Perhaps, ‘The Music never stops!’ should be considered an epitaph for Sir Victor Uwaifo, the icon who drew his last breath on August 28, 2021. Currently, radio stations are blaring his evergreen sounds. While the tempo will certainly go down on those stations in a few hours, Uwaifo’s memories will linger forever as he has emblazoned his name on the sands of time.
Uwaifo was one of the very best there was in the world of arts. He was an inventor, a sculptor, a lyricist, a writer, a lecturer and many things rolled into one. He lived his life to the fullest and at age 80, His maker decided to end his earthly sojourn. He gave Uwaifo to the world and it pleased Him to call back His own. For dust thou art and unto dust shall thou return.
Although not born into riches, he worked his way to the top. Like every other child of his time, he started life shooting catapult, getting birds down from the top of the tree, and flying kites. “It was precision; it was something that gave me some fun and joy. At a time, a white man along the street stopped and admired what I was doing and he gave me a pound sterling,” he said in an interview
Early in life, the deceased saw music as a calling. He made his first guitar at the age of 12; using trap ropes for the strings, a sardine opener for the pegs, and spokes for the belts. He managed to produce some sound and he did it his own way until he met some guitarists at a palm wine bar. However, it was clear that their guitar was more sophisticated than his. So, he had to learn from them but to do that they made a request. The young Uwaifo was asked to buy them a jug of palm wine and he took him a while to raise the money for that.
Apart from the encounter with the guitarists, Uwaifo’s brother, who was a church organist, helped shaped his career. He said his brother thought him the rudiments of music.
Recollecting his early music days in an interview with The Guardian, he said, “When bands come from Ghana to play in Benin, bands like E.T Mensah, we go and watch the band from beginning to the end. I was mimicking television style and different kinds of music with my guitar. The whole thing revolved around practice; there was more practice than perspiration.”
FATHER’S OBJECTION TO THE GUITAR
Although Uwaifo was obsessed with the guitar, his father had other plans for him and this was because he didn’t want his son to end on a wrong lane.
“It got to a point my father was not comfortable with my guitar. At that time, guitarists or musicians were not people to actually reckon with because they end up in the palm wine bar and go into womanising and all that. But I have a vision. My mother had to save my guitar when my father seized it and I promised that I would read my books. So, I got my guitar back until I gained entrance into a secondary school.”
‘NEVER SMOKED OR DRANK’
If there’s one thing secular music does till date, it’s to attract smoking or consumption of alcohol. In other words, if the musician is not the one smoking or drinking, those he entertains do. It is said that secular songs and alcoholism go hand in hand but not for Uwaifo, it’s far from it as he abstained from alcohol and cigarettes.
“Without discipline, I don’t think someone can be able to overcome the vices of life. First, I promised myself that I would not smoke; I have never smoked in my life. I have never touched a cigarette with my lips because musicians were known to be smokers, ‘drunkards’, womanisers and drop-outs. I thought to myself, I would reverse all these things. I wanted to be an Avant-guard; I plotted my life. I was focused because I knew where I was going; I wanted to do what will give me joy.”
The musician had a total of 12 golden records. He also had a lineup of hit songs, among them are Joromi, Mami Water, Monkey Yanga, Guitar Boy, and Erico. But the song Mami Water gained so much fame perhaps because of the mystery surrounding it.
1966 ENCOUNTER AT LAGOS BEACH
Uwaifo had said he encountered a mermaid at a Lagos beach in 1966 but he didn’t tell the story in details until 53 years later.
In an interview with Channels TV, the music icon shared the encounter.
“I was working with NTS at the time, the national TV station which is now known as NTA. And usually, after close of work, it was a culture for me to visit the beach just to seek inspiration. And there was this particular evening I was at the beach after I had close from work. Although, I stayed a bit later.”
“The wave was becoming very restless, and each time, I will move backward, but the wave was advancing in my direction. I was wondering what was happening, then at a distance, I looked towards my right, then I saw a glittering figure that was Silverish and shining. I thought it was a dream, I was still swimming, and before I knew it, I saw her (the mermaid) in front of me… I screamed!
“Having seen her, I transposed into the guitar boy voice I heard, and I started playing… it was that lyrics I carried to the studio for recording the following day and it turned an instant hit. She was standing right in front of me while playing the guitar. It was after she floated away that I took off,” he said, adding that he never returned to the place after that encounter.
‘THE BEST THING THAT HAPPENED TO NIGERIA’
Eleven years after the encounter at the beach, Uwaifo performed at a festival which he described as the best thing that happened to Nigeria. It was the Festival of Arts and Culture in 1977 when General Olusegun Obasanjo was the Head of State.
The month-long event celebrated African culture and showcased to the world African music, art and literature. Representatives of 56 African nations and countries of the African Diaspora performed at the event, which also had global artistes like Stevie Wonder, Gilberto Gil, and Miriam Makeba in attendance. At the time it was held, it was the largest pan-African gathering to take place.
