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1950’s were “Cardinal” Rex Lawson and Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe. Lawson, who was born to a Kalabari father and an Ibo mother could sing in all the major Nigerian languages, and scored one of his biggest hits with the Yoruba-sung “Sawale”. When he died suddenly in 1976, he was still at the peak of his fame. Osadebe preferred a more solidly Ibo highlife and his songs pay tribute to Ibo social clubs and leaders. In the 1960’s guitarist Sir Victor Uwaifo appeared on the scene with an individualized guitar-band style inspired by palm wine music and traditional sources like ekassa and gdadagbada. Uwaifo, who comes from the central area Benin City, sung in Ibo and Pidgin and achieved his first hit with “Joromi” which sold over 100,000 copies in 1969. A veteran of Uwaifo’s band, Sonny Okosun, went on to achieve prominence in the 1970’s and 1980’s with an Afro-rock-highlife-reggae fusion which he called Ozzid after an Ijaw god. Okosun’s biggest release was the 1978 hit “Fire In Soweto”.

Sadly the 1960’s were most marked by the Nigerian civil war. Sparked by the Ibos attempt to form the Republic of Biafra by declaring the Eastern region independent, this devastating conflict lasted from 1966-1970. One of its consequences was the dissolution of highlife music, as Ibo musicians left the western-based city of Lagos. Yoruba juju, (with musicians like Dairo, Obey and Ade), quickly filled the gap, and highlife became mostly centered in eastern Nigeria. 1970’s highlife stars who survived included Osadebe, Oliver de Coque, Celestine Ukiwo, Dr. Ganjah Owoh and the Oriental Brothers. The Oriental Brothers, so named because they hailed from the eastern town of Owerri, were formed in the early 1970’s by three brothers. Following a split in 1980, the group continued on under the monniker Dr. Sir Warrior and the Original Oriental Brothers, and other factions survived as well.