By Gloria Ikegbule
Veteran Nigerian trumpeter and music maestro, Dr. Victor Abimbola Olaiya, has been reminiscing on his participation at the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, aka FESTAC ’77. Olaiya was one of the stars who brightened the 1977 festival in Lagos.
Staged at various locations in the country’s former capital between January 15 and February 12, 40 years ago, the event paraded a mix of Nigerian and foreign artistes. Stars like Sir Victor Uwaifo, Chief Ebenezer Obey, King Sunny Ade and Dr. Olaiya, among others, shared the stage with foreign artistes like Stevie Wonder from the United States, Gilberto Gil from Brazil, Bembeya Jazz National from Guinea and Mighty Sparrow from Trinidad and Tobago.
After the event, the Centre for Black African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC) was set up to take custody of various items that were used during the ceremony.
Now, 40 years down the line, the CBAAC, under the watch of Dr. Ferdinard Anikwe as director-general, is set to host the world in November to mark the 40th anniversary of FESTAC ’77. As part of the chain of activities, the CBAAC has been paying deserved homage to some iconic personalities of the fiesta, one of them Olaiya.
Olaiya recalled the event, which had participants from 56 African countries, describing it as a lifetime opportunity.
“The memories FESTAC ’77 still linger,” he said. “This moment brings back to me old memories of that event, which was held 40 years ago. Each time I think about it, I feel happy, I feel on top of the world.
“We toiled day and night to make it a success. We did everything to make the event memorable.
“My band and I did not do much of playing because we had many artistes during the month-long event. Nonetheless, we featured prominently in the musicals and were all very happy to be part of such a celebration, which comes maybe once in a lifetime. That is why it gives me great pleasure to have been involved.”
Indeed, Olaiya’s name resonates with pleasurable memories of highlife music in the 60s. Born in Calabar, the legend, who speaks Efik, Yoruba, Igbo and Hausa fluently, says he comes from a bloodline of musicians and artistes. He recalled that his mother used to be a female cultural group leader in Calabar while his father, who died when he was three, was a church organist. He noted that FESTAC ’77 was positioned to promote Black culture and civilisation.
His wife, Mrs. Abimbola Olaiya, said: “I was a volunteer ticketer during FESTAC ’77. I sold tickets at the National Stadium and National Theatre to excited participants. Nigerians participated very well at the event.
“It was a first-of-its-kind event in the country, which drew people from different parts of the world. There were various activities and different African cultural displays.”
According to records, in 1966, a similitude of FESTAC ’77 was held in Dakar, Senegal. After FESTAC ’77, for inexplicable reasons, Africa has not been able to hold such a cultural fiesta.
The CBAAC boss, Anikwe, said celebrating Nigerian icons that made a huge impression during the event 40 years ago was part of the build-up of activities to mark its anniversary.
“As far as the creative economy is concerned, Dr. Victor Olaiya is an icon. Apart from the melody associated with his music, the message was so inspiring for the young ones. Not only him, people like Celestine Ukwu, Austine Kalu, Osadebeh, IK Dairo were able to build on the philosophy of our elders and from there made projections and conveyed contemporary issues of their time.
“They were philosophical and quite entertaining, even when they played love music. If the musical tone had continued that way, it would have been so wonderful. But today, there have been all kinds of deviations and variations.
“FESTAC ’77 has been the singular, most important cultural event since the creation of man for the whole of Africa and Blacks in Diaspora to assemble in Lagos to display our cultural heritage and ideology.
“We want FESTAC ’77 celebration in November 2017 to encompass not only Africans but the whole world; we have conducted the pilot of the event in Abuja,” he said.
He explained that the promise of Nigeria was derived from her creative economy, regretting that Nigeria had long been wasting time on oil.
“Our traditional institutions and rulers have made much contribution comparative to some other countries. If we can harness our artistes, the negative impression about Nigerians would be dropped, as Nollyhood has always demonstrated itself to be at the centre of maximising the values and the culture of the African people.”
He promised that the FESTAC ’77 at 40 celebrations in November would be mind-blowing, promising that Ebenezer Obey and Sunny Ade would be performing at the event.