OSADEBEY Stephen Osita

The Highlife General by(Raxy Ekwebelam). Perhaps only a few musicians in the world today, can boast of the same credentials as Chief Stephen Osita Osadebey. In Nigeria, as well as in some parts of the world, the man remains a nourishing,ever-flowing fountain of authentic highlife music. Little wonder that he has so many fans. Born 62 years ago in Atani village near Onitsha, Osadebey has been in music for morethan 30 years. He initially played in some bands in the 50s, until he formed his first band iri 1963, soon after coming back from a trip to Russia. He and some of his contemporaries such as Chris Ajilo, Victor Olaiya, Rex Lawson, to mention a few, had formed the Nigerian Union of Musicians which was then an affiliate of the Nigerian Labour congress led by Pa Michael Imoudu. The exposureO sadebey got from Russia equipped him not only for unionism, but for the chequered life he has led since as a composer, arranger,vocali stand band leader. Long before many of those who now claim to be authorities in music were born, Osadebey had produced great hits like One Pound No Balance and Lagos Life. Today, Osadebey has made more albums than he can remember. It,however, hurts this great musician that the ideals he and his contemporaries worked for all their lives are today being adulterated by all sorts of musical genre that are forcefully imposed on highlife music. "Some are playing what they all Afrohighlife,but there is nothing like that. Some are playing Ikwokirikwo or Makossa, and they also call them highlife." If Osadebey had his way, digitization of studios would be abolished because it discourages hard work. "The artist simply walks into the studios," he laments, "and in a few minutes, he manipulates the computer for musical effect."According to him,this is why the standard of music is falling rapidly. Osadebey's brand of highlife is characterized by an incontrovertible lyrical power, local appeal,and an emphasis on the conga and horns,each of which dominate at intervals. Osadebey's voice, which he depend son, as the woodpecker its beak, is so soothing. Sometimes it moves into ballads from a hither to synchronized movement of rhythms, and the listener is hit suddenly by a voice that has the authority of a war general. Moments later, the same voice caresses and draws one into a frenzy. The crescendo sets in with the initially riotous but later well co-ordinated rising and falling of the congas. This is Osadebey's music. In 1983, however, Chief Osadebey came out with a megabit Osondi Owendi. It went platinum on Polygram records label. No party was complete in Igbo land without Osondi Owendi. The Onitsha market trader in particular would doalmost anything for the love of Osadebey and OsondiOwendi. The fol low-up was Makojo, which went the way ofits predecessor. In these songs, Osadebey depended heavily on the horn as if it was going out of fashion. The base line was also more reinforced. These characteristics made his music dynamic. While his music moved with the times, it did not lose its flavour. Osadebey, however, remained as constant as the northern star and his image larger than life. Just as he does not remember the number of hits he has made, so also does he not remember the number of awards he has won, at home and abroad. There was a time when Osadebeyso dominated the oriental music scene that insinuations and innuen does became rampant. "He has a magic, he is using African insurance" said the cynics. Even the death or ill health of an imagined rival was quickly blamed on Osadebey. Today, there is evidence that the man just worked harder than many. Married with five wives and a number of children he does not care to count, Osadebey is a king at home just as he is abroad. His country home, just on the outskirts of his town on the Atani-Omtsha road, is a study in architectural splendour. Every where is beautiful and quiet calm pervades the atmosphere. One feels close to nature. A boulevard, lined with the whistling pine, ushers you into Osadebey Close (government approved). As you walk along, the silence is remarkable. However, in side the house is a welcome paradise. By the time you meet Chief Osadebey, you marvel at his robust physique. He looks strong and reliable. He is neither slim nor tall, although he is by no means short. He is dark complexioned, but his dark receding hair is probably dyed. When Osadebey opens up his mouth to speak, he picks his words care fully. You cannot fault his English, even though it is believed that he did not have much education. Osadebey is, however, enlightened and widely travelled. Chief Osadebey is a private man. He also has a fiery temper. He never minces words, neither does he hide his feelings. The sight of his children always softens him. Chief Osadebey loves football to the point of obsession. He does not miss any football match that takes place in his vicinity. That is how he spends some of his leisure time; the rest he spends either reading or with his family. About music pirates who steal a good part of his musical rewards, he has this to say, "They give nothing but expect everything. They are evil. Unfortunately we make laws but can't implement them. Even some policemen that I have reported clear cases of piracy to claim ignorance of existing laws". Osadebey believes that life is too precious to be wasted on trivialities. His guiding principle is simplicity. "I take life easy, I don't bite more than I could chew, I eat good food and have enough rest." These are the secrets of the robust and healthy life that this legendis living,at 62,Osadebey could pass for a 45 year-old. One of his formulas for peace of mind and a healthy body is that he takes one of his wives along any time he is on the road. That also adds to the admiration he gets on and offstage. In addition. Chief Osadebey said that now, he only plays at social functions, he no longer goes on tours, which are energy-sapping. If one thinks that having done so much and for so long,this great vocalist and composer, should be retiring, Osadebey assures that he is not tired. According to him, in music, nobody thinks or talks of retirement. He intends to be around until he is no longer 'around'. This will not be before he has left the legacy he intends to leave behind - a musical idiom that is undefiled and unadulterated, and which will be immune to the encroachment of musical adventurers. This, he is already doing, as his son Obiajulu is already following in his footsteps.
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