Saturday, April 22, 2006

orlando owoh - his life & times

The below is excerpted from The Guardian of Saturday 15th April.

Orlando Owoh: The Kennery is ill
Legend of Kennery highlife, Dr. Orlando Owoh, is very ill. The frail-looking musician spoke with CLETUS NWACHUKWU on his sick bed about his past, present state of health and his future.

STEPHEN Oladipupo Olaore Owomoyela, known to most lovers of music as Orlando Owoh belongs in the class of those great artistes who worked so hard at achieving their dreams.

The great Orlando who used to mesmerise the audience with his heavy romantic voice and energetic display on the stage is now so fragile that to walkhas become a struggle. He looks pitiable in the aftermath of tow massive stroke that has left him almost like a vegetable, even if he remains in very high spirit while talking to The Guardian.

Orlando needs help. That is the fact. And he said he was counting on the goodwill of his numerous fans andgood people of Nigeria to ensure he gets qualityhealthcare. Interestingly he wants to continue with his first love: playing music and creating happinessfor others.

For this legendary, but now seriously ailing musician, life from his childhood had been an arduous struggle for survival.

Born 74 years ago at Osogbo in Osun State to Jeremiah and Morenike Owomoyela, originally from Ifon town in Ose Local Government Area of Ondo State, somehow, the musical adventures of his father never really rubbed off positively on the young Orlando Owoh. His father relentlessly admonished him never to play music, recounting his own sad experiences as a musician.

Having made up his mind to become a musician from age 12, Orlando Owoh, nevertheless, had to succumb to the overbearing influence of his father, who had now ventured into building construction, albeit a successful one. Showing early traits of a man with hismind, Orlando Owoh left Osogbo for Ilesha, in pursuit of greener and better life prospects immediately hecompleted his eight-year apprenticeship under his father. Working as a bricklayer, truck pusher,house-help, yet music was never far from his heart.

Armed with a Standard Six certificate, he returned to Osogbo and secretly began his romance with musicbuoyed by several music talents garnered during his sojourn in Ilesha. His budding musical talent caught the attention of renowned artiste, Kola Ogunmola who eventually invited him to Ibadan in preparation forthe First All African Games in Dakar. Yet, fate wouldplay a cruel one on him as few months to the event he was diagnosed with a bad eye problem that needed urgent surgery. As a result, he missed the opportunityto kick-start his artistic dream.

With a burning desire to succeed, Owoh did not allow the development to derail his dreams, as he quickly joined a music band called Chocolate Randies in Ibadan, due to his avowed dexterity on the Konga drums.

According to the veteran musician, Chocolate Randies was the toast of music fans in the old Western region.
Thus began a life full of controversies, vices andmusical legendary.

All through his time with Chocolate Randies,traversing Abeokuta, Ibadan and Lagos, Owoh remained steadfast in his belief in success musically, and of course, be his own boss. His hunger for successfinally culminated in his establishing his own band called Orlando Owoh and his Omimah Band in 1958.

The renowned artiste told The Guardian, after convincing his former boss at Chocolate Randies, he gained his musical freedom after paying the customary £5 and a coke.

Owoh's actual journey to stardom began with his debut album in 1960 under Decca Records. A greater achievement for him beyond having his music in themarket was the financial incentive of £15 that shockedand made him restless for several days.

The first album, Oluwa Lo Ran Mi was quickly followed by a very successful Alantere Ijo Oyege, which of course, actually announced his arrival on the music landscape.

Expectedly, more musical successes were recorded through his unique and rhythmic brand of music.

Owoh as Army Captain
The civil war in Nigeria further brought to fore Owoh's survival instinct. Despite his newly found fame and wealth, he decided to enlist in the Nigerian Army,without his family's consent. According to him, "itwas just for survival." With him went his first love-- music. He did not stop playing his music as he was later commissioned to entertain soldiers across thec ountry, during the war. He was to train and organisehis colleagues into what was then called the Garrison Band. The euphoria was not limited to the war zones,as he once came visiting his music fans in Lagos withhis army band. Four years later, Orlando Owoh was discharged from the army with the rank of a captain.

