Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe, 71, a titan of the African popular music known as highlife whose 1984 "Osondi Owendi" was the biggest-selling record in the history of his native Nigeria, died of lung failure May 11 at St. Mary's Hospital in Waterbury, Conn.

"In Nigeria he's loved not only by one ethnic group but by all the ethnic groups," said Nnamdi Moweta, Mr. Osadebe's manager and host of Afrodicia Radio in Los Angeles. "When you live in a country like Nigeria . . . people go through a lot to survive, and we look for avenues to soothe this daily pain that we go through. His music played a very important role."

That joyous, celebratory music is highlife, where high-society bands and traditional African rhythms and idioms meet. Although Mr. Osadebe did not create highlife - it was born in Ghana - he reinvented it by adding the sounds of merengue and rumba, said Moweta, who coproduced four of Mr. Osadebe's albums.

Mr. Osadebe wrote more than 500 songs and prided himself on being a composer of music and lyrics.

Throughout his decades-long career, he recorded in English, pidgin English and Ibo, the language of his ethnic group.

Mr. Osadebe is survived by five wives and several children, many of whom live in the United States.