Osadebe Fest: Preserving the Legacy of a Highlife Legend

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L-R: Son of the Late Sir Stephen Osita Osadebe, Onyeka Osadebe, Convener, Osadebe Fest, Afam Dozie, HRH Igwe John C. Nwosu, Ezechimeleze the Eze Ndigbo of Mushin Lagos, Steve Onu, and Oranu Hillary Ikechukwu at the brand unveiling of the Osadebe Fest in Lagos recently

A group of young men from the Igbo stock recently came together to bring back the life and times of a legendary icon, late Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, one of Nigeria’s Highlife pioneers. MARY NNAH reports that they intend to go back to their roots to expound the culture and tradition which the late music icon propagated and stood for, believing this would help to project the Igbo culture and race globally

Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, simply known as Osadebe, a Nigerian highlife musician from Atani, Anambra State is one of the best known Igbo highlife musicians in Nigeria and globally.

Born in March 1936, Osadebe’s career, according to the Wikipedia, spanned over 40 years. He was best known for his 1984 hit song, “Osondi Owendi”, literally meaning, “One man’ meat is another man’s poison”, which established him as a leader in the highlife genre and was one of Nigeria’s most popular records ever.

Yet, after his demise at the age of 73 on May 11, 2007 at Saint Mary’s Hospital, Waterbury, Connecticut, United States, nothing worthwhile has been done to preserve the legacy of a man described as the “doyen of highlife” in Nigeria.

Conversely, a group of young men, just recently, decided to come together and do something extraordinary by coming up with an innovative idea to bring to life Osadebe’s life and times, through an initiative tagged the “Osadebe Fest.”

The brand unveiling of, “Osadebe Fest tagged “Celebrating a Legend: In memory of Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe (The Highlife Music Icon)”, held in Lagos, which had in attendance the team behind the project, made up of the Convener, Afam Dozie, Oranu Hillary Ikechukwu; OAP and entertainer, Steve Onu popularly known as Yaw amongst others.

Dozie, an indigene of Otolo Nnewi in Anambra State, said Osadebe Fest is not just about celebration but to impact on the young people who didn’t meet Osadebe as a person or didn’t know what his songs stood for.

“We were fortunate enough to grow up with parents as typical Igbos who played Osadebe songs every morning as we listened. The kind of advice Osadebe gives in his songs are inspiring. That alone got me very involved with tradition. So, we decided to start this”, Dozie on how he got inspired to start the Osadebe Fest.

As the brain behind the project, he has got together young able-bodied men like himself, who believe in the same dream.

“I cannot do it alone; we cannot do it alone too. We need the Igbos; we need Igbos in diaspora, we need Nigerians, and we need everybody who believes Osadebe impacted on us in one or two ways through his genre of music, which is highlife. So we are projecting a bigger picture, this is just the official unveiling event”, he added.

The event which has the support of the Igbo elders as well as the family of the late legend, as was shown with the representation by one of his sons, Onyeka Osadebe, is funded at the moment by the founding team. However, Dozie said it is open to sponsorship by organisations and individuals with like minds.

“We are looking forward to get support from all nooks of life including the Anambra State government, media and brands that would associate with the progress of this event. We just want will-be sponsors to understand the vision behind this. This has nothing to do with personal interest but basically it is a collective effort of like minds coming together to take our culture to the next level.

“As an Igbo man, I strongly believe in my culture and I also believe that we need to take our culture to where it should be. So, through the entertainment filed, we have decided to use the Osadebe symbol to portray this idea and then push it out there. Like I said, the opportunities are endless”, he noted.

He revealed further that highpoints for the build up to the major event coming up sometime next year would include a novelty football match, symposiums, school debates on the music icon for secondary schools, festival of masquerades where all the masquerades from various quarters of the eastern zone would be brought together in one place to pay homage to late Osadebe and then the main concert which would crown up the whole event in Awka, Anambra State.

“The Osadebe Fest is not just for the Osadebe’s family but for every Igbo person. As team for this project, we are not selfish that is why we are putting it up for everyone, most especially for those that have done highlife music, to be part of the project.

“So, whilst we are preparing for the major event with the various activations that I have mentioned earlier, the musical competition will commence online, so that people who are in the same genre of music as Osadebe would showcase their talents and then winners would emerge who would play on stage during the main event. So, the Osadebe Fest is everyone’s business,. It is for the family, the country and the world at large”, Dozie added.

One of those working behind the scene for the success of the Osadebe Fest Concert, Steve Onu, popularly known as Yaw, said, “I have decided to be part of this project because this is something I have always wanted to do for the Easterners but you know it is not an easy thing, you hardly get support.

“Incidentally, when Afam approached me, and said this is exactly what he wanted to do, I just keyed into the idea. So we are just going ahead with this and believing that it would be a different case.”

Expressing optimism about the approaching event, Onu said, “I strongly believe that this would go a long way to project our culture internationally and otherwise. Before now I have been an advocate but it is a good thing that somebody is spearheading the cause because it requires a lot of work and team work as well. We need the support of everybody to make this a reality.”

