Our contributing editor, Frank Stenner, pays tribute to one of Nigeria’s musical giants, Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, fifteen years after his demise
“In my life and my creations,
I have tried to follow my destiny
which is my music.
That is my journey.
I live with the gift of God.”
[from Osita Osadebe: “Ana Masi Ife Uwa” (“Sound Time” 2001)]
Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe (1936 – 2007), aka “The Doctor of Hypertension”, was born in Atani (approximately 20 kilometres south of Onitsha in eastern Nigeria). He discovered his musical talent after leaving school and scored his first hit “Adamma” in 1958.
This was the time of the great highlife stars like Rex Lawson, Celestine Ukwu and Victor Uwaifo, to name just a few. Soon Osadebe was one of them – especially after having formed his own band, the “Soundmakers International”, in 1964.
Tradition and persistence marked his more than 50-year-long career. Not only did he remain loyal to his Igbo Highlife music but also to his band with which he performed till the end of his life, and to his record company, Polygram, as long as it existed.
The 1980s were his most successful decade when he was on par with the new generation of Nigerian highlife stars such as Prince Nico Mbarga, the Oriental Brothers and Oliver de Coque, although his style was much more relaxed than theirs.
In 1981, he received a gold disc for his album “Onu Kwulonjo”, the epic “People’s Club Special” selling more than 400,000 copies in 1982 and all this was topped by his real smash “Osendi Owendi” of which more than 750,000 albums were sold.
In 1994, he recorded the wonderful CD “Kedu America” during his first tour of the USA. And he did so in just one single day without the slightest slip-up. This album is Osadebe with his Soundmakers International at their very best, as they give us all we need to get enthralled: Osadebe’s rich baritone voice (that hardly changed over the years), jazzy horns and saxophones, and powerful wah-wah guitar strokes working above frenetic drums. Moreover, the hit “Osendi Owendi” is included in an eight-minute version.
In 2001, Osadebe released the similar “Sound Time” which offers a good insight into Osadebe’s philosophy as the booklet provides us with English translations of the lyrics.
Chief Osita Osadebe was not only loved for his music, but for his likeable character as well. He was a calm and unassuming man who preferred the remoteness of his hometown Atani to the hustle and bustle of Nigeria’s big cities. And it is there where he was interred after his remains were brought home from the USA. He led an absolutely fulfilled life, and through his music, he can still give us advice and enjoyment, even though he is not with us anymore. He will be remembered forever.
Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe died on 11 May 2007 (aged 71) at the St. Mary’s Hospital Waterbury, Connecticut, United States.