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I am the 20th child from a family of 24-Victor Olaiya

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In this interview, highlife legen Victor Olaiya speaks extensively on his music career, the many women in his life and all that it takes to become a successful musician and more.
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Can you tell us how you have been able to maintain so much relevance musically?
It’s God grace, and I try to make sure that I keep the band going, rehearsing and trying to improve on my old compositions.
It’s a long story. I joined the school band at Onitsha, Anglican School. Although, music, naturally, runs in the blood of my family. My father was a church organist in Calabar, African Church. My mother, by accident or desire, happened to be the cultural group leader in Calabar. They met and they got married and gave birth to Victor Olaiya. I grew up to find out that music, naturally, was in the blood of the family. After the demise of my father, I went to Owerri to continue my life and education with my late uncle, Solomon Ogunmoroti. After then, I went over to my mother at Onitsha, where I learnt to play B flat sax and later on metamorphosed to play the E flat French horn, the B flat French horn. I also managed to play the drums in Africa School, Onitsha and this was how I started going from one instrument to the other before coming over to Lagos in 1946 in search of the golden fleece and I kept playing in various bands like The Street Brass Band, where I was earning one shilling and six pence; and some other bands like the Nigerian Street Orchestra, before forming a band which later on metamorphosed to the All Stars.
You seem to be widely informed about instruments. On the whole, how many musical instruments can you manipulate?
Well, I’m now specialized on one instrument, which is the B flat trumpet. But on the whole, I can manipulate the French horn, I play the drums and I manage to teach people the guitar, the bass and some other orchestral instruments.
Of all the instruments you have come in contact with, which is the most difficult to manipulate?
I think it’s the trumpet. The B flat trumpet.
Why did you say that?
Because it needs planting of breath to be able to energize and to play it. Unlike the saxophone and others which have so many keys on them, the B flat trumpet has only three verves and it requires the planting of energy to be able to produce all the musical notes with just those three verves. That’s why I think it’s about the most difficult instrument to manipulate.
You once abandoned Civil Engineering for music, what exactly led to your doing that?
It was not intentional, except that nature forced me to do so. My family was not in a position to finance the scholarship to study Civil Engineering in America. So, all I did was to stay behind and work, after my college days. When I finished with my senior Cambridge certificate exam, I had to stay behind, doing music on a part time basis and also playing football, until I found myself where I am.
Can you take us through your educational background?
I went to the kindergarten in Calabar. From there, I went to African School, Onitsha. Later, I went to RCM School. From there, I went to African College, Onitsha and later came over to Lagos to continue my education. I attended evening classes and had my junior Cambridge and then I managed to pay for some oversea courses to do the school certificate (Senior Cambridge) exam and passed. After taking private lessons in Costs and Work Accountancy, now Cost and Management Accountancy, I managed again to pass part one of the course. With that, I was able to get admission into the Land and Survey. Although not related to what I initially did; eventually, I was transferred to be the accountant in charge of Lagos State Costs and Work Ledger.
Coming from a large family of 24 children, where you were the 20th, how did that affect your life and growing up?
It was not easy to cope in a large family. After the demise of my father, my uncle had too many of us to cater for and send to school. It’s wasn’t easy. That was why I kept going like a rolling stone. I was going from Owerri to Onitsha to Sapele to Lagos and then my late elder brother accommodated us and registered me in an evening school with the help of my nephew, H.O.O Awosika. So, it is not  easy in a large family. A number of us started building our ways and some won scholarships; others travelled, went to U.K. I was trying to make my way musically and otherwise.
 When did you make your first huge amount of money in music?
When you talk about huge money, it was really huge and large in those days. And that was when I was nominated to play at the Independence Day, 1960. I was glad. There I was apparently the talk-of-the-town with the best high life band that existed then. And I was paid one thousand five hundred pounds sterling, which was unimaginable. Although fellow musicians from all the corners protested. All the musicians merged together protesting, carrying placards to the House of Reps.
(Interrupted) Over what?
Against my nomination. Why should it be Victor Olaiya alone that was nominated to play at the Independence Day? Late Bobby Benson and so many musicians, and the then Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, appeased then by requesting that they gather themselves and form a joint band to support my band and they were paid the sum of six hundred pounds, which was less, compared to mine. The then Governor General, Sergeant Robertson introduced me to the Queen as the state band and when I mounted the stage, everywhere was lighted up and they did not pay anymore attention to the other musicians, since I had taken the centre stage. But all glory goes to God.
You come from a large family and you also have produced a large family yourself, what actually informed that?
