Celebrating the Life and Music of Oliver De Coque

OV Digital Desk

Image Courtesy: Google Doodle

Oliver De Coque (14 April 1947 – 20 June 2008) whose real name was Oliver Sunday Akanite, was a Nigerian musician, singer, and songwriter.

Early Life and Education

Oliver De Coque, born Oliver Sunday Akanite, was a renowned Nigerian highlife musician whose early life began in Ezinifite, Anambra State, Nigeria, in 1947. Hailing from an Igbo family, he discovered his musical talent early on and started playing music at the tender age of 11. His initial training on the guitar came from a Congolese guitarist residing in Nigeria. This early exposure to music set the stage for his apprenticeship with juju musicians Sunny Agaga and Jacob Oluwale. His dedication to music became evident as he became locally well-known as a teenager, marking the beginning of a journey that would see him become one of Africa’s most prolific recording artists.

Career and Achievements

Oliver Sunday Akanite, popularly known as Oliver De Coque, was a Nigerian highlife musician and guitarist who left an indelible mark on the African music scene. Born on April 14, 1947, in Ezinifite, Anambra State, Nigeria, De Coque began his music career at a young age, learning to play the guitar from a Congolese guitarist. His talent quickly blossomed, leading him to apprentice under juju musicians Sunny Agaga and Jacob Oluwale. De Coque’s international breakthrough came after his performance in London in 1973, and he gained further acclaim with his guitar work on Prince Nico Mbarga’s album ‘Sweet Mother’ in 1977. De Coque’s debut album, ‘Messiah Messiah’, released in the same year, marked the beginning of a prolific recording career that would span over three decades, resulting in a staggering 93 albums. His music, often categorized within the ogene genre, was a fusion of modern sounds and traditional Igbo harmonies. Some of his most notable singles include “People’s Club of Nigeria”, “Nempi Social Club”, and “Identity”, which enjoyed several weeks on Radio Nigeria 2’s Top Ten in 1981.

His contributions to music were recognized with an honorary degree in music from the University of New Orleans. Oliver De Coque’s legacy continues to influence musicians and is celebrated by fans worldwide, including a Google Doodle tribute on what would have been his 74th birthday. De Coque’s life and career were a testament to his enduring talent and the rich cultural heritage of Nigerian highlife music. His passing on June 20, 2008, was a significant loss to the music world, but his legacy lives on through his sons and the timeless music he left behind.

Notable Events and Milestones

Oliver Sunday Akanite journey into music began at the tender age of 11. His early exposure to the guitar was under the tutelage of a Congolese guitarist, which laid the foundation for his unique style that blended traditional Igbo harmonies with modern music sensibilities. His career took a significant turn when he received international attention after performing in London in 1973, and his guitar work was featured in Prince Nico Mbarga’s 1977 album “Sweet Mother,” one of the most popular African records of its time.

De Coque’s debut album, “Messiah Messiah,” released in 1977, marked the beginning of a prolific recording career that spanned over three decades, during which he recorded an impressive 93 albums. His music, particularly songs like “People’s Club of Nigeria,” “Nempi Social Club,” and “Identity,” resonated with many and often topped the charts, reflecting the social and cultural zeitgeist of the time. His contributions to the ogene genre, a subgenre of highlife, were particularly noteworthy, as he infused it with his virtuosic guitar play, creating a sound that was distinctly his own.

Beyond his musical achievements, De Coque’s impact on society and culture was profound. He was a musical ambassador for the Igbo people, showcasing their rich cultural heritage to the world. His songs not only entertained but also conveyed messages of unity, progress, and pride in one’s identity. This cultural representation played a significant role in the preservation and celebration of Igbo traditions and values. De Coque’s legacy extends to his influence on subsequent generations of musicians. His riffs and style have found a second life in the Afrobeats genre, with new musical alliances and expressions drawing inspiration from his work. This reinvention and integration of his music into contemporary sounds demonstrate the timeless quality of his artistry and its enduring appeal.

His personal life was as rich as his professional one, with at least four sons who followed in his musical footsteps, continuing the De Coque name in the music industry. His dedication to his craft was unwavering, even to the point of prioritizing performances over his health, which tragically led to his untimely death on June 20, 2008, following a sudden cardiac arrest. His music continues to be celebrated, studied, and enjoyed by fans around the world, ensuring that his impact on history, society, and culture will be felt for generations to come.

Awards and Honors

  • Oliver De Coque was awarded an honorary doctorate in music by the University of New Orleans in 1994, recognizing his significant musical achievements.
  • His unique style of music, which he called Ogene, was a blend of modern West African highlife and Congolese guitar style, coupled with the energetic dance elements of Igbo music.
  • Over his lifetime, he released over 70 albums, showcasing his masterful guitar work and fresh take on African pop.
  • Oliver De Coque is celebrated as one of Africa’s most prolific recording artists and a key upholder and innovator of contemporary Igbo mainstream music.
  • His contributions to the highlife music genre have influenced many artists and continue to resonate with audiences around the world.
  • In recognition of his contributions, De Coque was posthumously honored with a Google Doodle on what would have been his 74th birthday, April 14, 2021, cementing his status as a cultural icon.

Additional Resources

  • Books: While there may not be books solely dedicated to Oliver De Coque, his influence in the Igbo highlife music genre is discussed in various works on African music. For a deeper understanding of his music and its cultural context, books on Nigerian music history would be beneficial.
  • Documentaries: There are several documentaries and interviews available online that showcase Oliver De Coque’s life and legacy. These can provide a visual and auditory appreciation of his work and contributions to highlife music.
  • Museums: Museums in Nigeria, particularly those dedicated to music and culture, may feature exhibits on Oliver De Coque. Visiting these can offer a tangible connection to his work and the era he influenced.
  • Music Platforms: Streaming services and music platforms often have extensive collections of Oliver De Coque’s music, allowing listeners to explore his discography and popular hits.
  • Academic Journals: For scholarly insights, academic journals on ethnomusicology and African studies may contain articles analyzing Oliver De Coque’s music and its impact on the Igbo highlife genre.