Stephen Osita Osadebe
Musician, Record Producer
DATE OF BIRTH
March 17th, 1936
DATE OF DEATH
May 11th, 2007
PLACE OF BIRTH
Atani, Anambra State
Stephen Osita Osadebe was born on March 17th, 1936 in Atani, a fishing and agricultural city on the eastern bank of the Niger River in Anambra State, Nigeria. He was a Nigerian music legend of the highlife genre whose sonorous hit-track ‘Osondi Owendi’ is one of the greatest songs ever recorded and listened to in Nigeria. He was fondly called the “Doctor of Hypertension” because his fans and admirers swore to the therapeutic and healing effect of his music. He is known for popularizing the highlife genre in Nigeria which he reinvented in many ways.
Osadebe began his primary education at the St. John Catholic School, Onitsha and then moved on to Our Lady’s High School, Onitsha for his secondary education. It was in secondary school that his interest is obvious became apparent. While in primary school, he was a member of the choir and also performed in a band. After his secondary school education, Osadebe worked as a clerk with SCOA and in 1958, he decided to pursue a music career on a full-time basis.
After completing his higher education at Wesley College, Ibadan (teachers’ college) in 1927, he proceeded to the University of London and would later on graduate with Bachelor of Commerce (Hons.) and Bachelor of Law degrees from the University of London and on November 19th, 1946, he got called to the Bar by the Honorable Society of the Inner Temple, London. Prior to Awolowo’s trip to Great Britain, it is important to note that he also had a stint as a school teacher, a clerk, a stenographer and even took on reporting duties for one of Nigeria’s prominent newspaper, the Daily Times. This particular period was quite important because it served as formative years for his eventual foray into the world of politics.
Osadebe married five wives and had several children and after turning 50 in 1985, he decided to cut back on his touring schedule. As he got older, he felt it was important to spend more time with his large family especially his children who were in need of paternal parenting and guidance. His eldest son, Obiajulu Emmanuel Osadebe, followed in his father’s footsteps, remixing some of his hit songs. Unfortunately, Obiajulu Emmanuel Osadebe died after a brief illness in January 2009 at the age of 43.
After relocating to Lagos, Osadebe’s professional music career will kick-off under the tutelage of one of the best trumpeters in West Africa, Zeal Onyia. However, prior to his stint with Zeal Onyia, he was a vocalist and maracas player with the Empire Rhythm Skies band led by Stephen Amaechi. He will also perform with the Central Dance Band. In 1958, he would release his first album to much praise and acceptance. His first album featured only two songs, one of which was “Adamma“, a tribute to a beautiful lady. In 1959, he was reported to have released a single titled “Lagos na so so enjoyment”, a collaborative effort with the amazing trumpeter, Zeal Onyia. A year later, Osadebe exited the music scene and moved to the Soviet Union to study Trade Unionism. Once he obtained his diploma in 1962, Osadebe moved back to Nigeria and established the Stephen Osadebe and His Nigerian Sound Makers after years of hustling and performing in various Lagos nightclubs in the 1950’s.
As Osadebe continued to develop musically, he drew inspiration from different genres of music such as calypso, samba, bolero, rumba, jazz, waltz, all of which are the central influential elements of highlife music in its unadulterated form. As his artistry grew and he became more confident and established, Osadebe took his music to an even greater level. His first move was prolonging the duration of each song to accommodate the vibrant energy of his audience on the dance floor. The second was infusing witty social commentary in his music. He was not as benevolent in his lyrics as Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey nor militant or defiant as Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. He appeared to go after his adversaries in his lyrics, a factor that many believed later hampered his creative process. His songs will come to shed light on events in the country often elusively denouncing the government and the country’s leaders. His music was slow, soulful, rhythmic and engaging enough to even pull disinterested patrons out of their comfortable chairs.
Over the course of his life and his music career that spanned forty years, Osadebe wrote over 500 songs and recorded up to 30 albums. Even though the outbreak of the Civil War slowed him down, Osadebe still toured vigorously and maintained his live performance schedule during the war and in fact, grew in popularity in the 1970s after the war. The 1975 album release, Osadebe ’75, brought him great success and many other hits will follow thereafter as the country was in the midst of an oil boom. His greatest commercial success was the 1984 release of “Osondi Owendi” (meaning “one man’s meat is another man’s poison). The album was an immense success selling 750,000 copies and becoming the most popular record ever in Nigeria. More than three decades after its release, Osondi Owendi continues to be the standard for highlife music in Africa and remains widely popular. “Makojo” which is featured in the same album was also a notable hit in the 1980s.
Several years later following the success of Osondi Owendi, Osadebe embarked on his first United States tour in 1995 at the age of 60. While in the US, he recorded one of his most memorable and gripping albums, Kedu America, in Seattle, Washington State. Some of his other well-known albums are Oyalimas 80 (LP, 1980 release) and People’s Club Special – 10th Anniversary (LP, 1982 release). While performing strictly in the highlife genre, Osadebe’s style featured other genres such as African country, bolero, rumba, jazz, calypso and waltz. His approach to his craft was that of an African traditional poet. His unique sound was highly regarded among the older generation that grew up with his music during the 1960s and 1970s. Osadebe’s once said that ‘A country without music is a dead nation. Nigerian musicians are great people, and musically Nigeria is great. The unfortunate thing is that we are not accorded the recognition due to us’. He always sang and performed for his people and his country first. He died at St. Mary’s Hospital Waterbury, Connecticut on May 11th, 2007 of severe lung failure
Today, Osadebe’s music is enjoyed not only in Nigeria but around the world. His songs which were full of proverbs, life lessons and humor contributed immensely to the cultural growth and social consciousness of the country. His contributions as the voice of Highlife Music impacted a younger generation of artists such as the late MC Loph and Flavor N’abania. He was honored by his people with a chieftaincy title the Ogbuefi Ezealulukwufe of Ataniland and was also recognized by the by the Federal Government of Nigeria with the national honor of Officer of the Order of the Niger (OON). Within the music industry, he was awarded the Best Highlife Artist of the Year in 1988 by the Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) and was honored by Polygram Records with a platinum album for the Osadebe ’75 album which sold a 100.000 units. He was a man who was not only loved by his ethnic group, the Igbos, he was loved by everyone across Nigeria.
- ‘Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe’ Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Web. 11 April 2016. <https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chief_Stephen_Osita_Osadebe>
- ‘Highlife Legend Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe Passes Away On May 11, 2007’ Global Rhythm. Zenbu Media. Web. 15 May 2007. <www.globalrhythm.net/WorldNews/HighlifeLegendChiefStephenOsitaOsadebePassesAwayOnMay112007.cfm>
- Stephen Osita Osadebe ‘Discography’ Web. (Date n/a) <https://www.discogs.com/artist/303603-Stephen-Osita-Osadebe>
- Stewart, Jocelyn Y. ‘Chief Osita Osadebe, 71; a giant of African highlife music’ L. A. Times. Los Angeles Times. Web. 19 May 2007. <articles.latimes.com/2007/may/19/local/me-osadebe19>