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Sunset for Orlando Julius, Nigeria’s maestro who played with Louis Amstrong

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Saturday, April 16th, 2022
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By Benjamin Njoku

One of Nigeria’s most decorated highlife musicians, Orlando  Julius Ekemode has kicked the bucket. The ‘Ololufe’ singer died Thursday night at the age of 79.

The sad news of his exit was announced on Facebook by the Managing Director of Evergreen Music, Bimbo Esho.

According to Esho, the wife of the late musician, Latoya contacted her in the early hours of yesterday to inform him about the singer’s death.

“Bimbo, Daddy Has Passed On…This was the message I stumbled upon waking up at exactly 3am to peruse my WhatsApp page. It was a message sent to me by Orlando Julius’ beautiful and supportive wife Lady Latoya.

“Orlando Julius, a native of Ijebu Ijesha, succumbed to the cold hands of death and breathed his last few hours ago at the age of 79.

“We shall miss one of Nigeria’s fathers of Afro/Highlife Music, a gentleman and a fine saxophonist.

“May daddy Orlando Julius’ soul journey well. To the entire Ekemode family, may God give you the fortitude to bear this irreplaceable loss,” Esho wrote on Facebook.

Though the cause of his death was not immediately disclosed the Ijebu-Ijesa-born highlife musician was said to have been slowed down by age in recent times. 

Julius’ former band mate and Fela’s protege, Dede Mabiaku, however, described his exit as “ a shocking news that hit me like a bolt.

“So sad to hear about the demise of my very good friend, brother and band mate, Orlando Julius Ekemode.

“A big shocking news that hit me like a bolt. May his soul rest in peace,” Mabiaku said.

The same way the ‘Omoge’ crooner, Mike Okri described the singer’s exit as ‘ shocking’ to him.For highlife enthusiast, Osezua Stephen-Imobhio, the deceased would be remembered for his strong horn lines in his genre of highlife which is very close Afro-beat music.

“He was a great musician who flew the highlife music flag until his death. His tight horn arrangement will be missed by lovers of good sound,” said Imobhio.

A saxophonist, singer and band leader, Julius was involved in the creation, growth, and popularization of Afro-pop. He was also influenced by American soul and the parallel roots of modern Afro-beat and jazz.

His hit track ‘Back to the Roots’ which he did with the American singer, Lamont Dozier and his group, remains evergreen.

Kick-starting his musical career in the ’60s, when Eddie Okonta invited him to join his band, Orlando Julius fused traditional African sounds and rhythms with those of American pop, soul, and RnB. He evinced his musical talent at a young age, having been taught by his mother, who was a music teacher and highlife maestro, Jazz Romero.

In the early days of his career, Julius played with such popular highlife musicians as Rex Williams, Eddie Okonta, the American Jazz great Louis Armstrong, V.S. Akinbosun, I.K. Dairo among others.

He also opened shows for the iconic American musician, James Brown. His rich bank of songs have continued to define his essence as a multi-talented musician of reckoning. Julius released his first hit ‘Jagua Nana’ in 1965 and went on to tour West Africa.

Julius formed the Ashiko movement and taught people his style of music. Although he did not stay in this position for long. After spending some time in the United States, he returned to Nigeria in 1984.

He quickly began recording tracks for the album, ‘Dance Afro-Beat,’ leading him to put together the 18-person Nigerian All Stars band.

The group started touring the United States with the Lijadu Sisters, but it was canceled after just one show because of a misunderstanding with the Lijadus.

Vanguard News Nigeria

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