Earlier in the year, when he turned 78, young professional colleagues including the iconic Semoore Badejo, Yemi Sodimu and Yinka Davies came together to record a new version of his hit song, Adaniloro gbagbe oh. The recording, which was to commemorate his birthday, turned out to be quite prophetic: it was Orlando Julius’ last this side of the divide. The master saxophonist and Afrobeat maestro breathed his last on April 15, 2022, leaving behind a legacy of great music and fond memories.
Born in Ikole in 1943 and of Ijebu-Jesa descent, Julius attended St. Peter’s Anglican School, Ikole. However, the disappearance of her father put an end to her educational aspirations. But not his love of music. His mother, his first fan and teacher, was a dancer. As he would later say of her in an interview with the Nigerian Tribune in 2017: “When it comes to music, after God was my mother, Tinuola. She gave me the platform to thrive. She taught me the root of music. She and my mother-in-law made music very easy for me. She was into fabric weaving and every time she weaved she sang with her. She always made sure that I stayed by her side. So when she sang, I played my sakara drum. This is how I developed and became who I am today.
Having served in the St. Peter’s Anglican School Marching Band, he knew which way to turn. In 1957, he left Ikole for Ibadan to pursue a career in music. Although he worked in a bakery, his connection to music was unbreakable. He regularly played drums and flute with juju and konkoma groups. He ran errands for highlife musician, Jazz Romero, quietly learning the ropes. Romero gave him the opportunity to play with his band, and it was during this time that he acquired his dexterity on his beloved musical instrument, the saxophone. Appointed leader of the band, he would later work with icons like Rex Lawson and Eddie Okonta.
By the mid-1960s, Orlando Julius had become a performer to be reckoned with in the highlife genre, with Adeolu Akinsanya, Okonta and others with whom he co-starred. In 1966, released Jagua Nana, his monster hit which took him on tour in West Africa. He was received by fans with frenzied fever. Afrobeat vibes couldn’t be ignored, and the inimitable Fela Anikulapo-Kuti had also begun to develop the genre that would later take the world by storm.
Orlando Julius spent time as a session musician in Los Angeles and had acting roles in films before moving to Oakland in 1978. In the United States he released music on Nigerian labels, including Disco Hi-Life. On his return to Nigeria in 1984, he began recording tracks for the Dance Afro-Beat album, creating the Nigerian group All Stars. His repertoire included singles like Columbia, Ololufe and many more and his progress did not go unnoticed by the relevant authorities, who bestowed him with honors as an icon of afrobeat highlife music. Despite his impressive track record, however, Orlando Julius did not really receive foreign recognition until the reissue of his old hits, including Super Afro Soul, released in 2000. It was followed by his 1972 album, Orlando Julius and the Afro Sounders. , in 2011. In 2014 he was in London collaborating with The Heliocentrics, recording new music and new versions of older material. In 2014, Jaiyede Afro ranked number 13 on the Billboard World Albums chart.
Orlando Julius Aremu Olusanya Ekemode was a tireless entertainer who definitely carved out a place for himself in the music and entertainment industry. He can never be forgotten. Good night, legend.