Legendary Nigerian musician Victor Uwaifo dies at 80

By Vanessa Obioha

Legendary musician Sir Victor Uwaifo, who was Nigeria’s first arts, culture and tourism commissioner, has passed away. The news of his death was announced by his son Uwaifo Peter of Rock on Facebook. He is said to have died from a brief illness.

His son said his death came after a week of working with him.

Uwaifo wore many hats beyond his music. He was in a class of his own. He was an unbroken record athlete, inventor, visual artist and sculptor. He was an academic, earning a first class in fine arts.

He was good at everything he did.

Popularly known as the “Guitar Boy”, the deceased was also the first professional musician to receive the national distinction of merit as a member of the Order of Niger (MON). He was invited to the State House by four presidents and heads of state of Nigeria.

Uwaifo was born in Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria and received his secondary education at Western Boys’ High School Benin and St Gregory’s College, Lagos, from 1957 to 1961. He began playing guitar at the age of 12 years old, his first influences in popular music being Spanish and Latin American music.

While at St Gregory’s College he played music and was among the principal conductors of Lagos High School. As a young man, he played in various groups such as the late Victor Olaiya, the late EC Arinze, Stephen Osadebe and Fred Coker before forming his group Melody Maestros. The group released the single ‘Joromi’ which became a popular hit and the most sampled song in their vast catalog of music.

He developed the rhythmic sound Akwete and in 1969 released a new beat called Shadow accompanied by a new dance also called Shadow, a mixture of Akwete and twist.

He was the first of his peers to achieve monumental fame when he sold over 1,000 copies of his album, making him the first gold record winner on the Internet. He later won seven more gold records in the series ‘Guitar boy’, ‘Arabade’, ‘Ekassa’ and the music ‘Akwete’.

In ‘Elder’s Corner’, a documentary film by musicians Ade Bantu and Siji Awoyinka, Uwaifo described the music as spiritual.

“There is telepathy in music,” he said.

He also lamented that the country is forgetting its pioneering music stars.

“It must be a devil’s trick to be born in a country where neither soul nor talent is appreciated.”

Uwaifo’s love for music and the arts was ingrained. It showed in everything he did.

He has built a museum on his premises in Benin which houses some of the greatest works of art he has made. For example, he told the story of Nigeria through visuals and combined them with sounds to create a real effect.

An accomplished artist, he was perhaps the only professional who excelled in the arts and sciences. He invented a musical instrument, the double neck guitar he played, an airplane and a car which are all in his museum. THISDAY Group’s policy editor Nseobong Okon-Ekong, who spent two days in his house in 2008, described him as one of Nigeria’s tallest.

“There is no Nigerian like him.”

At 77, Uwaifo obtained a doctorate in architectural sculpture from the University of Benin. His thesis was on “A reinvention of the royal ancestral pieces of Benin”. He taught in the Department of Fine and Applied Arts at the same university and was president of Joromi Organization, a multitrack recording and television studio in Benin City.

Bantu recalled the deceased as a true Renaissance man.

“Victor Uwaifo was one of a kind, a true Renaissance man who effortlessly wore multiple hats, whether as a musician, sculptor, inventor, politician or educator. Its exceptional musical catalog has earned it a dedicated and loyal fan base that spans the generations. Never one to rest on the laurels of the past, Uwaifo always pushed her restless creativity while charting new ways to reinvent and express herself. Sir Victor Uwaifo, the “Guitar Boy” was a force of nature, his charm and charisma were contagious and disarming. “

Interestingly, in a career that spanned over 60 years, he surprisingly kept a clean slate and did not cause a scandal. He was known to be athletic even as he grew in years.

The deceased celebrated his 80th birthday last March.

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