In an interview with Daily Trust, Uwaifo said, “I think Festac ’77 was the best thing that ever happened to Nigeria or even Africa, art and culture wise. It is something, if it had continued that could have been a major source of income and tourism; although, they are trying everything now to harness the different cultures and festivals of this country, but I wish they can have one point like Festca’77 to tell the whole story. It was a good thing that it happened in Nigeria and it gave the arts and the artistes leverage and prominence and relevance, because art is also a long handwriting of documenting history.”
HE WAS IN A CLASS OF HIS OWN
Asked further in the Daily Trust interview if he saw Fela, Sunny Ade and other contemporaries as rivals, he answered bluntly: “No, not at all. We all had our unique sounds and various audiences. I personally was competing with myself. I believe it was the same for them too. In any case, we didn’t have any basis for competition. My music was unique and I drew from the root of our cultural heritage. I was not praise singing and I never will.”
In another interview, he was asked to rate the guitar performance of Juju Maestro, Sunny Ade, Uwaifo said, “I know Shina Peters said he learnt how to play the instrument through my music. Ebenezer Obey once confessed to me that he used to come and stand by my side while performing, just to listen to how I was playing. So, he copied me… Sunny Ade cannot actually play the guitar the way we do . He tuned his guitar the other way round, not the conventional way of tuning it and that gives him a unique sound which made people hail him .
CONTROVERSY WITH SIMI, JAYWON
Uwaifo was caught in a web of controversy with contemporary music diva, Simi, and Jaywon, also a contemporary artiste, over their version of Joromi. He had accused them of copyright theft but said he would not sue them because he is old enough to be their father.
“They didn’t contact me before doing a remix of Joromi; but I’m like a father to them so I can’t begin to drag them to court, so let them make a living out of it, but at the same time it’s piracy,” he had said.
But making a U-turn, the ‘Guitar Boy’ filed a N50 million suit against Simi.
“You cannot use somebody’s work without giving that person credit, that’s copyright infringement. Just like, duplicating the Naira note, that’s fake and counterfeit; it’s not allowed, the person will be arrested. I have music that has an intellectual property right; someone else will take it and duplicate it, that’s not proper. Joromi is a title and is also like a trademark. I coined it; it’s not a Benin word, we don’t have letter ‘J, K, Q, X’ in Benin. All Benin names or words start with vowel sound. So, if somebody goes at my back and records it and also calls it Joromi, that person is a thief and should be treated like that.
“I sued singer Simi for using Joromi. I sued her to court and requested N5o,000,000 and she invaded another of my song Duduke. Duduke is my song; she was not born when I did Duduke. So, she’s going in for that again. You don’t just invade me, try something else; form your own. Why going into my treasury to steal without permission or credit?”
A MUSEUM AND SUPERSTAR’S HIGHGATE
Tucked in the heart of Benin is the Revelation Tourists Palazzo, the deceased’s museum, which has sculptural renditions of all Nigeria’s leaders from 1960. It also has a lot on the ancient Benin Kingdom.
He also designed and constructed a Boeing 727 house, still in Benin, regarded as the first of its kind in Africa. Dubbed the Superstar’s Highgate, the phenomenal being is said to have personally constructed every single thing in it. It is regarded as one of the weirdest homes in the world, which prides itself as having the largest bedroom in Africa. It has a sprawling space of 1500 square feet about the size of a medium lawn tennis court.
HAWKED ON THE STREETS OF BENIN WITH IGBINEDION
When Uwaifo clocked 80 in March, billionaire businessman, Chief Gabriel Igbinedion, hosted a dinner in his honour.
At the dinner, the Benin high chief described Uwaifo as one of the greatest human beings on earth. He also recalled their childhood days in the city, saying: “I was selling Kerosene while Uwaifo was selling Kola-nuts.”
Igbinedion said he sold kerosene while the legendary highlife musician sold kolanuts on the streets of Benin.
The musician, who was accompanied by his wife, noted that Igbinedion, who rose from grass to grace and conquered poverty, greatly surprised him.
THE MAN UWAIFO
Born on March 1, 1941, he had his primary school education in Benin after which he proceeded to the Western Boys’ High School, Benin and St Gregory’s College, Lagos, for his Secondary education. He later studied graphics at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos and graduated in 1961–63 at the age of 22 years old. He received a bachelor’s degree with first-class honours at 54 years old (Valedictorian) and a master’s degree from the University of Benin in 1997 at 56 and later a doctorate degree, still from UNIBEN, at 77.
Uwaifo, who was one of the most educated and academically decorated performing artiste in the world, has been invited to Nigeria’s seat of power by four Presidents and Heads of State. He has been the recipient of several national and international awards.
In 1997, he was awarded the Certificate of Honor by the House of Representatives, Boston Massachusetts. He is documented in the Groove Dictionary of Music and Musicians Vol. 8. He is also documented in the Men and Women of Distinction in the Commonwealth, 1983. He has been presented with a Doctor of Letters (D.Litt) Degree (Honoris) by the University of Benin, the Benin National Merit Award, the University of Benin Distinguished Alumnus Award and the National Honour of Member of the Order of the Niger by the Nigerian government. In 2010, Uwaifo was one of the select Nigerians awarded the fellowshipip of the Nigerian Academy of Letters at a grand event at the University of Lagos.
Culled from Daily Trust