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  • Emeka Aniche

Professor Sonny Oti - singer, playwright, actor, theatre professor and evangelist

Sonny Oti (1941-1997) born in Arochukwu, Abia State, Nigeria, was a versatile and multi talented individual. He was a singer, playwright, actor, theatre professor and evangelist. He studied English at the University College, Ibadan and later did a Master’s degree at the University of Leeds on a British Council scholarship.

He founded the theatre arts programme at the University of Jos and taught there from 1976 until his death in November 1997. He acted in Nigeria’s entry for the first World Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar 1966, playing the lead role, Danda in a play of the same title. He subsequently acted in the 1970s Benin City television series, Hotel de Jordan. He created, produced and acted the Jerome series for the Nigerian Television Jos and was a winner of Nigeria Television Authority’s ‘Star of the Tube’ award. Oti acted in Bullfrog in the Sun, the film adaptation of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.

His musical albums include Nkosi Nwam, Nigeria go survive, Late night husband, etc. He sang in fluent Igbi, Efik, English and Pidgin, lacing his songs with satire, sarcasm and plain humor. His most outstanding influence has been with discovering new talent such as Veno Marioghae who voiced his ‘Nigeria go survive’ song while studying at the University of Jos or his collaboration with younger artistes such as Nelly Uchendu who sang his parody on unfaithful husbands, ‘Late night husband.’ His enduring legacy in many respects include the popularizing of his songs by other artistes such as Onyeka Onwenu’s ‘Hallelujyah Chimle’.

During the Nigerian Civil War, Oti was head of the Biafran Theatre Troupe. His volunteer players were charged with performing sketches to lift the morale of soldiers in the battlefronts. His finished manuscript on the subject is yet t be published. Oti’S written plays include The Old Masters [1977], The Carvers, The Drummers, Return home and roost awhile, Dreams and Realities [1979], The Return of Jerome [1981] and Evangelist Jeremiah [1982]. He wrote what is perhaps the most comprehensive documentation of the Highlife music phenomenon in his book Highlife Music in West Africa, published posthumously in 2009 by Malthouse Press. After his conversion experience in 1984, Oti became a gospel singer and evangelist. He devoted the latter part of his life to teaching in the university and extensive evangelistic ministry.

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