The Ultimate Maestro (Victor Efosa Uwaifo, 1941-2021) – Sunday Magazine – The Guardian Nigeria News – Nigeria and World News



Siwo siwo siwo

He was the closest example of Renaissance Man in Nigeria: musician, sculptor, inventor, sportsman, architect, scholar, myth maker, secular philosopher, folklorist and ambassador / impresario of culture.

A true jack-of-all-trades who strove to master everything, he was a man of many abilities, with an admirably polyphonic voice. His impulse was both idealistic and relentlessly pragmatic.

With an extremely focused and perfectly eclectic vision, he has developed a proudly traditional and transgressively modern practice. This pluralistic propensity, this borderless interdependence are the determining characteristics of his vast artistic empire; because the rhyme and the reason which feed his music are only close cousins ​​of those which energize his many enterprises and the tempo of his innumerable dreams.

Victor Efosa Uwaifo was a valiant dreamer and a daring actor whose operational philosophy was: do it differently, do it now, do it well…. An artist of boundless curiosity and enormous energy, Uwaifo has blessed our world with works that crisscross the delicate interface between surrealism and realism, the doable and the fact. How to forget this living room of its vast Beninese domain, in the shape of a “sculpted” plane with its small oval windows and its imaginary cockpit; or that parlor car in its driveway fitted with airplane engine rotor blades instead of the usual automotive radiator fan – a feat that evokes telltale indications from the engineering experiments of Professor Ayodele Awojobi, another Nigerian dreamer and actor ?

From music to sculpture to engineering, and back to music, then you wonder: where does Victor Uwaifo get his magic from? What is the secret of his noble aspirations and multiple accomplishments? Where does his courage come from, then his pride? The answer to these questions is as clear as the Beninese sky on a cloudless day: an exemplary family pedigree coupled with the enabling influence of Beninese culture, without a doubt, one of the richest, most profound and of the most resistant of its kind in the world. On every Uwaifo sculpture are the fingerprints of ancient and unforgettable ancestors. In his very voice are notes, reverberations and echoes of maestros who sang when the time was young and the silence was golden. In the very air, which sustains his being, are the intimacies and breaths of ancestors who have gone but never left. Uwaifo’s prodigious creativity had earth to nourish its roots, a wind to spread its fame, a sky with limitless traditions and pleasant spaces to spread its wings. Our maestro has never lost sight of his status as an essential link in this long chain of History and Culture, and his role of worthy legatee, heir and propagator.

Siwo siwo siwo

Therefore, the fascinating resonance of the Beninese song, its lungful laughter, its painful tone, its throbbing and threnodic intensity, its mythical memorability, its somber reflectivity, the irresistible force of its sonorous musicality which sometimes brings goosebumps to the body of the listener and / or tears in their eyes, the song’s call and answer column that turns casual listeners into enthusiastic choral participants. As my father used to say, himself an accomplished drummer and singer, you can’t hear a Beninese song with your ears; you hear it in your heart and stomach, on its way to your mind.

The performative power and affective magic of this musical genre took the Nigerian music scene by storm in the 1960s, and many of us who met him in our early years struggled to overcome his ‘addiction’. tenacious. There is just something about the alluring sonority of Uwaifo’s voice and the captivating twang of his guitar that never leaves your ears alone. Personally, not a day goes by that I’m not humming a Uwaifo tune, especially in the downpours, or when I’m at a difficult turning point in the creative process.

My first experience of the magic of Uwaifo happened around Christmas in 1965 in the most famous of all cities, Ikere – Ekiti, at a party hosted by another student from the Grammar School, who was in to be a charming princess of the reigning Oba. The party started on a happy and lively note as we teased the tune with tunes from the main highlife kings of the time: Rex Jim Lawson, Roy Chicago, Victor Olaiya, Eddy Okonta, Dele Ojo, IK Dairo. But just as our pleasure was heading towards a premature plateau, entered two colleagues who had just returned from Lagos where they had spent the first half of the Christmas vacation. They didn’t just come up with a 45 rpm vinyl copy of a new Uwaifo record; they also came with a new way to dance on it. As the stylus touched the sparkling grooves, our overworked turntable erupted with Do Amen Amen Do. The atmosphere created by the new melody was simply electric. The audience jumped up and the dance floor was packed. After three or four abseils, the rave tipped upside down, and Eralo Gbengigialo took possession of the wind, then the dancers.

The dance style imported from Lagos by my two colleagues was itself imported to Nigeria from Ghana. Kpanlogo, as it was called, was a percussion style of dance, accented by the gong and rhythmic, deeply physical in its energetic joy and harmonious unfolding of the whole body. Victor Uwaifo’s early music fit so fortuitously into the kpanlogo dance model as if one had been invented for the other.

