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Top 10 Highlife Progenitors In Nigeria

Osita Osadebe

Although Nigerian music has undergone some serious evolution over the years, but there are still songs that will always hold a special place in our heart.

These are songs that bring back that longing sense of nostalgia that makes you crave for a Nigeria before the civil war. Thanks to this Kings of highlife music even the young generation can listen to it and are on the music playlists of a lot of Nigerian weddings home and abroad.

Highlife is life! Meet our African kings of highlife music. Enjoy!

10. Celestine Ukwu

Celestine Ukwu

Born Celestine Obiakor in 1940, Onitsha, Nigeria. Celestine was a hit back in the then and was on the verge of a national breakthrough when the Nigerian civil war brought touring and recording to a grinding halt. He re-emerged in 1970 with Philospher’s Stone.

He released his biggest hit Money Palaver in 1976. He died later the same year.

9. Sonny Okosun


Born Sonny Okosun in January 1, 1947 in Enugu, Sonny who was from Edo State was one of the leading Nigerian musicians from the late 1970s to mid 1980s.

He formed his first band, The Postmen, in Enugu in 1965 and joined Melody Maestros, a band led by Victor Uwaifo in 1965. From 1972 to 1974 he led a group known as Paperback Limited and then formed a new band, Ozziddi. Some of his popular songs are Fire in SowetoHigh Life and Which Way Nigeria. Okosun continued his career in music as a gospel musician in the early 90s.

He died aged 61 of colon cancer on 24 May 2008.

8. Tunji Oyelana


A former lecturer, Tunji Oyelana, was born in October 4, 1939 and is credited with having sold the most albums by a Nigerian High Life musician.

He composed the song, I Love My Country with Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka. Both were charged with treason in 1996, and forced into exile by Sani Abacha, while touring internationally with Soyinka’s play The Beatification of Area Boy.

7. Orlando Owoh


Originally born as Stephen Oladipupo Owomoyela in February 1932, in Osogbo, Orlando was a notable highlife musician and band leader. He was shifted from the carpentry trade in 1958, when he was hired by Kola Ogunmola Theatre Group to play drums and sing.

He went on to form Dr. Orlando Owoh and his Omimah Band in 1960 and Dr. Orlando Owo and his Young Kenneries Band in 1975; and over a musical career of forty years became one of the leading proponents of highlife music. He had over 45 albums to his credit.

Some of his well known songs include, Yellow Sisi, Ajo Ko Dun Bi Ile, Ololufe gbao temi, Omo pupa and No Friend/Aiye Lokun.

6. Prince Nico Mbarga


Prince Nico Mbarga was born to a Nigerian mother and a Cameroonian father in Abakaliki on 1 January, 1950. He is renowned for his hit song Sweet Mother, recorded with his band Rocafil Jazz; as well as Aki Special.

Prince Nico Mbarga’s style of Highlife is a mixture of Soukous of the two Congos, Makossa of Cameroon, and of course the Guitar Highlife of Nigeria.

5. Jim Rex Lawson a.k.a Cardinal Rex

jim rex

Cardinal Rex was born to parents of Igbo and Kalabari descent in 1935.

He played with Sammy Obot, Bobby Benson, Victor Olaiya, Chris Ajilo, and other Ghanaian and Nigerian musicians and bands. With the Majors Band, they recorded the hits: So ala temeYellow SisiGowon Special, and Jolly Papa.

He his renowned for hit songs, Yellow SisiLove Mu Adure and SawaleSawale was remixed by Flavour to make the popular hit song, Nwa Baby (Ashawo).

4. Victor Olaiya


Victor Olaiya was born to a wealthy family on the 31st of December 1930, in Calabar, Cross River State, and is the 20th child of a family of 24. He hails from Ijesha-Ishu in Ekiti State.

In 1954 Olaiya formed his own band, the Cool Cats (later the All Star Band), 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 the latter occasion, Olaiya shared the stage with the American jazz musician Louis Armstrong. During the Nigerian Civil War of 1967–70, Olaiya was given the rank of a lieutenant colonel (honorary) in the Nigerian army and his band played for the troops at various locations. The Cool Cats later travelled to the Congo to perform for United Nations troops.

3. Dr Sir Warrior

Sir warrior

Born Christogonus Ezebuiro Obinna in 1947 in Imo State, the Ultimate Dr. Sir Warrior, was the leader of the Oriental Brothers International Band which was famous in the Nigerian Igbo highlife music scene for several decades.

He began performing at the age of 11, when he joined a men’s choral group specialising in a music form known as Èsè. By 16, he had achieved fame for his voice and performance of Èsè music.

He introduced the Oyorima concept, which is an Igbo word that means a refined feeling of rhythmic movement and balance.

It is said that the Oriental Brothers played a very important spiritual role in keeping many Igbo sane. as they were severely traumatized by the civil war.

2. Oliver De Coque

Oliver de Coque, front

Popularly known as Oliver De Coque, Chief Dr. Oliver Sunday Akanite was  born on April 14, 1947 and hails from Ezinifite in Anambra state. He recorded more than 73 albums to his credit making him the most popular High life king of Africa.

His music band group Ogene Sound Super of Africa, blended modern high life and traditional Igbo music. He started playing music at the age of 17 with Ekpili.

1. Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe


Born in March, 1936, in Atani, a city in Anambra state, he came from a line of singers and dancers. His career spanned over 40 years and he has written over 500 songs, half of which were commercially released. His popular hits include: Osondi Owendi (meaning “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”), Nwannem EbezinaKedu America and Onuigbo.

Osita later died in St. Mary’s Hospital Waterbury, Connecticut on 11 May 2007

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