The legendary musician takes Alexander Okeke through his childhood adventures and other events
Sir Victor Uwaifo, the legendary Nigerian music maestro, sculptor and academic, has talked about his life.
The musician takes ALEXANDER OKERE through his childhood adventures and other events
Many know you as an energetic musician in your youthful years. Would you say turning 80 has changed that?
Nothing has changed. I am still as fit as a fiddle.
What are the most memorable events of your childhood you can never forget?
I remember flying kites, going to swim at Ikpoba River in Benin City, shooting catapults with precision and bringing down every bird within sight. I also remember making toys, including aircraft and cars, using foil paper from cigarettes to build the models, covers for tyres and a reward of £1 given to me by a white man who saw my toy aircraft along our street. It looked like it was on a runway and about to take off in a windy storm. I made my first acoustic guitar with plywood, trap wire for the strings, sardine can openers as tuning pegs and bicycle spokes for frets. I also drew on any available papers at my disposal.
Do you have any near-death experience as a child or youth that you can share?
I was once electrocuted during a show in Warri, Delta State, in 1969, at Lido Nightclub. Sunny Okosun (God bless his soul) was in my band as my rhythm guitarist. I was trapped on the floor due to an electric short circuit during my acrobat display. But God’s favour was upon me and I survived the accident. God used (the late) Sunny Okosun to raise the alarm and the power was switched off.
There have been concerns about what music in Nigeria used to be and what it is now. Are you worried about the quality of music in the country now?
I have lived through 10 generations. Time changes, things change and there is nothing one can do about it. In the past, music was thorough. There were music teachers in primary schools and pupils were encouraged to join the choir. Up-and-coming musicians joined bands to learn how to play music. This is what we call apprenticeship, which includes tonic sol-fa notations or the rudiments of music. Time after time, the younger ones lost interest, especially when digital technology changed the equation. The invention of the computer compounded the challenges in the music industry. It killed talent and encouraged mediocrity. There is no more creativity (other) than copy and paste. It is as bad as setting examination questions and supplying the answers on the same question sheet. Your guess is as good as mine.
Radio, electronic and social media platforms are not helping matters. They seem to encourage and calibrate mediocrity and downgrade credibility. Anybody who wants to do music should learn how to play one or two musical instruments. For example, I have graduates from Victor Uwaifo Academy of Music. There are some in the Army and police bands.
How many musical instruments can you play?
I play several musical instruments like the classical guitar, electric guitar, flute, alto and tenor saxophone, baritone sax, soprano sax, piano and percussions. I write scores on a music manuscript sheet. I sight-read, compose and arrange songs. Music is a serious business. The fact that you can open your mouth to sing does not make you a musician, the same way playing street football does not make you a footballer and arguing does not make you a lawyer. You can speak English but that does not make you a journalist. Driving a car does not make you a mechanic or a pilot. You must train to become a professional. The young ones are too much in a hurry. The heights that great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight.
Despite being a music maestro, you actually studied Fine Arts at the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos. At what point in your life did music come in?
I started playing the guitar at the age of 12.
Was it your original intention to go commercial with music or did it happen accidentally?
Music overtook my original intention and opened doors for me. I had many options, including becoming a scientist, engineer, academic or an Olympic gold medallist in high jump. Joromi opened the door for me and I resigned my appointment with the Nigeria Television Authority (NTS as it was as of that time) in 1966 and went into full-time music.
You are also a sculptor. What is the link or connection between music and sculpture?
Music is spiritual and art is visual. If a man can use axioms to evolve the geometric structure of the world, man can also use esoteric structures to evolve the intangible spiritual world. When I play music, it moves you, though I don’t touch you. As a sculptor, I see an object, it talks and I bring it to life. All professions, vocations in all spheres of life have one thing in common. That common thread that runs through all is called creativity.
You said you were an athlete at YABATECH. Do you still visit the gym at 80?
I still work out in my gym.
Many people of your age do not see physical exercise as something they can easily do, but you have been consistent. What is the motivation?
Life rests on a tripod: the mental, physical and spiritual. Physically, I build my body through exercises. Spiritually, I meditate most of the time and music keeps me company. Mentally, I read a lot and study and I have attained the highest academic degree with a PhD in Architectural Sculpture. I have never smoked in my life. I don’t take hard drugs. I don’t drink alcohol or energy stimulants. I am always in a normal mood.
One of your hit songs had to do with mermaids, popularly known as ‘mami water,’ and your experience with the creature left many amazed. Would you like to experience it again?
If it is the same ‘mami water,’ I don’t mind experiencing it again.
You have lived in Benin City, the very place where you were born, and haven’t relocated to Lagos or Abuja. What was it that made you decide to settle in Benin?
Home is home. Benin City is where I was born and raised, and it will always be my dwelling place.
You are an academic and an artistic creator. What else would you have loved to become, if you had not chosen fine arts and music?
You founded the ‘Revelation Palazzo’ museum when you were Commissioner for Arts in Edo State and you have maintained it since then. Have you been receiving the right attitude by people towards your works?
Some art enthusiasts appreciate what I have done at the Revelation Palazzo museum. Students, researchers and foreign visitors also make it a tourism destination.
In 2018, you gifted your wife N1m as a mark of appreciation for your 30th anniversary. What kind of support did you receive from her in your musical career?
My wife added value to my life. She is kind, loving and sincere, patient, calm and peaceful. She is strong in faith in times of anxiety and challenges. She is an angel, a good cook, generous, humble, respectful and understanding. Her heart is made of gold and upon all, she adores me. She is beautiful and virtuous. Guess what she calls me.
What does she call you?
She calls me ‘My lord.’ My wife’s name is Princess Osaretin Uwaifo. She is a graduate of English Language from the University of Benin, Edo State; a graduate of French Language from the College of Education, Benin; and a teacher at Army Day Secondary School, Benin City. Our last boy, Leroy, is 25 years old and he is a graduate of Sociology from UNIBEN.
I have achieved everything in my lifetime. I’m a fulfilled man.
You have good taste in fashion. How do you love to dress?
My clothes determine what shoes to wear and vice versa. Fabrics and colour combination must look pleasant to the eyes. Also, the occasion determines the clothes to wear.
You said you don’t smoke but you take red wine occasionally. What is your favourite food now?
I don’t have a favourite food. I mind what I eat. I eat less carbohydrate and more vegetables, fish, beans, unripe plantain, some rice and chicken occasionally. A little red wine is good for the heart.
Do you have any word for people who would want to keep fit at an old age?
Source: Sunday PUNCH