Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sir Victor Uwaifo: Musician, Artist and Inventor

Victor Uwaifo is a renowned Nigerian musician, writer, sculptor, professor and musical instrument inventor, born in Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria in 1941. He is famous for his Joromi, "Guitar Boy and Mami water" song.
Sir Victor Uwaifo

November's Profiling Nigerians takes osas eye to Sir Victor Uwaifo: an Iconic rare gem. He studied Fine and Applied Arts in University of Benin, specialising in Sculpture and also Graphic Arts at Yaba College of Technology. "I made distinctions, I made first class honours" he said. 
                                                     Sir Victor Uwaifo Musician, Artist and Inventor
 In early 2,000,  Sir Victor Uwaifo became the Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism in Edo state.

He grew up in Benin and as a child, delved into so many activities; sports, story-telling, shooting catapults, making cages and even making toys like airplanes and cars 

"I was always a protagonist, I always led while others followed. That leadership quality was always there. Not only that, my contemporaries looked up to me to show them the way because I also came from a family of the upper-middle class. My father used to have one of the first cars in Benin City then. It was called Stood Baker, an American Ford."
Sir Victor Uwaifo Guitar boy, Mermaid story, Artist and Inventor

How it all started

"I made the first guitar for myself before I was 12 years old. The skills I aqcuired from making cages and other artworks helped me in making the guitar from plywood. I used bicycle spokes for the frets and trap ropes for strings. Few months after I made it, I ran into some of these palm wine bar guitarists. I had to offer them a jug of palm wine before they allowed me to play their guitar."

"I acquired my own guitar at about 12 years of age. It was a Spanish box guitar. I took a few lessons. They thought me this or that, and I took it up from there. My brothers also thought me the rudiment or music, particularly the late chief magistrate. He was a church organist, so he could read music. He bought me a few books on the rudiment of music. From there, I started reading and teaching myself and taking courses by correspondence."

"Then we found what we called the Uwaifo quartet in which I was a guitarist. My sister was there, my late brother was there and my brother who is serving in the Supreme ourt, Justice Uwaifo was also one of us. Mr. Emmanuel Fadaka used to come from Ibadan to come and record us because that was the only radio station in the whole of Western Region by then. So our voices were heard on radio at Ibadan. But I made my first album around 1960. I was already in Lagos then."

Music career of Victor Uwaifo
"When I was in secondary school, I played with some bands like that of Victor Ola Iya, and finally, I anchored with E. C. Arinze for about five years. It was there I really acquired the knowledge of orchestration and the knowledge of music management. We were stationed in Kakado, a very popular night club in Lagos by then. There was so much discipline in the band."

"While still in the band, I started recording my own songs, and I called the group The Pick Ups, because we picked them up from different places and we went to the studio to record. Then when I disengaged from E. C. Arinze, the same year, I formed a band with the late Stephen Osadebe and Freddy Coker. We called ourselves the Central Moderneers and we had a band in Central Hotel, not far from Kakado. We lasted only for a year before I went solo and by then I was working for NTS, now NTA. That was in 1963. It was in 1965 that I made a hit. By 1966, I resigned and went professional, and by 1967, there was a follow up of another great hit, and others followed."

Is it really true that your encounter with a mermaid at the Lagos beach is reason that no one has been able to match your skill at the guitar?

No, mammy water will not give you the skill, it will only probably inspire you to do more. That encounter with the mermaid at the Lagos barbeach gave birth to the song Guitar Boy, “If you see mammy water oh, never, never you run away,” that is the shortest lyric ever in the music industry, and it has remained evergreen till today.

Still on the encounter with the mermaid, considering your age at the time, how did you feel that night?

Well, I was looking for inspiration, so I used to go to the beach to cool off at the bar beach after close of work at NTA. At that time, television work was a night business, not in the day as we have it today. By the time we finished, to go back to the Mainland through the Carter Bridge, the only bridge available then, was not easy. So I used to go to the Barbeach which was just a stone’s throw away from the NTA. That was how the idea came into me to go for inspiration a the beach.

But that particular night, I stayed late into the night, I was alone, and I noticed that the waves were advancing beyond the normal point to my direction. I was forced to move my camp bed backward. I did that about two times, not knowing that an unexpected esoteric visitor was going to visit me. From a distance, I saw a glittering object advancing towards me. I looked, but I didn’t quite comprehend what I saw until it came very close to me. That was when I tried to run away, and then the voice came: “Guitar boy” and I screamed, “Eh!” That gave birth to the pull of string on my guitar. Nobody has ever pulled guitar string like that before that time. So I decided I must interpret that screaming on the guitar strings. So when you hear those rattles of my guitar, it is my response to the call. It was like a call and an answer, and it is still fresh in my mind, I still feel the nostalgia of that encounter.

Can you tell us what the mermaid told you?

That was: “If you see mammy water, never, never you run away, Victor Uwaifo.” and it disappeared.

Will you say you have attained fulfillment in your life?

You can see it. It is radiating all over me. I said it before that I am a fulfilled man. You might have money but not fulfilled. You can also be a popular musician but not fulfilled.

I have gone round the periphery of life, from music to academic, to art, to sculpture, to painting, to creating a museum that is different from all other museums. I am also an architect and an engineer. I made that car that you see outside there and drove it to Abuja about 20 years ago. So there is that fulfillment.


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