Victor Uwaifo: The beat, the class and the magic

Victor Uwaifo: The beat, the class and the magic
Sir Victor Uwaifo
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By Oghogho Arthur Obayuwana

Surely, he was somebody! The history of contemporary Benin will not be complete without the mention of his name. This lcon who passed away recently had a rich mention in the various who is who compendium in Nigeria and Africa with numerous international recognitions and awards including the Nigerian national honour- Member of the Order of the Niger (MON).

The legendary Victor Efosa Uwaifo was a national human treasure and a true knight of the order of sounds, tones, and colours. An interview with this icon never happened as I dallied and his passing has now poured bile on what might have been. Everything about him evinces style, class, impressive physique and apparel and much more but all oozing the high gate art. He took good care of himself! His, was an image of a superbly gifted music god!

For all the romanticism with sir Uwaifo’s music and mystic, I only met him twice in person while he still dwelt with us. First was around 2003 when he came to Abuja to be inducted into the music hall of fame. I went to the event in the company of my friend Anlem Friga-Noy who was a counselor at the French Embassy and who I had regaled with tales of Uwaifo as a cultural exponent that worked extremely hard to put himself on top of the pantheon of music stars. You can therefore imagine my embarrassment when the maestro initially refused or was hesitant to take my card (depicting that I was a correspondent of The Guardian Newspaper). His indifference beyond a mere pleasantry exchange forced me to rebuke him sharply, reminding him that an admirable personality like him must never have such a cold chip on his shoulders.

The second time with this superman, was in 2006 when Tony Iredia’s NTA brought him down to Abuja for the then famous “Dance Band” in commemoration of his 50 years on stage as a performer. Also specially invited to that occasion was the late Miriam Makeba. It was like a reenactment of the 1969 African Festival of Arts held in Algiers, Algeria in 1969 where Uwaifo came second after the Malaika lady. After the Abuja live show, journalists besieged both class acts and in one glorious moment of poetry, Makeba simply described Uwaifo to wit: “He, he is somebody” And I find that term very fitting! And why not?

The man, Uwaifo was not just a master guitarist and awesome flutist who was also at home with the piano, xylophone and even percussion instruments. He was a charming personality, electrifying entertainer, inventor, TV show time series maker, an accomplished sculpture and a mighty academic who knew the importance of transferring knowledge with the necessary vigour, never compromising on standards! He had duets with a host of Nigerian artists, the most memorable being with Tu-Face Idibia in Tupepe. Apart from being a jingoist (did one when Gen Buhari visited the old Bendel state in 1984), his creativity also took him to the world of business as well, and we easily remember his detergent- Afrowash. His Multidimensionality was unparalleled with a stage showmanship next to none!

Widely traveled and exposed, the folk proponent represented Nigeria at various continental and global events including a musical trip to Osaka, Japan for the Expo 1970 and then the many others such as the 1973 Cultural Exchange World Tour to Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Moscow Russia, Ukraine and Italy as well as being Nigeria’s sole musical flag bearer at the Commonwealth Summit, London in 1973, and of course FESTAC 1977. Little wonder that he was awarded the Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) by the Nigerian government in 1983. As a legacy literate artist, he has sired the Revelation Palazzo Museum and an Academy of Music, Benin City, Nigeria.

When it is said that he was an inventor, it is because his restlessness opened his mind to a floodgate of inspirations from the metaphysical to the physical as he invented the 18 strings double-neck guitar and the 360 degrees revolving Magic Guitar, He made a lot of discoveries with a host of construction materials. Described as a fitness freak, Uwaifo lived in an aeroplane-house constructed in the Boeing 727 fashion.

His numerous awards and international recognitions included membership of London’s Performing Rights Society (PRS), a trustee of Performing Musicians Association of Nigeria (PMAN) and Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON).  In 2016, Victor Uwaifo was inducted into the Grammy Award Museum in Los Angelis, USA. But as far back as in 1970, he was international recognition was already on the brim and was once invite by late President  Kenneth   Kaunda of Zambia to Dinner on 19th October of that year in the United Nations Main Delegates Dinning Hall, West Terrace, New York, USA.

He once said: “when I see a colour, I see its tone”! The voice verve and twang of the guitar boy’s guitar will live beyond his over 600 songs and 100 records including the 8 gold discs  2 silver awards, whether these are branded in the series of Ekassa, Akwuete, Mutaba, Sasakosa, Titibitis or 5 days a week love and other groovy contemporary renditions.

Just as our Fela kuti held up the classic Zombie, Uwaifo threw up Arabade and Sonny Okosun and Majek Fashek paid their respects while Bongos Ikwue is still standing and walking the paths taken by titans!

At this hour, let us all bear in mind that of all the works of man, only art truly lives! This work of the spirit survives when all else perish. We only reckon with this, years after the demise of great civilizations. Just as pure technical science swings correctly and is useful for our earthly callings. Sir victor Uwaifo was nicely contained by both. And with a state funeral planned, the Edo state government has already shown the way to honour a legend and preserve a rare legacy for future generations.

  • Obayuwana, a former Foreign Affairs Editor of The Guardian, writes from Abuja