Who Was Oliver de Coque?
Oliver Sunday Akanite, fondly called Oliver de Coque, was born on 14 April 1947, hailed from Ezinifite, Nnewi South Local Government Area of Anambra State.
How did he come about the nickname? Hear Ifeme: “He was originally called Oliver the Kokwe, which was later changed to Oliver De Coque. Kokwe is a typical traditional game in Igboland. It’s like Ayo Olopon in Yorubaland.
“He was called Oliver the Kokwe or Oliver like the game we play, because you would see him in one form today and tomorrow in another form entirely, just like a chameleon. But this made his music unique and not monotonous. He got the name when he was at Aba, playing Ekpili music.
With his band, Ogene Super Sound of Africa, blended modern and traditional Igbo music to form a unique mix of highlife sound.
To his credit, he had 73 albums including hits like Otimkpu, People’s Club of Nigeria, and Mbiri Ka Mbiri among others.
During his lifetime, Oliver De Coque had many friends and associates. But one man stood out. Ogbuefi Ray Ifeme, a culture enthusiast cum communication expert, who also doubles as the official biographer of the iconic musician, who passed away on June 28, 2008 in Lagos.
Ifeme and Akanite had met and became friends in the Biafran Army. Though, Ifeme joined the army before the musician, they both fought during the civil war that raged between 1967 and 1970.
In deed, it was Ifeme that introduced the highlife artiste to the entertainment group of the Biafran Army where he regularly thrilled the soldiers.
Here, Ifeme narrates to TS Weekend how it all started: “I met Oliver De Coque when he was playing Ekpili music, a traditional Igbo music like the Sakara music of the Yoruba. But it was he who introduced guitar into Ekpili. I joined the Biafran Army before him. We fought together in the war. In fact, we were the engine room of the civil war.”
According to Ifeme, the officers had discussed among themselves about having an entertainment group that will thrill and make them happy, and this prompted him to bring on board Oliver De Coque.
He explained further: “Incidentally, the very day I went to pick him was the day he was supposed to leave for infantry training. He had been conscripted already. So, we came with a vehicle, took him away and he became one of us. That was in 1968.
“We continued as friends. In fact, we became very close. I saw in him someone that could be trusted, someone I could relate and do business with, because I love music.”
Having promoted top musicians like Sir Victor Uwaifor, Osita Osadebe and Afrobeat icon, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who he invited to perform at the Sigma Club show held at the University of Ibadan, promoting an artiste like Oliver De Coque was no big deal for Ifeme.
In fact, when Oliver decided to form his band, Ifeme was his first promoter, and of course, the longest serving promoter.
Oliver de Coque’s Last Moment
According to Ifeme, the very day Oliver died, they had breakfast together. As a matter of fact, it was shortly after the breakfast that the iconic artiste passed away. Hear him: “The very day he died, we had breakfast together. He died about one hour, twenty minutes after the breakfast. He was rushed to the hospital. Then I left and nobody told me that he had died.
“Later, Oliver appeared to me at Ojota bus stop in Lagos. I saw him crossing the road, wearing only his boxers and putting on bathroom slippers. From there, I went to his house at Gbagada in Lagos and when I got there, I saw the whole family mourning. They told me he’s no more.”
But what impact would Ifeme say Oliver had on him and vice versa? “Before I met him, Oliver played his music from hotel to hotel. He was not coordinated and stayed in a room at Bariga in Lagos. It was when I came that I took him out on his first national tour and it was great. From there, we went to some West African countries.
“Later, he asked me to abandon every other band and concentrate on him, and this became a problem between me and him. I managed and promoted him, but all the while I served him as manager, I never collected one penny from him. It was only when I promoted him that I took my percentage,” Ifeme disclosed.
Since the demise of Oliver De Coque, what has Ifeme missed about him? His response: “I miss him a lot. When Oliver was alive, he was a man you couldn’t ignore. He was always full of joy, and happy all the time.
He was a jolly good fellow and he didn’t like anybody around him to be hard up. If you don’t have money, he could borrow to give you. He was a very nice and generous person in his lifetime.
This was why most of his band boys, if they leave, would come back because nobody could take care of them like Oliver did. And till he died, Oliver was the first artiste to buy cars for his boys.”
Ogene Music Foundation
Ifeme explained that he was with Oliver in his office when he talked about establishing Ogene Music Foundation during his 50th birthday in 1997.
In his words: “One day, I was with Oliver in his office. He called me aside and said, ‘my 50th birthday is next tomorrow. There’s something I want us to think about’.
I said, ‘what?’ He said, ‘I want to raise a Foundation and my reason of raising this Foundation is to bring up indigent highlife musicians. If you think that one of your sons will succeed you, it’s not certain because you never know who actually will succeed you. The successor may come from outside your family’.
“That was the main reason behind Ogene Music Foundation. He did it so as to get someone to succeed him. If you go to the South East today, we have a lot of Oliver De Coques; this one is De Coque and that one is also De Coque.
There is one that is calling himself the original Oliver (De Coque) now. How can you be the original when you’re answering someone’s name? But one of his reasons is that Oliver is no more and so he’s the original because he believes he plays better than every other person.
What I am trying to say is that there are more than 20 people bearing De Coque in the South East and they all have benefited from the Foundation.”
Meanwhile, Ifeme has commended the owner of Colonades Hotels, Ikoyi, Lagos for giving his hotel free of charge for the presentation of Oliver’s biography, unveiling of his top 100 fans, cultural display, and live music by the Expo ‘76 Band, featuring Oliver’s children on Saturday, October 29, 2016.
He also extended his gratitude to the Owelle of Ezinifite, who has promised to bankroll the music jamboree that will take place at Ezinifite town on Thursday, December 29, 2016.
Google Doodle Honors Oliver De Coque on his 74th Birthday
Today’s Doodle, illustrated by Lagos-based guest artist Ohab TBJ, pays tribute to Nigerian musician Oliver de Coque on his 74th birthday. Crowned the “Highlife King of Africa,” he is widely revered as one of the continent’s most prolific recording artists.
“Oliver De Coque was a popular musician from the Igbo part of Nigeria. As a kid back in the early 90’s, I remember my late dad playing his songs, but back then I didn’t understand the lyrics nor the message they carried. But I never forgot watching my uncles and aunties dance to his music, and their happiness was contagious.”
“Although I’ve always been familiar with Oliver De Coque’s music, I did more research to try to understand the late artist more. I noticed in particular Oliver De Coque’s love for the guitar, his energy while performing, his unique style of music, as well as his love for his tradition and culture – all of which inspired the Doodle art.”
“I believe that Oliver De Coque paved the way for so many African artists of this generation. I also believe that there’s much more to the late high-life artist than we know, and that history hasn’t done enough to honor his memory. My hope is that this Doodle can highlight his story.”