butter. The album is also full of some amazingly subtle psychedelic wah wah guitar that just unravels itself in your brain and fabulous muted trumpet that puts a big idiot grin on my face. And if you like this one then get yourself over here, here and here for some more.


01 Osondi Owendi
02 Ndidi Kanma
03 Nigeria Kanyi Jikota

Download this beast of an album HERE.


Neu Mejican said...

Nice. Thanks.

symbolkid said...

great to start a day with Chief Osadebe music!

thank you very much!

more Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe (great records too):

Bradly Jones said...

Thanks for the post. It's like five years of not being in Nigeria has finally made me out-dated for this to be news to me. The change is amazing. Great blog!

call Nigeria

Robin said...

Are you sure about that Bradders


Cheap Calls to Nigeria

AlahyoAmira said...

I just learned of highlife on my own only a month ago and Osondi Owendi crossed my path even more recently. Not a day goes by that I don't listen to of the absolutely most beautiful songs I've ever experienced. Thanks so much for sharing all of this; The Guardian piece, as well as sharing your own experience. Well done.

Mr Tear said...

Thanks for the kind words Alahyo. I'll be posting more from the big Chief in coming weeks, in the meantime you should try and check out Celestine Ukwu - his stuff is equally marvelous.

Mr Tear said...

The link should now work.