|Zealinjo,Zeal Onyia,"The Hip Cat", 1934 - 2000|
Zeal's musical career began in 1949, still in school in Asaba, when the late Pa Alfred Rewane brought him to Lagos and introduced him to Bobby Benson, who adopted him instantly into his band, the Jam Session Orchestra. A lad of 15, he played at night and attended school in the morning. Other members of the orchestra included the following: Bill Friday, trumpet, Jubril Issa, Tenor saxophone, clarinet, Dele Bamgbose, tenor saxophone, alto saxophone, Awudu Kano altosaxophone, Ladipo Benson, bass, King Roberto Maduka, drums, Sunday Eze, maracas, Ajax Bucanar, claves, later Bayo Martins, drums, Paul "Baby Face" Isamade, alto saxophone, Philip Ugbogu, trombone.
After five years with Bobby Benson, he left the Jam Session Orchestra when they were on tour in Accra, Ghana, in 1954, to co-found with Alto saxophonist Spike Ayankor, The Rhythm Aces Band. The band included Ray Ellis, piano, Paul "Baby Face" , Isamade, tenor sax, Prince Bruce, vocalist and claves, Max Amah, drums, Pit Vanderpoi, bass, Sunday Eze, maracas, Bee Bop Aggrey, guitar, and Amoo Dodo or Peter Onyeador, I am not too sure now, on congas.
One year later in 1955, he left the band for further musical studies in London. Thus blazing the trail for other young practicing popular musicians of his time. In 1957 after two years in England he returned to Nigeria and started his band, The Zeal Onyia's Band on November 20th, 1957 at the then Ambassador Hotel in Yaba, Lagos.
In 1960, with Victor Olayia, he co-led the Nigerian All Star Band at the Independence Ball October 1, 1960. By 1961, he became active in the Trade Union movement and brought the Nigerian Union of Musicians into the Nigerian Trade Union Congress, as it was then called. In 1962 he teamed up with Bayo Martins, drums, Wole Bucknor, piano, Chris Ajilo, tenor saxophone and Ayo Vaughan, bass, in the Afro Jazz Group, this group popularised the Afro genre and nomenclature to the Nigerian music vocabulary. In 1964 he performed with the Art Alade Jazz Preachers.
In 1966, he was to leave again for Europe. This time to Germany, to study classical music in Hanover conservatory with Professor Adolf Scherbaum, under the scholarship of the Goethe Institute. He returned to Lagos in 1977 and joined the Radio Nigeria External Service, where he was the Head of Music until 1984.
Until his death on April 30th, 2000, he was the oldest surviving Bensonian of the pioneering Bobby Benson's Jam Session Orchestra, survived yet by Bayo Martins and Victor Abimbola Olaiya.
May his soul rest in perfect peace.