Oliver De Coque is a household name in the Nigerian music circle. Though many believe he is not a Nigerian owing to his popular name which has a French leaning, the man, who started music 39 years ago with Ekpili at the age of 17, actually hails from Ezinifite, Nnewi South Local Government Area of Anambra State. His real name is Oliver Sunday Akanite.
At the age of 28 in 1976, Akanite registered a remarkable landmark with his universally accepted lyrics and ryhthms which he created through Ogene Super Sound of Africa. The albums he has released in the past 26 years till date are hits to the extent that his greatest hit; Ka anyi bili be ndu sold two million copies. Following his astounding musical performance, he started receiving awards, and honours from Nigeria and beyond. Ten years ago, the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi crowned him the King of Highlife music.
In the same 1994, in far away America, he was conferred with the honorary doctor of letters in Music at the University of New Orleans. At home, the highest title in his land, Ikemba, a similar title that was bequeathed to the Biafran warlord, Dim Emeka Ojukwu, was given to Akanite in his town, Ezinifite.
I am Chief (Dr) Oliver Sunday Akanite from Ezinifite , Nnewi South Local Government Area, Anambra State. I had my primary school education at Saint Simon Central School, Ezinifite I proceeded to the Niger Institute of Commerce, Aba where I studied English, Book Keeping and Accountancy where I passed the Royal Society of Arts exams. I am now 57 years old. I got married at the age of 20. My first daughter is now 39 years. I have other children and grandchildren. Some of them are in Europe and are successfull in different endeavours. One of them is a pilot while others are into several other professions.
How I started
I started first with Igbo music called Ekpili at the age of 17. That was in 1965. We were only two, Alexander Emelumonye and myself. We used to feature every weekend on Channel 4 of the Nigerian Television Authority, Ogbor Hill, Aba. I also learnt shoe trading, while we waited for weekend performances.
Oliver De Coque
They were about to perform and I approached the band leader, Sunny Agaga. I told him that we would like to feature with them, and that if possible, he could employ us, (Obed as his congarist and myself, the guitarist.) He said he would not answer me but that I should come when they are ready to perform. When it was time we went there. He gave me the guitar, I started backing them up, then as the music changed I followed up and Sunny automatically employed me. Because he had good drummers, he did not want Obed, but I pleaded with him. He agreed to employ him, then after the tour, we proceeded to Lagos. I had never been to Lagos before and when we arrived, I saw electricity everywhere, even on the streets. We went to Alara Street, Onike, Yaba, behind Queens College. There was no show for about three weeks. I was worried, until we performed somewhere. I told myself that these people are not business-like.
I started looking for another band. Luckily, I met Jacob Oluwole and his Friendly Unity Band. I went to them at Oshodi. I was interviewed and got employed. They also got me an accommodation. As at that time, they were preparing for a recording with the title, Agbasisi. We recorded it and it became a hit and the talk of the town.
Later, I started noticing that they were not as friendly and united as their name implied. They quarreled, argued and fought a lot. I do not like people who are quarelsome, because music does not go with fighting and disunity. As a musician, your duty is to entertain people. I started having a change of heart as to my stay with them. Luckily, I met another musician, Sule Agboola and his Moonlight Star Band. They were preparing for summer tour of Europe. This was in 1973. They got me an international passport and visa. We left Nigeria on July 13, 1973. We were in London and only performed at the weekends. So I was able to secure a part time job that I was paid 80 pounds a week. We were in London for four months. I used the money I earned from my job to buy two guitars, two amplifiers, and a set of drums. This was in preparation for my own band. When we returned, I told the band leader that I had to be on my own, but that if they had any show or recording, they should call me to assist.
