By Ngozi Emedolibe
What a week for Nigeria’s entertainment industry. Three renowned artistes passed on in quick succession. First it was actor Victor Olaotan, then actor, Prince Ifeanyi Dike, the BOT chairman of Actors Guild of Nigeria, AGN, and barely 24 hours later, another big one…Sir Victor Uwaifo, veteran highlife maestro fondly called, Guitar Boy, who passed on at the age of 80.
Born Victor Efosa Uwaifo in Benin City, Edo State, Nigeria, he obtained his secondary school education at the Western Boys’ High School Benin and St Gregory’s College, Lagos, from 1957 to 1961. According to his page on Wikipedia, he began playing guitar when he was 12 years old, his earliest popular music influences being records of Spanish and Latin American music. He studied Graphics at Yaba College of Technology, Lagos and graduated in 1961–63 at the age of 22 years old. He received a bachelor’s degree with first-class honours at 54 years old (Valedictorian) and a master’s degree from the University of Benin in 1997 at 56 where he studied Fine and Applied Arts and majored in Sculpture. After leaving Benin, Uwaifo continued playing music at St Gregory’s, Lagos. He was a contemporary of Segun Bucknor, and they were both among the leading Lagos high school bandleaders at the time. During school holidays and weekends, he jammed with Olaiya’s All Stars band. After completing secondary school studies, he played with E.C. Arinze’s highlife during late hours. Uwaifo also briefly worked with Stephen Osadebe and Fred Coker before he formed Melody Maestros in 1965. The band released “Joromi” which became a hit in Nigeria and other parts of West Africa. Uwaifo made history in Nigeria when he won the first Golden record in Nigeria, West Africa and Africa (presented by Philips, West Africa) for his song “Joromi”. Between 1965 and 1968, he developed the Akwete rhythm sound. In 1969, he launched a new beat called Shadow accompanied by a new dance also called shadow, a mixture of Akwete and twist. The sound was released when soul music was popular in Lagos and lasted a few years. After the launch of Shadow, the Melody Maestros went on tour of various Nigerian cities. Uwaifo later experimented with a new rhythm that was similar to soul but soon left it for Ekassa, an interpretation of a traditional Benin sound. In 1971, Uwaifo opened the Joromi Hotel in Benin City, and within ten years established his own television studio. From there, he produced a national weekly music and culture programme.
Uwaifo, who had a total of 12 golden records to date, travelled to many countries including the United States, Russia, Japan, United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Romania, Germany, France, Hungary, Rome, Ghana, Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), Togo, Benin Republic, Spain, and Canada. Uwaifo was the first professional musicians to be awarded National Merit Honours of Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) and he was also the first Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism in Nigeria. He passed on Saturday, March 28, 2021.