Nigerian Okwy Osadebe preserves half a century of family’s legendary Highlife music

By the middle of the 1950s, highlife music had become a genre in Eastern Nigeria and took a storm in the region and beyond. Soon after, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, father of Okwuchukwu Osadebe (fondly called Okwy), became a renowned entertainer who appealed to his people and culture with a distinctive and entrancing musical wave.

His voice was audacious, captivating, provocative, and unusually fascinating. Thus, Chief Osadebe introduced a distinctive traditional folkloric sound of the River Niger waves accompanied by horns and rhythms driven by guitars. He incorporated powerful melody riffs from traditional music, infused each song with Igbo vernacular, and woven in local philosophical proverbs.

“My father established a different pattern of Highlife different from what the pioneers had led on. I consider him a Nigerian Highlife revolutionary, an icon,” said Okwy Osadebe, who is also leading a successful Highlife music career, to TheAfricanDream.net in April 2023.

Chief Osadebe was a conscious man and paid attention to what his music lovers wanted. That led him to create an ideal band and rhythm. In 1958, he launched his debut record and wrote more than 500 songs, of which 50 have been made available for sale.

Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe image
Photo: Chief Osita Osadebe

Around 1964, Chief Osadebe launched his band, the Sound Makers, after brief periods with the Stephen Amache Band and the Central Dance Band.

A Highlife icon

Although Highlife originated in Ghana in the late 19th century, it extended throughout Eastern Nigeria even farther after the Nigerian Civil War in the late 1960s. The performances, vocalisations, and messages infused with Eastern traditions and practices were what made this musical genre distinctive.

Its string of music had a recognisable bold bass lines and interpretive percussion that incorporates horn, guitar and saxophone components into its rich and engaging rhythms.

Chief Osadebe became one of the most well-known Igbo highlife artists over a career spanning more than four decades. His biggest hit was the song “Osondi Owendi” from 1984, which made him a highlife genre icon and one of Nigeria’s most renowned songs ever.

Photo: Chief Osita Osadebe (L)

Sadly, he passed away in St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, Connecticut, on May 11, 2007, as a result of serious respiratory issues.

The rise of Okwy

Okwy rose from his father’s shadows into the new highlife frontiers, carrying on his late father’s musical legacy, about a decade after the icon’s demise. His music follows in his father’s pattern of mid-tempo highlife sound involving guitar strings and horns.

He was brought up with the music and has successfully carved an attraction for himself with his music followers. His colourful theatrical antics and costumes also gives him a stand out. Okwy is the eldest child of the late Highlife icon, Chief Osadebe, showing himself as a true protégé, and a preserver of the family’s legacy.

Photo: Okwy Osadebe

Okwy’s music gives a sound that is thoughtful, compelling, and well-spoken. His live performances give audience hot goose bumps. The musician loves the legacy that his father has left behind and bases his beliefs and aspiration for humanity on them.

Cultural pride through music

The Igbo people of Nigeria have a rich cultural legacy, and Okwy is pleased to use his music to commemorate and promote this tradition. In his opinion, he is able to educate and inspire others through his music while also showcasing the elegance of his language, customs, and values.

“As an Igbo man, I feel a strong sense of responsibility to preserve and promote our culture, which has been passed down from generation to generation. I believe that music is one of the most powerful ways to do this, as it has the ability to transcend language and cultural barriers,” said Okwy to TheAfricanDream.net.

Photo: Okwy Osadebe

On stage, Okwy interprets and conveys his traditional highlife with a soulful voice and a contemporary upbeat sound. With an adventurous use of new age instrumentation and modulation, he has transformed his late father’s music from its vintage sound to a deluxe-metropolis sensation.

“Every time I perform, I feel a sense of pride and fulfillment knowing that I am using my talents to promote something that is so important to me and my community. Through my music, I hope to create a greater appreciation for the beauty and richness of Igbo culture, both within our community and beyond,” said Okwy.

With his music, Okwy is drawing global attention and is particular about singing on dignity for everyone. He is adored for his kind voice and rhythm, following his idol and father’s musical footsteps.

Okwy Osadebe and Highlife Soundmakers International.

Okwy is striving to uphold and improve the rich musical tradition for a more global acceptance.

Source: Oral Ofori

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