To this day, I have never stopped wondering if it was kpanlogo, who found Uwaifo, or if it was Uwaifo who went looking for kpanlogo. But one thing is certain: with its vigorous dance and ravishing rhythm, Uwaifo’s music demonstrates two of these characteristics so indigenous to Beninese music in its social and spiritual realms. For more than 10 years from the mid-1960s, kpanlogo and Uwaifo’s music promoted each other in an interesting example of mutual beneficence. Some of my colleagues still remember that bright afternoon in December 1965 when we first encountered the magic of Uwaifo, and how we became his lifelong fans and admirers.

Uwaifo’s music has grown and developed over the years as new numbers rolled out of his stable with melodious rapidity: Siwo Siwo; Oliha, Ebiss Ebiss, Sesese, Agege Ogigbo. The Maestro went from the fast rhythms of the early days to the distinguished and dancehall tempo of Joromi, the dramatic and mythical narrativity of Guitar Boy and the light rally and multi-voice of the Ekassa and Akwete Series. The Uwaifo fan tribe has grown exponentially. Gold records (about a dozen) poured in as a reward for his genius. The nation has welcomed such a modern type of song in its traditional virtuosity.

Then, once his musical career was well established, the man who had always taught us so much about culture decided to go back to school himself. A lucky university in Benin has opened its doors to the famous son of the Kingdom and one of Nigeria’s most beloved cultural ambassadors. Student Uwaifo landed the BA with a dazzling first class, followed by a master’s degree and topped it off with a prestigious doctorate. The University was not long in offering him a place of distinguished scholar. Thus, the life of Victor Uwaifo is a chronicle of aspirations in search, in constant search, of realization. Before his engagements at the University of Benin, our Melody Maestro was already an academic of sense and spirit; and his university was one with his solidly stable and intact universe.

I have seen Victor Uwaifo several times from a respectful distance, and he and I have only met once. This was during the 1994 annual convention of the Nigerian Authors’ Association (ANA) held at the University of Benin. Hosted by academic writer Asomwan Adagbonyin, this meeting, however short it was, brought me closer to the wit, charm and easy manners of the Ultimate Maestro of Nigeria. Surprised and flattered by his open statement to the ANA audience that he was dedicating his performance to me that evening, I couldn’t help but feel powerful memories of that bright December afternoon in 1965 when I met his music for the first time. When I told him how much I admired the immensity of his soul and the immensity of his gifts, his answer was frank and direct: “this admiration is reciprocal. I wasn’t sure if he knew how deeply touched I was by his generous response!

Siwo siwo siwo

HIS personality was an example, his life story was a parable. Here is a man with the unassailable conviction that he could be whatever he wanted to be. A practicing musician with a doctorate in visual arts; a practical philosopher who reflected on the relationship between sound and light; a sculptor who conjured up realistic images in clay, wood and bronze; a thinker who probed the deep structure of culture in tandem with its surface realities; a songmaster who deepened the mutual traffic between melody and memory; an archivist who has never lost sight of the neglected muse of the Nigerian museum; a proud man, full of confidence, uncontrollable by small spaces; a Guitar Boy who saw Mammy Water and never ran away; a Maestro who sang the song without end.

It was / is Victor Efosa Uwaifo: a creative activist concerned with his culture and heritage who has contributed so much to the restoration of our cultural memory and the spread of our music. We hope that Edo State in particular and Nigeria in general will reward his life of incredibly precious dedication by ensuring that his accomplishments never die, that his legacy lives on. Let Nigeria ban its famous addiction to voluntary amnesia and ensure that the world does not forget the life and achievements of this remarkable man

Rest in power, Victorious Uwaifo. Below is this song that I sang for you many seasons ago when you were here with us on this side of the Great River:


(In the background, a medley of songs from Uwaifo)

Siwo siwo siwo siwo…

Your voice nestles deep in my memory,
Its vigor of quivering red earth
Between a burst of laughter and a silence
Who left his echoes in the larynx
Thrilling legends

Beyond the lyrical beauty of painted thresholds,
Through the doors that cross the streets
Like rebel sentries, and sanctuaries where once
The gods swayed through the portals of heaven,
Leaving their word and their wand behind

Do Amen Amen dooooo

You sing Dawn and Mysty Stars
When the earth was music
And the rivers danced towards the sea
With a choir of caper minnows
Your melody came before the beat of the first rain

Oh that haunting sound,
That sweet magic in the elbow of a voice!
The screaming incantations of the guitar,
Rainbow drums that invite
Every moment in an eternity of movement


So fascinating, the rhythm of your city of Red Land
Rhythm of Clay, rhythm of Bronze
Rhythm of ancient hands proclaiming
Miracles of mask and meaning
The rhythm of the thousand-year-old snail sigh at Siloko market

Forests in echo, pulse of the Panther
Dense bordered undergrowth
And when my Hunter-Minstrel loaded
Her lips with a flute
The trees began to dance beyond the story

Maestro Melody,
The universe shines in the melody of your magic;
Your athletic virtuosity, the wonder of your gifts
The unborn seasons thrive on the honey of your voice
The ivory sound of your endless song

Joromi jo mi o, jo mi jooooooooooo….

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