Progress/ Messiah, Messiah
In 1974, I composed a number, Messiah, Messiah. There were five tracks in all. I went to Alhaji Olatunde Yusuf. He was the chairman of Olumo Records Limited. I told him I needed some money to do a talent hunt. I went round some nite clubs picking some good musicians. I started rehearsals with them. I remembered that our last rehearsal day was when General Murtala Muhammed was overthrown. People were running helter skelter and there was curfew. In fact, that was what made that record very remarkable. When we did the recording, it was wonderful and Olumo said it was nice, that he was going to wax it to give it a professional touch. He took the master tape of Messiah, Messiah and waxed it. When it came out, it sold more than 50,000 copies. That was the first impression. It was the talk of the town. It was popular in the East,West, North and even Cote d’Ivoire, Congo, Togo and Cameroun. A lot of people said Oliver De Coque is from Cameroun while some said I was from Congo. This was because the record was a success.
I bought three brand new vehicles and employed three drivers in one day. When we got to Benin while on our way to my village, my people threw a party and my fans gathered and I played music for five hours. Then at Onitsha, those who had listened to the music were rejoicing when they saw me. On arrival at my village, it was jubilation everywhere because they had been hearing the music everywhere they went to. I continued making progress im my musical career, but the next album, Igwebuike, was not a hit, just like third one.
In 1979, when I came out with People’s Club Ka anyi bili be ndu (People’s Club let us enjoy ourselves), I sold two million copies. In fact, it was my greatest hit. It was from it that people stopped doubting whether I am a Nigerian, a Camerounian or a Congolese. There were a lot of Igbo idioms and proverbs with very deep meanings which portrayed me as a typical Igbo man. The lyric was fantastic, melody was okay, the guitar was on a top gear, and the arrangement of the music was professionally done. I followed up with Identity which was a chart buster, then Ugbana which was another chart buster, Easter Special, Obele nwa n’ame iri enu, which were all hits. In 1990, there was another bang, Ana enwe obodo enwe, followed by Nnukwu mmanwu, Bili kam bili in 1992.
I can call myself a naturally talented musician. Nothing inspires a talented musician. It is just like a born scientist, who does not fall short of ideas in his brain. What he thinks about always is how to invent something and a born musician too thinks of how to create music. He does not think of money, because when he creates, the money will surely come. For instance, if you mention any title now and tell me to give you the music, I will compose it immediately. I do not need to say let me think over it or give me two months for me to come up with something.
This shows that I was born into music. Naturally, I love music and I play it regularly. I do not have any other business. I do not think about politics, rather I admire the politicians. I do not think about journalism because there is nothing I can do to write more than the journalists. But when you write, I read.
They were all coming like that to the extent that in 1994, I was crowned the King of Highlife music by the Alaafin of Oyo, Oba Lamidi Adeyemi. He said he had been following my consistency in the highlife arena and felt that I deserved to be called the King of Highlife.
Doctor of music
University of New Orleans gave me Doctor of Letters in music. That was in the same 1994. I have several other music awards.
In the year 2001,the Igwe of Ezinifite, HRH Reuben Ananti and his cabinet awarded me the highest title in the land, Ikemba Ezinifite. I am a member of Nze na Ozo in-council. This title is based on merit. I have titles from other places too.
Tour to Europe
I will soon proceed to Europe. I will be there for two months playing in Austria, Switzerland, Holland, Germany, Italy and so many other countries.
During the Nigerian civil war, I left Aba and came back to my town to join the army. I did not join as a soldier, but I was only playing music for the soldiers and entertaining them. I went round the army camps with my music. We were in Otuocha, Omoku, Igboariam, and so many other places.
