Monday, August 30, 2021 3:45 pm
By Ademola Adegbamigbe
Victor Uwaifo, the multi-talented Nigerian musician, writer, sculptor, musical instrument inventor, university lecturer, music legend, and the first Honorable Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism in Nigeria died on Friday, 27 August 2021. Two of his classics that always come to mind, even after his death, are: “Joromi” and “Mammy water”
While many who are scientifically inclined believed (and still do) that Uwaifo’s song was just a work of creativity not based on the existence of an extraterrestrial or “extra-aquatic” being, there are those who were (and still are) ready to swear by their grandfathers’ beards that such creatures exist. And to put an end to the controversy, Uwaifo narrated his encounter with the spirit being one day in 1966 after work as he went to the Bar Beach in Lagos.
In an interview on Channels TV, also quoted by eelive.ng, Uwaifo revealed that he was a graphics designer at that time, working with NTA. Uwaifo said it was a custom for him to visit the beach after his office hours on each working day.
“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…” he said.
Uwaifo continued: “The wave was becoming very restless, and each time, I will move backwards, 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!”
He added: “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.”
Uwaifo, was a rare gem who combined talents in music with visual arts. Odolaye Aremu, an art critic and public affairs analyst combined him, in his breadth of interests and expertise, with Michelangelo, the medieval Italian artist. “Back To His Mammy-Water.
Victor Uwaifo had the talent of about 20 skilled workers. He was a multi-instrumentalist. A body-builder. Inventor. Architect. Educator. Engineer. Sculptor. Artist. He was in no joke the closest to Michelangelo that we ever had.
His was a brain we ought to embalm for posterity – and perhaps to study, for his tremendous output and individual achievements. Sadly they’ve stopped teaching history in our schools. Overtime that shall prove even sadder than his death. Time never reach!”
The Man, Victor Uwaifo
Victor Efosa Uwaifo MON was born on 1 March 1941. He was the winner of the first gold disc in Africa (Joromi) released in 1965 and seven other gold discs in Guitar boy, Arabade, Ekassa series and Akwete music. He recorded under the name Victor Uwaifo and His Titibitis.
As contained in “Sir Victor Uwaifo, the Highlife music legend who created and mastered the ‘magic guitar’ with 18 strings”, Face2Face Africa, 5 May 2018, Uwaifo was recognized as the “most educated performing music legend, musical instrument inventor, and artist worldwide with a B.A. Honours (first class valedictorian), Masters degree and PhD in Architectural Sculpture (Thesis: A reinvention of Benin Royal Ancestral Pieces, University of Benin, Nigeria).”
Early years and education
Uwaifo, according to Colin Larkin in The Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music, obtained his secondary school education at the Western Boys’ High School Benin and St Gregory’s College, Lagos, from 1957 to 1961. His biographers wrote that he began playing the guitar when he was 12 years old, his earliest popular music influences being records of Spanish and Latin American music.
He revealed in an interview “Tales from the Guitar Boy”, Thicc Tourism, on 30 April 2014 that he studied graphics at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos and graduated in 1961–63 at the age of 22. “He received a bachelor’s degree with first-class honours when he was 54 and a master’s degree from the University of Benin in 1997 at 56 where he studied Fine and Applied Arts and majored in Sculpture.”
After leaving Benin, Uwaifo, as Colin Larkin wrote, continued playing music at St Gregory’s, Lagos. “He was a contemporary of Segun Bucknor, and they were both among the leading Lagos high school bandleaders at the time. During school holidays and weekends, he jammed with Olaiya’s All Stars band.” After completing secondary school studies, he played with E.C. Arinze’s highlife during late hours. Uwaifo also briefly worked with Stephen Osadebe and Fred Coker before he formed Melody Maestros in 1965. The band released “Joromi” which became a hit in Nigeria and other parts of West Africa. Uwaifo made history in Nigeria when he won the first Golden record in Nigeria, West Africa and Africa (presented by Philips, West Africa) for his song “Joromi” in 1996, according to Larkin.
As contained in Collins, John (1985), Musicmakers of West Africa: “Between 1965 and 1968, he developed the Akwete rhythm sound. In 1969, he launched a new beat called Shadow accompanied by a new dance also called shadow, a mixture of Akwete and twist. The sound was released when soul music was popular in Lagos and lasted a few years. After the launch of Shadow, the Melody Maestros went on a tour of various Nigerian cities. Uwaifo later experimented with a new rhythm that was similar to the soul but soon left it for Ekassa, an interpretation of a traditional Benin sound. In 1971, Uwaifo opened the Joromi Hotel in Benin City, and within ten years established his own television studio. From there, he produced a national weekly music and culture programme.
Uwaifo, who had a total of 12 golden records to date, travelled to many countries including the United States, Russia, Japan, United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Romania, Germany, France, Hungary, Rome, Ghana, Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), Togo, Benin Republic, Spain, and Canada.
The Federal Government of Nigeria, in appreciation of his talents and contributions to Nigeria, honoured him with a National Honors Merit Award in 1983, which read in part:
” … whereas you have been nominated and appointed as Member of the Order of the Niger to have and hold and enjoy the privileges of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of the said Order, MON.”
Uwaifo was the first professional musician in Nigeria to receive such an award. He was a Justice of the Peace and had served in many capacities. Uwaifo was also appointed the Honorable Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism and Member of the State Executive Council, the highest policy-making decision body in Edo State from 2001–2003.
Appointed Justice of Peace (JP), Public Notary and Lay Magistrate, Sir Victor Uwaifo was honoured by four Nigerian Presidents:
He was awarded the National Honors of Nigeria (MON).
He was invited to the State House by four Presidents and Heads of State of Nigeria.
In 1995, Uwaifo was invited by the United Nations Staff Day International Committee to perform during the UN Golden Jubilee celebration. He was cited in the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 1983 edition, documented in the “Who’s Who in Nigeria”, “Who’s Who in Africa”, “Who’s Who in the Commonwealth”, and “Men and Women of Distinction in the Commonwealth” sections. He was an Honorary Member of the Biographical Advisory Council, Cambridge, England; a member of both the Performing Right Society and of the Advisory Board of American Heritage University, California, US. He was the first Nigerian to win a gold disc in Africa, (Joromi) released in 1965 at the age of 24 years old.
Uwaifo was the Chairman of Joromi Organization, a multi-track recording and television studio in Benin City. He ran and managed an art gallery and the Victor Uwaifo Hall of Fame.
Uwaifo’s hobbies included swimming, bodybuilding, gaming, reading and writing. He was a Christian and married with children.
He was also a lecturer at the Department of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Benin, Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria.
*With more information from historians whose writings were aggregated by Wikipedia