For more than three decades, legendary highlife singer, Chief Oliver Sunday Akanite popularly called Oliver De Coque, bestrode the music industry like a colossus.
With his band, Ogene Super Sound of Africa, Oliver, who hailed from Ezinifite, Nnewi South Local Government Area of Anambra State, blended modern and traditional Igbo music to form a unique mix of highlife sound. To his credit, he had 73 albums including hits like Otimkpu, People’s Club of Nigeria, and Mbiri Ka Mbiri among others.
During his lifetime, Oliver De Coque had many friends and associates. But one man stood out. He is Ogbuefi Ray Ifeme, a culture enthusiast cum communication expert, who also doubles as the official biographer of the iconic musician, who passed away on June 28, 2008 in Lagos.
Ifeme and Akanite had met and became friends in the Biafran Army. Though, Ifeme joined the army before the musician, they both fought during the civil war that raged between 1967 and 1970. In deed, it was Ifeme that introduced the highlife artiste to the entertainment group of the Biafran Army where he regularly thrilled the soldiers.
Here, Ifeme narrates to TS Weekend how it all started: “I met Oliver De Coque when he was playing Ekpili music, a traditional Igbo music like the Sakara music of the Yoruba. But it was he who introduced guitar into Ekpili. I joined the Biafran Army before him. We fought together in the war. In fact, we were the engine room of the civil war.”
According to Ifeme, the officers had discussed among themselves about having an entertainment group that will thrill and make them happy, and this prompted him to bring on board Oliver De Coque.
He explained further: “Incidentally, the very day I went to pick him was the day he was supposed to leave for infantry training. He had been conscripted already. So, we came with a vehicle, took him away and he became one of us. That was in 1968.
“We continued as friends. In fact, we became very close. I saw in him someone that could be trusted, someone I could relate and do business with, because I love music.”
Having promoted top musicians like Sir Victor Uwaifor, Osita Osadebe and Afrobeat icon, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who he invited to perform at the Sigma Club show held at the University of Ibadan, promoting an artiste like Oliver De Coque was no big deal for Ifeme. In fact, when Oliver decided to form his band, Ifeme was his first promoter, and of course, the longest serving promoter.
Oliver’s last moment
According to Ifeme, the very day Oliver died, they had breakfast together. As a matter of fact, it was shortly after the breakfast that the iconic artiste passed away. Hear him: “The very day he died, we had breakfast together. He died about one hour, twenty minutes after the breakfast. He was rushed to the hospital. Then I left and nobody told me that he had died.
“Later, Oliver appeared to me at Ojota bus stop in Lagos. I saw him crossing the road, wearing only his boxers and putting on bathroom slippers. From there, I went to his house at Gbagada in Lagos and when I got there, I saw the whole family mourning. They told me he’s no more.”
But what impact would Ifeme say Oliver had on him and vice versa? “Before I met him, Oliver played his music from hotel to hotel. He was not coordinated and stayed in a room at Bariga in Lagos. It was when I came that I took him out on his first national tour and it was great. From there, we went to some West African countries.
“Later, he asked me to abandon every other band and concentrate on him, and this became a problem between me and him. I managed and promoted him, but all the while I served him as manager, I never collected one penny from him. It was only when I promoted him that I took my percentage,” Ifeme disclosed.
Since the demise of Oliver De Coque, what has Ifeme missed about him? His response: “I miss him a lot. When Oliver was alive, he was a man you couldn’t ignore. He was always full of joy, and happy all the time. He was a jolly good fellow and he didn’t like anybody around him to be hard up. If you don’t have money, he could borrow to give you. He was a very nice and generous person in his lifetime. This was why most of his band boys, if they leave, would come back because nobody could take care of them like Oliver did. And till he died, Oliver was the first artiste to buy cars for his boys.”
On the nickname, Oliver De Coque
In his lifetime, Oliver Sunday Akanite was fondly called Oliver De Coque. How did he come about the nickname? Hear Ifeme: “He was originally called Oliver the Kokwe, which was later changed to Oliver De Coque. Kokwe is a typical traditional game in Igboland. It’s like Ayo Olopon in Yorubaland.
“He was called Oliver the Kokwe or Oliver like the game we play, because you would see him in one form today and tomorrow in another form entirely, just like a chameleon. But this made his music unique and not monotonous. He got the name when he was at Aba, playing Ekpili music.
Ogene Music Foundation
Ifeme explained that he was with Oli
ver in his office when he talked about establishing Ogene Music Foundation during his 50th birthday in 1997.
In his words: “One day, I was with Oliver in his office. He called me aside and said, ‘my 50th birthday is next tomorrow. There’s something I want us to think about’. I said, ‘what?’ He said, ‘I want to raise a Foundation and my reason of raising this Foundation is to bring up indigent highlife musicians. If you think that one of your sons will succeed you, it’s not certain because you never know who actually will succeed you. The suc
cessor may come from outside your family’.
