Professor (Sir) Victor Efosa Uwaifo is a reporter’s delight any day. An enigma, music maestro and talented artist, Prof. Uwaifo is the Nigerian Leonardo Vinci. A professor of Arts at the University of Benin , there was no dull moment with him as he moved the venue of the interview to his office to avert distractions.
He talks about music and exudes music and arts as he recounts High life music of the sixties of which he was one of its dramatic personae. To him, high life music is Nigeria’s gift to the world and will never die even with the challenge of Western culture and music from the younger generation.
Uwaifo is also a curator and proud founder of REVELATION TOURIST PALAZZO, which itself is a hidden treasure of the past and the present, especially as it has to do with the history of ancient Benin Kingdom. Revelation Tourist Palazzo is a true gateway to Edo State.
A very educative, inspirational and entertaining mulch-culture home. In this interview, the music legend popularly known as guitar boy talks about his life, music and how he has employed his gift of creativity in preserving his people’s cultural heritage. Excerpts
IN the late fifties through the sixties, high life music was Nigeria’s gift to the musical world. But today, the high life genre is no more very popular in this country. As one of those involved then, what is your reaction to this?
Well, as far as I am concerned, high life music remains the music of our people, music of Nigeria when we are talking of the kind of music we play as a nation and as a government. So, high life is the official music.
So, when you compare it with other brands of music, what are you going to call yourself, what are you going to tell other nations your music is. You are not going to call hip-hop, will you? It is not possible. So, high life is the root of our entire music spectrum, of the different people of Nigeria. It is what we can call our own today.
High life is the only brand of music that cuts across Africa, West Africa and in fact, it is played in Ghana and other countries. It is like someone trying to give you a new name apart from your native name, the name given to you at birth by your parents. But that does not change your original name, does it?
Changing culture and tradition
Even changing your religion or becoming a Christian does not change you, change your climate, and change your culture, change your tradition apart from the repugnant ones. So, whether music changed, people wants to play whatever they want to play today, music has always taken different dimensions from the forties.
When I was growing up in the early forties, we grew into some kind of music that had some affectations on our people :- classical music, ball room dance, waltz, quick steps, bolero, cha-chas before it developed to calypso , from calypso to twist and from twist to soul and so on and so forth.
There was jazz, but jazz is still there till today. Jazz is linked to the black Africa, the African race; the kind of music played by the Africans, but was exported into America, Europe and the rest of the world. So, that is what high life is to us in Nigeria. Music is like fashion; fashion is dynamic; we used to have some hair cut style called come back, drawback, on board, the bay and all kind of styles; the bogie-bogie, the mini-skirt which has continued to go and come back.
So, music also goes through that kind of metamorphosis; it comes and goes. But our cultural heritage in music, the high life music still remains. So, whether we are not playing it often does not matter, but it is there. The young ones, most of them are very gullible, anything that is new from abroad, they grabbed at it and follow it.
They don’t consider their root, in fact, they are even too young to understand what it is all about, and they tell you that it is the real thing today and that is very dangerous. But those of us who are defending and promoting our culture through music, through Art, we have a responsibility, especially me, it is my responsibility to protect our cultural heritage through music and art. So, today, I am here at the University lecturing art and also have a tourist attraction, the Revelation Tourism Palazzo.
One can visit the palazzo to see an enduring legacy that is going to be left behind for generations today and generations yet to come. That is how music is. Can you tell me one music that has made such impact as JOROMI ? It was the first gold disc won for Nigeria, the first in Africa.
All these other music that you hear about now is transient and with time, they will fizzle out.
You mentioned the award winning JOROMI music and I also listened to AKWETTE also played by you in the sixties because both were delightful to the ear and danced by many because of the involvement of musical instruments such as maracas, drum, conga, the guitar etc. But today’s music has been computerised that you can hardly feel the effect of the instruments. What is your comment?
I am glad you mentioned that. I did not want to go into those details before because today, it is the computer that composes the music. The computer arranges the music, the computer records the music and produces it. There is no human emotion, no human feelings unlike the music in the past when one was able to play musical instruments: – the guitar, the drum, the trumpet, the saxophone, the bass guitar etc, and one were able to play life concert.
But today, they just mime the music, mime the Compact Disc (CD) and they say they are the ones playing. This is not the best. It is like 419; you are not the one performing, but you are behaving as if you are the one performing. But I would want to advise the young ones to learn how to play musical instruments because it gives a good background when one knows the rudiments of music.
And that is one of the reasons I am also running a School of Music for over twenty-five years, the VICTOR UWAIFO ACADEMY OF MUSIC. you know how to read and write, you can play any musical instrument, in fact, several instruments.
For instance, I play the Saxophone, the flute, the Xylophone, the keyboard, the piano and percussion instruments among others. The youths of the day should realise that they have their names to protect, such is not attained by sudden flight, but they are so much in a hurry today.
You are called “Guitar Boy”, because of your versatility in handling the guitar, Zeal Onyia for Trumpet, Fela Anikulapo Kuti for the Saxophone and people like Roy Chicago and Rex Lawson were all known for the instruments they played and that gave them their identities. What is your advice to the younger generation of musicians in this regard?
I have said it before , I have said it quite a lot of time and I will not stop saying it that the young ones should go and learn how to play musical instruments. I will bless them for that, I will encourage them. I have even given scholarships to some of them who have to learn music from my School of Music.