I learnt how to play the guitar when I luckily met one of the best guitarists in Africa, Mr.Piccolo. He is from Congo. He taught me how to play the guitar. It was fine tuned by Mr. Euphraim Udo from Cross River State. Another person was Mr. Paul Odogwu who hailed from Onitsha. So, three masters taught me how to play the guitar and that is why I am a master guitarist today. I can back any artiste from any part of the world today, no matter the language he uses to sing
I have come a long way. I started playing in 1976, which is 27 years now. I have about 86 albums to my credit. It means a great deal to write and produce 86 albums and in every album, you have about seven tracks. I believe Osadebe started before me. I respect him for that and his age. Both of us have been very cordial. There had never been a time we quarreled with our music or any other place. When you listen to his music, you know that Osadebe is singing and when you hear mine, you know Oliver is playing. I do not have time for quarrels. It is only people who have nothing serious to do that have the time for wrangling. If our fans think that both of us fight, there is nothing like that. Which Osadebe are you talking about? There was a time we performed together in Lagos, Ibadan, and Onitsha. At Atani we dressed in our costumes together in his bed room, entered the same vehicle together to go and perform in Onitsha. A few months ago we were together at Wole Soyinka’s night organised by Globacom at
Golden Gate Restaurant, Ikoyi. As Lagbaja was performing, I told him Chief, let us enter the stage and do something. We did and as we were singing, Lagbaja was backing us up. After the show, we rode in the same vehicle down to his hotel. He told me that the next day he was travelling to America. I gave him a message for my younger brother in Los Angeles. As soon as he got to US, he called me to tell me, then he later told me that he had delivered my message to my brother. Having heard all these, you see why I asked if it is the same Osadebe I know. Unless there is another one. But the Osadebe I know who hails from the same Eastern Nigeria with me and from the same Anambra State, we have no problem.
There is no musician in this country I do not have good relationship with. As a matter of fact, there is no Nigerian musician I do not have his contact by way of phone number and address.You name them: Daddy Showkey, Charley Boy, Zakky, Lagbaja, Dede Mabiaku, Sam Okposo, Alex Onome, Chris Mba, Paul Dairo, Shuaibu Deen, Bright Chimezie, Makosa Queen, Evang. Ebenezar Obey, Christie Essien Igbokwe, Onyeka Onwenu, Tony One Week, Steeve Ikemefuna, Dan Maraya Jos and others. If I want all the musicians in Nigeria to assemble within ten minutes I can contact them within a short period of time. This is the essence of togetherness. I do not joke with that.
I play for all : Male, female, old, young, rich and poor, intellectuals, bishops, pastors and kings. I am a professional musician. If you pay me, you obtain your receipt and I come and play my music for you.
When a musician is cordial and peaceful, the message comes. It has been so for me. I make elaborations in my message particularly so that it will be explosive and the audience will understand it clearly. I let people know that in this world, what must be, must be, so long as they believe in God. So nobody can erase his destiny no matter the type of soap or sponge he uses.
My kind of music
I play Highlife music. I have got to the position of a king in it according to the the Alaafin of Oyo. I have carved out my own pattern in the highlife genre which I call Ogene. This has given me an identity in the highlife scene. When you listen to my highlife you will notice that it is not sluggish. I do not like people to sleep where I am playing. I put people on the floor to dance when I play. As you dance, the message will inspire you. So I blend my music to modernise highlife. I believe that is why a lot of people like my music.The name of my band is Oliver the Coque and his Expo’ 76, Ogene Sound super of Africa.
Born Again Christian/preaching
I am a believer. Forget about the advertisement put on this born again Christian issue today. I have been a born again Christian for the past 27 years that I started music. People advertise theirs. They separate themselves from others. I have been a preacher since I started music. The difference between a pastor and myself is that he preaches by talking while I preach by singing. If you listen to all my lyrics since 1976, there is no track I composed without mentioning God. I change people’s life for good.
I do not praise in my music because they have money. Some people have money but they have not contributed anything to their society. They have never given scholarship to students, their villages are lacking water, they cannot dig at least one borehole for them, yet they call themselves moneybags. They think the only way to show that they have the money is for Oliver to praise them. I do not mention the names of such people in my music I only praise those who contribute to the growth of the society that others can emulate.