I think it’s by accident. Mine is by accident. Though I come from a large family, my having a large family was an accident. I wouldn’t have thought I will have a large family because you know when somebody begins to acquire fame, coupled with some amount of cash, it attracts a large family. Because you see, women do a greater part of the publicity for an artiste and if you keep getting those women to come together or following them or encouraging them to come close, you must continue to spend money to be able to keep your reputation amongst them, so as to create a good PR for you. So, there is no going out of it (General laughter). So, it was more or less an accident for me to keep a big family, which I do not regret.
On the whole, how many wives and how many children do you have?
Unfortunately, I read in one of the papers that women and of course children should not be counted. So, I refuse to count the number of women in my life. But I’m respectably married with children and I’m happy.
How would you describe the lives of musician back then and now?
Many years past, I was not a full time musician. I was working and doing music part time. But after some years, I decided to go full time and I was happy. I had to toil all night and day until I had to resign my appointment as an accounting assistant with the Lagos State Council. Music became so demanding. I had to rehearse, I had to go for engagements. At that time, at times I will play three engagements in one day. So, it wasn’t easy. My mother had to advice me to choose one of the professions and I decided in favour of music. Because I had to play in the night, wake up in the morning, compose, rehearse. I had to arrange myself. It was not easy doing all that with any other thing.
Why do you think most musicians attain success and find it difficult to sustain it?
It’s because they were not focused, and apart from that, they didn’t invest, they didn’t see a future in what they were doing as I did. And it not easy to be a successful musician and to keep it, except by the grace of God. And I tried to invest since I knew I was going to remain a musician or an artiste.
What is the secret of success in music?
Victor Olaiya has been described as the Evil Genius of highlife music (Laughs). And the simple truth is that it is hard work. It’s ninety nine percent hard work and one percent accident. I had to work very hard to keep the ball rolling. Playing three engagements at times in a day and for me to be on top there, it needs hard work.
Let’s come back to the present; one of your mega hits, Baby Jowo, was remixed with 2Face Idibia. Whose idea was it?
It was not my idea as such. It was the idea of Premier Records, my record label, and that of my spirit as well as Kunle Afolayan’s. 2Face Idibia is a Spinlet artiste and he’s highly gifted and talented. When the idea of the collaboration came up, I welcomed it. Little did I realize that the artiste I was going to be working with is highly talented and gifted, very respectful and highly musical. So, he was just qualified for the collaboration. It was a God-sent accident. I wouldn’t have thought I can come across a young man with all these qualities…I love him, I admire him and I’m proud of him.
If not 2Face, would you have possibly done that remix with any other Nigerian artiste and who would that have been?
I can’t imagine any other one at all. Before the idea of the remix came, I had first admired 2Face’s African Queen without knowing we’ll someday do anything together. I asked somebody to go and get me a copy of the record. I discovered that the composition was fantastic. The vocals were very good, it was also very acoustic and I said to myself, ‘this must be a highly gifted artiste’. When I found out it was a Nigerian artiste, that was when I knew he would go places. That was how I got to embrace his talent.
Are you planning to release an album soon?
Of course. As an artiste, you must always plan for it because inspiration comes once in a long while. So, when you have that inspiration that turns out a classic hit, you don’t want to lose the chance.
Why do artistes not make or get hit songs all the time?
Well, in my hey days, I had so many hit songs and I make bold to say that most of my recordings are almost all hit songs. That’s because I try to make them very educative, constructive, melodious and rhythmical. I try to make sure that my arrangements and harmony are up to date. I don’t just open my mouth and sing any nonsense. Before going to the studio, I will make sure that I plan myself very well. I sample public opinion on some of my songs before going to the studio for recording. The problem is that most musicians, when they put out a hit number, they think that is all. Your recording manager or recording company will want you to be dishing out hit numbers in quick succession and at the end of the day you dish out nonsense.
So, what exactly do you take to put you in the mood for recording? Is it marijuana, cigarette or what?
I don’t take anything. I go to the studio solo. Over the years, I did not drink. It’s only nowadays that I started taking some shots of wine. I don’t smoke, but I am with the company of the opposite sex (Long laughter).
Why can’t most musicians stay away from women, weed and drink?
It’s a question of habit. It’s a very bad habit which they copied from somewhere, which I cannot describe. But for my part and a number of my children, I don’t think they copied the act from me, especially drinking and smoking. Musicians believe that for you to be able to be in the mood, you must have to do certain things, but it’s a wrong belief.
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