Thursday 20 April 2023

Orlando Owoh, the Legendary Highlife Crooner

He will forever be remembered as combo highlife icon.

Leader of guitar dominated combo with accent on rhythm, Orlando was a crooner of highlife hits with a voice like no other human sound brought into music. Rich and guttural, he was naturally endowed, projecting quite effectively on all the registers high, low and middle without straining his voice.

His melodies were and far removed from the conventional popular music pattern but firmly rooted in African music.

Dr Orlando, as he was fondly called by his admirers, promoted African cultural music abroad for five decades. His first notable effort was in London where he made considerable impact playing on a star studded bill. Said he “My band was in London in 1972 to play for Nigerian Law Students to celebrate their graduation. I played at the African Center on October 1, 1972. That was where I was honored with the doctorate degree in music. Continuing he said, I was on the same bill with Mariam Makeba, Ramblers Band of Ghana, Ossibisa and Ipi Tombe of South Africa. Encouraged by the reaction of the audience to his music, he toured various parts of Britain including Glasgow, Manchester and Birmingham. He also performed in such European countries as Holland , Belgium, Italy among others. With the promotional strategy provided by Harridot an internationally acclaimed agency for promoting and developing African music and musicians, Orlando traveled abroad, preaching the gospel according to modern African music. He returned from a success tour of America where he performed in various cities. He also said , we traveled to America. We took off for the United States in March and returned to Nigeria in July, after a four month tour. We played in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Chicago, Dallas in Texas and Houston.

On the home front here in Nigeria, Orlando was one of the most consistent outfits around, with a popularity rating that cut across the West African coast. His formula for success was the continued exploitation of African rhythms, which are basically rooted in the rich cultural idioms of Ondo State of Nigeria where he hails from. He was also exposed to various other rhythmic concepts from different parts of Nigeria and Africa. It is the synthesis of all these influences coupled with emerging contemporary urban trends that consolidated his easily identifiable sound identity. And he blended all these fusion’s naturally, perfectly without sacrificing any of the personal idiosyncrasies of his previous established style.

His career began in 1956 as a sideman with Ogunmola one of the pioneers of theater in Nigeria. From the very beginning he was faced with musical adventures and challenges. Said he : i ventured into music in 1956 with Ogunmola and his theater party playing drums and singing. I was very young then. We went to welcome the Queen of England that same year at Ibadan now capital city of Oyo State of Nigeria. Continuing he says From there we were contracted by the University of Ibadan to provide music and entertainment to the celebration of three of their popular plays namely, Palm Wine Drinkard, Their Enemies and Samson and Delilah. We were used to promote these pls. I provided a vocal accompaniment and was also involved in drumming. 

From this testimony it is obvious that Orlando was put on a good footing from the beginning. He left Ogunmola in 1958 to join Akindele and his Chocolate Dandies at Ibadan. And while moving from one band to the other he was taking lessons on guitar and broadening his entire musical horizon. He eventually formed his own band in 1959 an outfit which instantly attracted recognition. Said he “ it was quality of my music that recommended me to recording companies. I was playing on a night gig when Decca Records came to discuss with me and eventually signed me on. I recorded my first hit in 1959. It was released in 1960 , a single with “Oluwa lo ran mi “on one side and “ Mobimo Kan to Dagba” on the other side.

By Midweek Arts Evergreen

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