When he came back from Cote d’Ivoire, I released an album to welcome him. It was to boost his morale. Imagine somebody leaving his land for a long time like that. He is somebody very prominent and important to every Igbo man. He is the Igbo leader whether people like it or not. In fact, he is a true and natural leader. People like him come once in a century. The undeniable truth is that he is admired by all Nigerians. If he goes to the North people there will know that he is around. If he comes to the West his presence must be felt. In the East, he is welcomed warmly. He was naturally created like that. I admire him for that. He was made Ikemba by his community just as I was made Ikemba by my community. I do not know why the king of my town chose to give me that title. It is not a matter of money because such titles are not bought over with money.
Most people who feel I call the name of rich people and associate me with 419 are just jealous. The simple truth is that Oliver has made it. Where were such people when I was begging to play music with other people’s band. Let them ask my God why my first record was a hit at the age of 26. It was really a first impression. I made it from my youthful days. There is nothing like 419, it is just that when there is progress, there is bound to be jealousy. How do they identify 419 people.? I know the right path to follow in life. In my community I am a member of Ozo Council. This is to show how they regard me in the town. I have always been in the right track of life. I have a corporate office here in Yaba. If you need my service, you pay me, I issue you receipt, you give me the venue, date and the time of the event, then I will come and play for you. There is no part of the world you ask of me and people will not give a good testimony about that name Oliver De Coque. Rome was not built in a day. It took me time to build the name. Twenty-seven years of successful career is not a joke. When they said Oliver may be picked for 419, I laughed. I tell you the truth, nobody can pick Oliver for that. I must tell you one thing; God is with me and I have been part of Him. If Oliver will be arrested for anything it is when they start arresting people for being successful musicians in Nigeria, then I will be the first to be arrested.
My beards/ why De Coque
It was when I started the Ekpili music that I was called Oliver and his Co-Singers.That is Oliver and his company. And when people went crazy about my music they called me Oliver De Coque. So when I formed my band in 1976 I decided to retain it, because I felt it was good. I do not even know the meaning. Some say it sounds like French and that is why many said I am from Congo. My beards are natural. I started having it at the age of 17. The essence of heards is either you shave or retain them. That is you tidy up by shaving everything or you leave and maintain them. But if you cannot maintain it, use razor blade and clear them. So because I know I can make mine neat, I have to leave it and my fans appreciate it.
The problem in PMAN will definitely be settled. Have you ever heard that Charley Boy killed Tony Okoroji or vice versa? We shall see to it all. Charley is like a younger brother to me, likewise Okoroji. Let them have 1000 court cases, we shall settle it. We are all borthers. There is nothing like peace. And I assure you that peace will reign in PMAN. There is nothing to fear about.
Any young artist who wants to play music must live an upright life. That is what we call ‘born again’ now. It existed before we were born. Our forefathers were born again, that was why they were upright. They did not engage in bad things nor planned evil for anybody. That was why they lived long. For a young musician to progress, he has to learn how to handle one or two instruments. He could learn how to play guitar, keyboard, drum before he talks of vocal. Everybody can handle microphone and sing anything. Look at Lagbaja, he plays saxophone and commands his own music. I play guitar and command my music too. Sunny Ade is a guitarist and vocalist; he composes his music. Also Evangelist Ebenezer Obey, he is a guitarist and vocalist. Osita Osadebe is a trumpeter and vocalist. The truth is that if you learn how to manipulate instruments, you will not sing off beat.
Learning music composition
When you want to compose on key G, you blend your music to that key. Then you tell the instrumentalists backing you to go to that key. If you say C, octave, all of them will go there.When you say F, flat, they will go there. By doing these, you earn respect by showing that you know your music and how to manipulate the keys. So let the younger ones bend down and learn and not just go from one night club to the other. After learning,you can think of blending it with vocals.
I have played in many places both in and outside Nigeria. I have played several times in Aso Rock. I played during COJA, in fact there is hardly anything the federal government does in Nigeria that I am not invited. These are events that most leaders all over the world would be present at. In Los Angeles Music International Festival, I was there. I have played in shows where there are more than 60,000 fans seated. There are also great musicians who will come to such shows.
By NWAGBO NNENYELIKE
Friday, May 7, 2004