On this day(June 26th 2008), five years ago, a legend that was not recognized among his people passed on in a private hospital in Gbagada, Lagos State after he was rushed there for medical attention. That legend is Chief Dr Sunday Oliver Akanite the music maestro who was later to be known as Oliver De Coque.
News of his death came to me as a shock through the radio while I sat in my desk writing (my favourite way of whiling away time, then). My first reaction was to pick up my phone, scroll to his number and put a call through to it. The line was busy, but out of curiosity I did it again and it rang. I was still contemplating whether to wait for his usual sonorous but deep voice to filter through the ear bit to my ear or not when I suddenly changed my mind and stopped the call. My reason was fear of the very obvious; that a relative of his may answer the call and confirm to me he is truly dead.
I have known Chief Oliver De Coque from my childhood, even without the opportunity of meeting him in person. He is that god whom my father through his love for Oliver De Coque’s music forced me to ‘worship’. I was privileged to meet Oliver less than a year before his eventual death; he was one of the artistes invited by popular comedian, Uche Ogbuagu to his show(Aba Made). I was also present at the show, having been invited by Uche who is a friend of mine and for whom I have done a few media jobs. It happened that after the show at about 4am, I went back stage to see which of the artistes I can chat up. Kanayo .O. Kanayo, a Nollywood actor who also came for the show was walking out and I accosted him and introduced myself but he rebuffed me like a leper, but it was however not the same when I went to Chief Oliver(whom at that time Kanayo was waiting to confer with), on introducing myself to him he threw his arm around my neck like an old friend, while we walked down a lane to his hotel room at Binez Hotel, leaving poor Kanayo trailing behind us.
Each time I remember that moment, it makes me feel like a king, but my regret is that I never was able to get the camera guys to shoot us so my old man would see I have met his idol close up. As he made to enter his hotel room, he quickly took from me my diary and scribbled his phone number, demanding that I give him a call when he is back in Lagos so I can come for an exclusive interview, and that was how I got his number and I did well to call him regularly till his death. I have also made it a point of duty to ensure that I always write a piece; no matter how small in his memoriam every year since his death, this is this year’s.
I did three things before settling down to write this piece so that no one will accuse me of writing what I don’t know. First, I visited Late Chief Dr Oliver De Coque’s home town in Ezinifite, Nnewi. This was to see what changes has happened regarding him(Oliver) since the last time I was there. Secondly, I goggled him on the internet to check out if any musical show, comedy, seminar, workshop or symposium is going to hold in his honour to mark his death. Lastly, I brought out a collection of his music in my house and played them all and watched his available video to be sure I won’t be overrating him if I say he is a legend. I satisfied myself with all these, and I am better Equipped to write about him now.
In 2008 when I visited his home to do a piece in preparation for his burial, I met his younger brother(whose name I cant immediately recall, but because he is also a musician, and a large beard like Oliver’s, he suffixed his name with; ‘De Coque’ too) who showed me around Oliver’s edifice which was undergoing renovation/completion then in readiness for his burial. And when I asked what he thinks should best be done for Oliver he said the government knows better, that he has been told that government officials would be at his burial. He added that his brother worked hard to uplift Igbo culture and race through his music and he believes that anything to keep his name alive is good.
When I visited again few days ago, I was surprised that nothing to Oliver De Coque’s name has been done in the sleepy village of Ezinifite. The only thing that seemed to his name in my first visit was a small rusty sign post which read; Oliver De Coque Drive, pointing down a lonely bush path that seemed like a farm road… I did not see that again in my last visit, and that means that except for goggle where you can type Oliver’s name and get a few write ups on him show up, and his music which speaks for itself, nothing of him can be found anywhere.
Today, Igbos complain that their customs and tradition is fast being eroded by civilization, big seminars and workshops are held by individuals, groups and government bodies, and money spent, but the man who through his own singular effort without help from anyone used his God-given talent to propagate Igbo culture and tradition for free of charge is abandoned.
Though many would argue that through his music, Oliver gave support to fraudsters and ritualists by singing about them and making them popular, but no one will say of Oliver that he stole, involved in fraud or rituals himself. Chief Oliver simply used his many hits to propagate the virtue of hard work, which in turn brings about prosperity, while urging those whose bread God has buttered to ensure that they use their wealth to also take care of the poor. In this way, many young people worked hard to achieve wealth in order to attract fame by getting Oliver to feature them in his music. For such people who are quick to note that Oliver promoted ill wealth, I will always ask if a man who does not have thievery in his blood will go to steal because he wants to appear in Oliver’s music, so, my submission is that no one stole because of Oliver as those thought to have done so would still have done, Oliver or no Oliver as they have thievery in their blood already.
Is Oliver truly a legend? Yes he is. Today we see musicians whose only gift is that they know how to hold the microphone, and once it is in their hand they jump up and down the stage and everyone claps. This is not the same with Oliver De Coque. Merely meeting him, one would be sure he has met a ‘big’ man. His aura, carriage, very-well-cared-for-beard, unique dress sense all contribute to make one rate him. In music, Oliver is good in almost every musical instrument, most especially the flute and guitar, and his dance steps can not be anyone’s. He is reputed as the man whose voice the guitar understands and true to this, he has several guitars and known to own the costliest of them.
His Anaenwe Obodo Enwe, a popular hit when it broke appealed to all tribe and when played in parties forced many who do not even understand Igbo to the dance floor, and also begging for Igbos to interpret the meanings to them. It is for men like Oliver, who though very widely travelled, and equally widely exposed but insists on making music in Igbo language that a project to promote Igbo culture, tradition and language should be named. Holding an annual concert at a time like this to mark the death of Oliver, or a lecture to mark it or better still a music school in his name would make Oliver’s spirit rest in peace.
The option of what to do for the departed Oliver is much, individuals, groups, corporate organizations, music departments of institutions around the South East, culture and tourism ministries of South Eastern states and state governments, most especially his home state government can choose from a wide option of what to keep Oliver’s name alive with. This is even better now that music is helping to lift lots of young men away from joblessness, as badly as music is made today, young people still use it to attain fame and wealth, imagine what will happen if a standard music school was established in states around the South East to churn out good music makers.
In his lifetime, Oliver was a generous man, a man of means too who brings his own bag of money on stage to spray people who come out to dance to his music and even ‘retaliate’ when money bags come on stage to spray him cash. A unique dresser, a good dancer, a fine singer and a guitarists whose finger itches once he lands on stage. Only a few artistes will be as multi talented Oliver De Coque, why wont we let him smile even once in his grave.
Eleke (07039853422), an Anambra State based journalist wrote in via email@example.com.