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Music

Remembering Osita Osadebe: The Highlife Maestro

todayMay 9, 2024 1

Background
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Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe (March 17, 1936 – May 11, 2007) was a Nigerian highlife musician from Atani, known as just Osita Osadebe. During his illustrious career spanning over four decades, he became one of the best-known musicians of Igbo highlife. His best-known hit was the 1984 single “Osondi Owendi”, which established him as a leader in the highlife genre and became one of Nigeria’s most popular records ever.

Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe (March 17, 1936 – May 11, 2007) was a Nigerian highlife musician from Atani, known as just Osita Osadebe.

Biography

Osadebe was born on March 17, 1936, in the Igbo town of Atani in Southeastern Nigeria. He hailed from a lineage of singers and dancers in Igboland. His genre, Highlife, encompassed Igbo and traditional musical elements, along with calypso, Samba, bolero, rumba, Jazz, and waltz. It was during his high school years in Onitsha that Osadebe developed an interest in music.

Osadebe began his career singing at nightclubs in Lagos, learning much of his music skills as a part of The Empire Rhythm Orchestra led by E. C. Arinze. A prolific composer, Osadebe released his first album in 1958, going on to write over 500 songs, half of which were released commercially. He struck out as a bandleader with his group, the Sound Makers, after stints with the Stephen Amache Band and the Central Dance Band.

As he became better established, Osadebe’s style matured to include social commentary, similar to Fela Kuti. He sang in English, pidgin English, and Igbo, often extending his tracks for his audience’s enjoyment. He earned the nickname “the Doctor of Hypertension” due to “the healing powers of his music”.

Transformation of Highlife Music

Osadebe succeeded in breaking away from the conventional big band format established by highlife pioneers. He transformed highlife into the call-and-response pattern of African music, incorporating African rhythms and melodies.

Career Peak and Legacy

During the Nigerian Civil War and its aftermath, Osadebe maintained his scheduled live performances, even as highlife’s prominence in Lagos diminished. His career reached its zenith in the 1970s. After turning 50 in 1986, Osadebe prioritized fatherhood, spending more time with his children. One of his last albums was “Kedu America”.

Passing

Osita Osadebe died on May 11, 2007, at St. Mary’s Hospital Waterbury, Connecticut, after suffering from severe respiratory difficulties.

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Written by: Boluwatife

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