Sir Victor Efosa Uwaifo (1941-2021)
Reputed for his folkloric highlife melodies garnished by the dexterity of his guitar and callisthenics dance steps, Uwaifo was a music exponent whose career of 57 years shot Nigeria and Africa to global spotlight.
Under the tutelage of celebrated highlife musicians like Bobby Benson, Sir Victor Olaiya, Stephen Osita Osadebe, young Uwaifo mastered an inborn musical skill that brought him global renown. Standing side by side the capitalist aesthetics purveyed by colonialism, Uwaifo and his musical kindred maintained a genre of music that “made a landmark in the consciousness of African music.” Theirs was a trail-blazing musical epoch that turned musicianship into a didactic tool for cultural self-retrieval.
Uwaifo was an accomplished mastermind who attained the pinnacle of creative ingenuity by the transformational agency of his Midas touch. At the bubbly stage of his career, around the late 1960s and 1980s, Uwaifo won the first gold disc in Africa with Joromi, which was released in 1965 at the age of 24. He went on to win seven other gold discs with Guitar boy, Arabade, Ekassa series and Akwete music. In all, he won 12 gold discs.
From his prodigious energy and talent, Uwaifo bequeathed to posterity massive art and culture production that is too enormous to have been spawned by the technology of an individual. He waxed 12 albums, recorded many songs and had a tome of lyrics. An eclectic art experimentalist with a streak of perfectionism, Uwaifo sculptured architectural and iconic masterpieces dotting diverse places both home and abroad. He built his car, invented his trademark guitar with 18 strings, amongst other things. His inexplicable energy was so effervescent and fruitful that it seemed that he would not die.
Uwaifo, an amateur bodybuilder and fitness enthusiast, surrendered to death after a brief bout of pneumonia, according to family sources. He was aged 80.
Born on March 1, 1941, to the illustrious Uwaifo family of Benin City, Edo State, the maestro was a man of many ‘firsts.’ He was described as an incredible lyricist, a dancer, writer, inventor, sculptor, public servant, university lecturer; and for his manifold capacities, he had been aptly compared to renaissance polymath Leonardo Da Vinci. Having had his early education at Western Boys’ High School, Benin City and later St Gregory’s College, Lagos, he proceeded to Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, from where he graduated in 1963 with a National Diploma (distinction and overall best) in Graphic Arts.
Although he played music at St Gregory School band with the likes of Segun Bucknor, he sharpened his skills by featuring in Victor Olaiya’s Cool Cats highlife group on holidays. He continued this trend after school when he played for E. C. Arinze’s, Fred Coker’s and Stephen Osadebe’s highlife bands. With sufficient tutelage, he formed his Melody Maestros in 1965.
Uwaifo has been acclaimed the most academically honoured musical legend in the country, having at age 54 obtained a B.A Honours (first class valedictorian), Master’s degree two years later and Ph.D in Architectural Sculpture at 77, all from the University of Benin, Benin City. He also had a stint as a university professor in the same institution. The cumulative experiences garnered, no doubt, facilitated his appointment as the Honorable Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism during the Lucky Igbinedion administration and became a member of the State Executive Council in Edo State from 2001–2003.
Uwaifo was a recipient of the National Honour, Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) and United Nations invitee for the 1995 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. 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, U.S. In 1997, he was awarded the Certificate of Honour by the House of Representatives, Boston Massachusetts.
For all he lived, Uwaifo has left Nigerians, especially musicians and artists, with vital lessons. To young people and professionals who want to excel, Uwaifo’s life and accomplishments are a study in tenacity, focus and incredible self-control. His life signals to learners that genuine success is achieved through dedication to professionalism, commitment to excellence, patience and openness to mentorship.
Beyond the tangible products of his enviable career, Uwaifo remains invaluable as a repository of African knowledge production. African scholars and culture enthusiasts have always lamented the cultural appropriation that falsely re-writes African history owing to the absence of credible indigenous contributions.
In Uwaifo’s modest effort at building a museum chronicling Nigerian and Bini arts and culture, the world witnessed some retelling of the African story in a bold and credible manner. It is for this reason that the governments and peoples of Edo State and the Federal Republic of Nigeria should properly immortalise Sir Victor Efosa Uwaifo by going beyond tokenism street-naming and infrastructure labeling. To this end, the government of Edo should take over and rehabilitate his museum. Apart from its potential as a tourist attraction and revenue generator for the state, the Uwaifo Museum could be a desirable addendum to the facilities that make Benin City an art and culture hub in Africa.
Besides, Uwaifo’s legendary accomplishments demand that institutions of higher learning, research foundations and even individuals develop and foster courses or programmes in Victor Uwaifo studies. There is a need to harvest the works of people like him for learning, art and culture – to be taught in schools.
If the government and people of Edo State, musicologists and experts in arts and culture succeed in bringing this into fruition, they would be according to deserving recognition to the late Victor Uwaifo’s treasured legacy.
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