“That was the main reason behind Ogene Music Foundation. He did it so as to get someone to succeed him. If you go to the South East today, we have a lot of Oliver De Coques; this one is De Coque and that one is also De Coque. There is one that is calling himself the original Oliver (De Coque) now. How can you be the original when you’re answering someone’s name? But one of his reasons is that Oliver is no more and so he’s the original because he believes he plays better than every other person. What I am trying to say is that there are more than 20 people bearing De Coque in the South East and they all have benefited from the Foundation.”
Meanwhile, Ifeme has commended the owner of Colonades Hotels, Ikoyi, Lagos for giving his hotel free of charge for the presentation of Oliver’s biography, unveiling of his top 100 fans, cultural display, and live music by the Expo ‘76 Band, featuring Oliver’s children on Saturday, October 29, 2016. He also extended his gratitude to the Owelle of Ezinifite, who has promised to bankroll the music jamboree that will take place at Ezinifite town on Thursday, December 29, 2016.
…Why we waited for eight years to celebrate our father –Oliver’s children
But for his death eight years ago, Oliver De Coque would have celebrated his 69th birthday on April 14 and 40 years on stage on December 29, 2016. Therefore, to immortalize the musician and keep his memory alive, his children, led by the second son, Darlington Akanite, have set in motion a number of activities to celebrate their father. They are doing this in conjunction with eminent personalities like Ogbuefi Ray Ifeme, the Odogwo Abu Na Ezenifite.
On the reason behind the celebration, Darlington Akanite, who sings hip-hop, said: “We lost a hero in my father. Ndigbo and Nigeria lost one of its best culture ambassadors, promoter of indigenous African roots music, arts and tradition. We remember him every day, but this particular event I am championing as his trusted son, friend and confidant, is in fulfillment of my dad’s last minute request that I should do something to immortalise him and awaken the spirit of his fans that cut across all ages, sex, religions and tribes.”
Apart from Darlington, two sons of Oliver De Coque, Oliver Sunday Akanite (Jnr.) and Chinedu Akanite, are also professional musicians. Popularly known as ‘Solar De Coque’ and ‘Edu De Coque’ respectively, they have stepped into the shoes of their father by playing the same Ogene music and keeping intact the band he left behind.
The posthumous 69th birthday and 40 years on stage anniversary of the late king of highlife music will begin on Sunday October 16, 2016 with church service at St. Simon’s Anglican Church, Ezinfite, Anambra State.
This will be followed by a public presentation of the late musician’s biography, unveiling of his top 100 fans, cultural display and live music by the Expo’ 76 Band, featuring the Akanites at the Colonades Hotels, Ikoyi, Lagos on Saturday, October 29, 2016.
The highpoint of the event is a music jamboree featuring the Ogene music family including Osita Osadebe’s son, children of the late Sir Warrior of the Oriental Brothers Band fame, son of the late Captain Muddy Ibe, and children of the late Ali Chukwuma on Thursday, December 29, 2016 at Ezinifite.
Why explaining the reason he waited for eight years to celebrate his father, Darlington Akanite said it’s a deliberate effort to conform to his dad’s wish to mark his 40 years on stage.
In his words: “My father had wished to appreciate in a special way his fans, the ones he personally chose and referred to in his biography as ‘my valuable associates; the top 100 fans.
“Therefore, I am doing this in fulfillment of my dad’s unfulfilled agenda and in recognition of the rare generosity of spirit with which the listed fans in the biography related with my dearest father while alive; their compassion and nobility of mind by enthusiastically heeding our family’s call in accordance with our patriarch and their music idol, a befitting burial beyond our greatest expectations.
“Moreover, eight years after his death, his principles and the core values or message of his music still need to be examined. There is a need for history to make room for him as an enigma. It is to this extent that I intend to passionately bring his beloved fans together once again, to say let’s do it same way in honour of the fallen music icon. Come and pay homage to he whose music is deeply etched in an unwavering belief in the all-round development of man and promotion of positive family ties in the society.
“His music museum project, which was in progress before death came calling, needs to be completed. Also, the Ogene Music Foundation that supports talented indigent up and coming musicians to realise their career in music, established by my dad during his 50th birthday anniversary in 1997, deserves resuscitation.”
Akanite revealed that the music museum when completed would house Oliver’s musical works, costumes, his numerous art works, awards, laurels and certificates, his notable concerts films, mini studio, viewing centre, music library, and work of other music stars.
“It will in turn serve as a tourist site, data bank and rallying point for patrons of art, lovers of African roots music and cultural values of Ndigbo, especially the arts students.
“I hereby enjoin all my father’s fans who are too numerous to mention, corporate bodies and agencies, the media, social/philanthropic organisations and interested individuals to please join us in making this noble idea a marvelous and fulfilling one to be cherished all our life,” he pleaded.
In the same vein, Secretary of Oliver De Coque Posthumous Anniversary Planning Committee, Mrs Mabel Okeke, paid tributes to the late highlife musician.
“To live in the hearts of those you love, they say, is not to die. And absence, we hear, makes the heart grow fonder. Oliver is absent the way a pupil would be from school but he lives on. And he will continue to live, in all his power, fame and glory, as long as the kind of circumstances that nurtured his emergence and his flourishing remain the same. We are doing it for posterity sake. People like Oliver don’t die,” she said.