In the words of Thomas Southern, "Ambition is an idolon whose wings great minds are carried only to the extreme. It is to be sublimely great, or be nothing." This music icon refused to be what could be called a local champion as he went steps further. The septuagenarian recalled his first ever-musical tour of London, in 1972, when his astonishing musical displaysand prowess impressed his hosts and he was subsequently awarded a honorary doctorate degree in law by the University of London.

Unfortunately, a fall-out of his successful Londontour was that greed set into his band and some dissatisfied members left. He had to re-organise and rename his band from the Young Kenneries to African Kenneries.

The music veteran explained that his music was afusion of highlife and juju and that as aknowledgeable musician, he had to move with current trends to satisfy his teeming fans spanning several countries of the world. In line with his self-belief and ideologies, his music is to positively impact on lives and preach peace.
Most times his music and lyrics have been compared to that of the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti's fiery style, particularly, with controversial albums, like Ganja I and II, Dele Giwa and Money for Hand Back for Ground. He has recorded over 45 albums including the commercially successful Jobs Experience, Logba-Logba, Kangaroo, Iyawo Olele, Money palaver, Tribute to Fela, amongst many others.

Alagbon Experience
For many followers and lovers of music, particularly, of the late Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and Owoh, the two music icons seem to have quite a lot in common. From their music, love life, anti-authority beliefs, vices and ultimately life in incarceration. These two artistes have come out eventually from police cells to release commercial hits on their experiences at the infamous Alagbon Close (a police investigation centre).

Orlando recounted his bitter ordeal in the hands of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida regime's security agents. His out-spoken nature and the controversial album he released on the death of foremost journalist Dele Giwa, who was fatally wounded by a parcel bomb, got for Owoh, 18 months of humiliation and torture in police cell.

He bitterly related his detention to similar experiences of other musicians who were made scapegoats by various governments due to their criticism and anti-government stance. The album released upon his release from Alagbon was first hand experience of witnessing intimidation, humiliation,and oppression of innocent victims by the powerful inthe society. Truly, there is of course, little or nothing to choose between Fela and Owoh, two very unique, controversial and hugely talented artistes.

Life As Born Again
Remarkably, like Fela, Owoh's life and perceptions were hinged on African deities and strong conviction in the potency of different charms. This quintessential African music legend, it was recalledseveral years ago, reportedly destroyed and burntseveral charms and idols, preparatory to his giving his highly controversial life to God at a well-attended ceremony at the Synagogue Church of All Nations, led by Prophet T.B Joshua.

He received several broadsides and cynical remarks from many people who could not believe or would not see him in the new-garb of a true Christian. Overtime, the cynics may have been proved wrong, as Owohhas remained a steadfast and unwavering Christian.This staunch belief in God above all things wasfurther betrayed during an exclusive visit and chatwith The Guardian's Weekend Beats on Friday, April 7, concerning his state of health.

Looking frail, pale and very sick, the oncevociferous and fiery Kennery was barely audible andyet, he continually gave thanks to God Almighty for keeping him alive till date.

Present State
The septuagenarian, who is among the few living legends of Nigerian music alongside Chris Ajilo, Chief Osita Osadebe, Elder Steve Rhodes and Dr. VictorAbimbola Olaiya, St. Augustine, Sir Victor Uwaifor, is ill. The once-bubbly Kennery crooner is down.

When Weekend Beats visited Owoh, it was quite clear that his undisclosed ailment required urgentmedical attention.

He disclosed that he is yet to receive any financial and medical assistance from his immediate constituency - the music industry. He expressed disappointment with his promoters - Jolaosho and Trans-world. Furtherenquiries, concerning PMAN's assistance and the acclaimed insurance policy with WAPIC Insurance company by the music body, proved that the so-called policy was nothing but a charade. In his words: "I made several representations to PMAN concerning my health and even registered as required, yet nothing so far has been done to assist me." He, however, expressed gratitude to his wives, family, manager and particularly, one of his daughters, who has been treating and taking care of him.

Throughout the chat, Owoh showed his gratitude to God for a fulfilled life. "I thank God "I thank God."

With several musical awards, chieftaincy titles, fame, wealth and many of his children doing well, home and abroad, projecting the good name and image of the music icon, he has lived a fulfilled life. However, in one of his several interviews, he expressed a life-long desire to build a hotel where his fans can relax and be entertained.

Owoh simply wants to be remembered as the Kennery music king.


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