Once Upon a Passage: TRIBUTE TO SIR VICTOR UWAIFO
BY UBAKA OKOFU
Early in this part of the globe, musicians were treated with qualified respect. They were considered too boisterous to be taken seriously. Accordingly, they were loved only for their musical skills and ability to calm frayed nerves with their soothing voices. Their profligacy and promiscuous life style were some of their regulars that kept people far from them. But, Sir Victor Uwaifo emerged from Benin-City in the old Midwestern region of Nigeria in the late 1950s to put an end to all that negative perceptions of musicians as bad influences, layabouts and uneducated.
How the Nigerian society regarded musicians took a different shape during the Nigerian civil war ( 1968-1971) Their usefulness was upped in a war that witnessed the capture and detention of notable musicians by the Nigerian army solely for entertaining troop after major landmarks. The capturing of towns hitherto occupied by the Biafran side were celebrated with live bands performances by conscripted musicians that also advanced with the troop. Sir Victor Uwaifo played in the bands that entertained the Nigerian side at Asaba. The likes of Victor Olaiya and Fred Coker were notable Nigerian musicians during the time in record.
Sir Victor Uwaifo was not unaware of the importance of being educated in an emerging economy such as Nigeria was in the early 1960s. For him, music was going to be passion and on part time basis. He was not to be carried away with the array of charming ladies at the disposal of highlife musicians in major cities across the African continent. He never took his eyes away from tertiary education even while he was member of musical bands in Lagos and Onitsha.
Sir Victor Uwaifo was born on the 1st of March, 1941 in Benin-City, in the then western region of Nigeria. He grew up in the ancient Benin kingdom and the metropolitan city of Lagos. Both cities afforded Uwaifo the exposure that made him better than his peers growing up. By 1960, Sir Uwaifo knew he could not be separated from music. But, education was also important. He gained admission into the Yaba College of Technology and graduated with a Diploma in 1963.
Sir Uwaifo could not hold back the overwhelming and bulging passion for highlife music. He joined Sir Victor Olaiya’s musical band as a guitarist. Within a short period, Sir Uwaifo had established his own band known as the Melody Maestros. Melody Maestros was sought after in the entire region. Not too long, he released Joromi in 1965. Joromi was a chartbuster. The record shot Sir Uwaifo into international fame. He sold over 100,000 copies of that record and won the Gold record award for it.
Between 1965 and 1990 when he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Art, Sir Uwaifo was positively distracted by his musical career. By the time Sir Uwaifo returned to academics, it was vintage Uwaifo who graduated with a first class degree from the Ekenwan campus of the University of Benin in 1995. He enrolled for his masters’ degree and Ph.D programme almost immediately in the same University of Benin. Sir Uwaifo left behind marks in the University of Benin both as a student and a lecturer.
He was a phenomenon on stage. Renowned for his energetic Akwete dance steps and his magical fingers on the guitar, Sir Uwaifo held his audience awestruck during performances. He performed more on stages than he was in the studio recording. Little wonder, Sir Uwaifo boasted of over 600 songs and 100 recorded LPs.
In 1987, he was awarded with the National Merit oAward of the Member of the Order of the Niger ( MON), and this was in recognition of his contribution to creativity and industry. He was the first Nigerian musician and Edo man to have received the award.
Like the maverick character in his Joromi hit song, Sir Uwaifo conquered all that needed to be overcome here on earth, and the 28th of August departure was indeed a sad one for family members and friends of the Akwete exponent. Rest on Sir Victor Uwaifo!