Global tributes as city club owner dies at 37

Okie Dulo - only to be used with permission
Okie Dulo - only to be used with permission

TRIBUTES are pouring in from across the globe following the sudden death of Okie Dulo – one of the most popular and influential figures on the Sheffield underground music scene.

Okie, aged 37, had spent Christmas with family in his native Kenya, returning home to Ecclesall Road in time for new year.

Friends say he had been back in Sheffield less than a week when he was taken ill with what he believed was norovirus. But he was found dead by a close friend last Thursday morning. He had no close family in Sheffield.

As the news spread, tributes were paid by friends he had met across the years.

A Facebook tribute page was set up on Monday evening and had more than 200 members in just 30 minutes; by Wednesday lunchtime the total had reached nearly 800.

Close friend and business partner Scott Moncrieff said: “Messages have come from as far away as New Zealand… Okie was that kind of guy. He was known and loved by everybody; he had an uncanny ability to make everybody think they had his full attention and warmth.

“It sounds like a cliché, but it’s going to be an impossible hole to fill.”

Born Okoth Timothy Dulo, in Nairobi, Kenya, he was known to everyone as Okie.

The family moved to Northampton in 1984 and Okie came to Sheffield at 19 to study for a BSc (Hons) in business and technology at Hallam University.

He paid his way with a variety of bar jobs and his first management post was at the Forum on Devonshire Green.

An entrepreneur and impresario by nature, he was driven by his love of music and in 2003 opened Dulo’s bar in Cemetery Road.

It featured live bands and earned a reputation as an underground music venue, nurturing the careers of popular musicians including then-teenage DJ Toddla T.

The bar was an important part of Sheffield’s music scene in its day, but Okie had time for everyone – including rival businesses.

“He was a key advisor to me when I opened the Runaway Girl,” says Justin Rowntree, whose club later became Silversmiths restaurant. “To him, it was about putting something into the city and taking Sheffield forward.”

Dulo’s closed in 2009 and was followed by a new club, Sawa, in Arundel Gate and Dulo Leisure Events Bars.

Meanwhile the underground music scene had given birth to festivals including Tramlines, which Okie helped to build into the major event it is today.

“Okie was a driving force, part of the fabric of Sheffield in terms of its music and cultural scene.” adds Justin. “He created places that drew people together and that’s his legacy – thousands of friendships.”

This week those friends turned out in their hundreds to remember Okie. Tim and Laura Holmes summed it up: “We knew him well enough to know how friendly, warm and fun he was… and what an impact he had on the city we love. The outpouring of emotion, comments, gestures, and so many photos, every one of him beaming his huge smile. They’re all a wonderful testament to his legacy and I can’t think of another person I know who touched so many lives.”

More than £500 has already been donated for a tribute such as a piece of permanent graffiti or a stage named in his honour at the Tramlines festival.

The funeral is expected to take place in Sheffield next Thursday.