Speaking further, Onu who perhaps has foreseen what the project portends, said, “This is no child’s play. African music cannot be talked about without Highlife and that is what the easterners represent. There are lots of brands coming with various styles of Highlife music because they know that African music is not complete without it. So, it means that we cannot run away from these things. I think this is what we need to do now to go back home a bit”.

Stressing on the area he is going to give his support, he said, “Apart from just being on radio, I run a TV channel online, I am a producer, content creator and all of that, so I can pull strings to ensure we come up with a wonderful event.”

On how significant the project is to him as a person, he said, “I am Igbo and a proud one at that and I would always be one. So, I would say that it would definitely be a huge one to help project the Igbo culture and race internationally.”

“You cannot run away from Highlife, it is our thing and that is what we are known for. And I think that every musician now, even though they say what they do is Afro-hip-hop, when you listen to it carefully you still feel some rhythm of Highlife embedded in their music. So we cannot run away from it”, Onu noted further.

According to Hillary Ikechukwu Oranu, another member of the team from Umuoji in Anambra State, the proposed event is intended to be held next year, tentatively in March, the birth month of late Osadebe.

“We are looking at next year because it is good for events like these to be significant with a figure. In the sense that you are either doing it on his birthday or you’re doing it in the period he died. We don’t intend to hold the even around the period he died. He died in May, he was given birth to in March so we are keeping our fingers crossed and hoping that around March we would be having the whole event”,Oranu said.

On how he got to be part of the project, he said, “Afam is the brain behind the whole thing. When he called me into the picture, I realised we shared the same idea. And so, we looked at the pros and cons of the project and we decided to come together to ensure that this comes to reality.”

Speaking further on the significance of the proposed Osadebe Fest, Oranu said, “Everybody would agree with me that traditionally, it is good to fall back home at some point, but we are not falling back home at this point because we are old but we are taking back our culture. We want to recognise what is rightfully ours; we want to put the Igbo culture and the Igbo tradition where it is meant to be.

“Basically, the whole idea about the Osadebe fest is not child’s play. It’s a project we intend to sustain for years. Osadebe is meant to be celebrated even in death because he is the biggest Highlife artist from the eastern part of Nigeria. So we felt this man shouldn’t just turn to dust, and vanish just like that. We need to sustain that name; he needs to be in the world map and bringing him into the map a whole lot of culture and tradition needs to be put in place.

“That’s exactly why we are doing this. We are not from his village, we are not his family members but we are just a group of Igbo guys who understand our culture and know where we want to place the Igbo tradition and culture. We understand the importance of Highlife and music in our tradition. That is the direction and vision of where we are going to.”

Stressing further that the planned event has the full support of the late Osadebe’s family as well as the traditional rulers in Igbo land, he said, “We are not just doing this on our own accord, we have the family involved in this, we have the traditional rulers of his village and also the council of traditional rulers and Igwes with the Ohaneze Ndigbo with us. So what we are doing is traditional, it is not just a comedy or musical concert. Permit me to mention “Felabration”, with time Osadebe Fest would get to that point.”

Unveiling the brand logo for Osadebe Fest, the Eze Ndigbo of Mushin Lagos, HRH Igwe John C. Nwosu, Ezechimeleze, said, “I feel highly honoured unveiling the logo for Osadebe Fest today. Osadebe is a great man in Igbo land, Nigeria, Africa and in the world because his music cuts across the globe. So, we are celebrating him today because he is a great man.”

While commending the group for coming up with such innovative idea and also giving his blessings for a successful outing, Eze Nwosu said, “How can a great man like Osadebe just vanish from the society? For these young men remembering him by planning an event like this, which they would be showcasing him and his music every year, is commendable. They have done very well and I pray that God would always be with them as they carry on with the project with steadiness.”

Stressing that lyrics of Osadebe’s music are loaded with lot of meaning and blessings, he frowned at the kind of songs being propagated by the youths of today.

He however encouraged young musicians to emulate the likes of Osadebe in creating music that would endure the test of time.

“Whenever we remember Osadebe, we remember the good work he did by promoting our culture, using his music to educate us on things concerning our culture. I don’t think that in years to come, we can get somebody to replace him. We miss a great man. We can only advice the younger generations to try as much as possible to emulate such legends who did wonders with their songs in the music industry in Nigeria.”

Hon. Jude Obiekwe, the Akpokwuo Dike, a businessman and politician, described the idea as novel, saying, “We are seeing this for the first time and It is a welcome idea to the generation of today. Osadebe is legend and when you see young minds coming together to honour him, we must give kudos to that. So I am very proud of this team.”

He promised to render the group every support needed to ensure the project sees the light of the day.

He called on the present generation of musicians to learn from music icons like Osadebe and their genre of music, adding, “Osadebe’s music is for everyone, not majorly for the Igbos, it cuts across the globe, so, it is things of joy that this is coming up at this point in time.