At 74, with over 60-years of experience, Sir Victor Uwaifo says he isn’t done yet and has just released a 12-track album title Legend Reborn. In this interview with ORUKPE NELSON the veteran and guitar maestro, speaks on growing up, music, women and many more…
Sir, why do you opt for Hypertek Multimedia?
Well, let me take you back to the memory lane; I have always been on Philip West Africa Records since 1965, which metamorphosed into Holy Door and also into Polygram and then Premier Music. So, that has been the sojourn and I did few songs on my label.
Music for some times has been so monotonous and digitally recorded which lack depth. And I have always been an advocate for good instrumentation, live and good recording, live which they considered analogue, and analogue has given way for digital. However, analogue has its own advantage and digital also has its own disadvantage. There are certain things, certain sounds and certain expression you cannot achieve digitally, it has to come live. For example, if you are playing saxophone and you want to get it on digital, it will never work considering the breath, ‘the airflow’. Digital has no soul but analogue has soul. Now, what we have succeeded in doing is a crossbreed of digital and analogue, and the result has been fantastic.
As a legend in the music industry, you have been doing music for over the decades, we have seen your likes and contemporaries doing music with good contents. Unfortunately, a lot of people will agree with me that the new crop of musicians we have, now lack music content. For someone that started the music industry, how do you feel when you tune in your radio and listen to junks like that?
Well, there is one good thing in digital and these young ones have also crossed some barriers, they have made music available to so many people. Music has engaged so many of our youths who are now self-employed, and I love it. I think they will learn on the job and they will grow on the job to maturity as time goes on because if there is no buyer, there will no be demand. So, people like you in journalism are to sensitize the public on what is good or bad.
Sir, how do you feel about the music content of today compare to yesteryears?
There is a kind of dichotomy; the music they do today is mostly based on love, sex and drugs, and people like such things. Most of them have not taken their cultural background seriously. You see, when you have a culture, you nurture it and grow in it. The best thing is for them to go back to their root and learn more about their culture.
If you say they should go back and learn more about their culture, as a legend in the music industry, who do you think is to be blamed; parents, who did not tell their ward about the culture or some of you, who are the founding fathers of the music industry in Nigeria?
I have never stopped saying it, and I will continue to say it because, if the father fails to advice the young ones, then the fault becomes his. But if the young ones are advised and failed to heed, then the fault becomes theirs. But I have always preached about culture. In every interview, I always look for an avenue to tell the young ones to learn about culture and how to play musical instruments. Look at me for instance, I don’t play only guitar, I play virtually all kinds of musical instruments.
Digital has made music so cheap, and people like cheap things. Today, people don’t like music but they do music because computer has made it so easy and cheap. It is a matter of sustenance, it is easy to make a name but it is very difficult to sustain it. Myself for example, I have lived for six decades and I am still there; in the past, present and within the young generation today.
Sir, you said it is easy to make name but difficult to sustain it. So, what have you seen in Hypertek that you are putting your name on them?
I think Tuface saw the quality in me and buy the idea of signing me into the record label, and I have also seen the quality in Tuface. He started with the group; Plantashun Boiz some years back and he is still there, at least he has been there for a period of time now. He is a good composer, respectful and he loves my music. He loves my song Giodogiodo and he can sing it from the beginning to the end, I was surprised that somebody like him can do that kind of a thing. And he does some traditional songs in his own dialect; that shows that he is versatile, he can change, modify things and can fit into any situation.
Have you advised him to learn to play musical instruments?
When we performed at the centenary celebration and he saw what I did with my guitar, he was just all over me. He told me he was going to learn the guitar. He’s an exception. He is talented and he has skill and a good ear for music.
What was the first talent you identified from an early age? How did music start for you?
They were just back-to-back, music and art. I used to make cages and shoot catapults well. A man who shoots a bird down from a tall tree with a catapult is not an ordinary man. It requires a lot of precision, which sharpens the mind. I did sports then too, and growing up in the era of gramophones, music then was very soothing and beautiful. It encouraged me and I thought if human beings play these records, I should be able to do the same. As I grew older, I was into sciences and arts and used to jump. I set a record as a high jumper in 1958 at Western Boys High School in Benin. The music and art grew side by side, so when I got admission into Yaba College, I studied Graphics. When I left there, I took a job with NTS, now NTA. I started playing with different bands but I stayed longer with EC Arinze at the Kakadu club. By 1965, I had learnt so much from Arinze and my prior knowledge of the guitar, which I started playing at 12. At my early stage, I used to dance to my father’s gramophone records. Infact, I made my first guitar at the age of 12years, I developed interest from that angle.
As a Professor, how have you been able to combine music and academic work?
There is one common denominator that runs through all these works or arts, about 12/13 notes make up the whole music all over the world, just like we have alphabets A,B,C-Z; 26 alphabets make up the entire letters in the world. Then, you also come to colours; three primary colours make up all the designs and colours you can think of. Then, when it comes to mathematics, 0-9 make up all the figures in the whole world, we may continue to go on and on. But the common denominator is creativity; it is that creativity that has kept me going. Sometimes, you just find similar things in music and arts, when you talk of transition. The same thing in music when you are talking about change of key, modulation, syncopation, they are also in writings.
What was your parents’ reaction when you started developing interest in music?
I came from a musically inclined background, so my parents were relaxed. If I had not chosen to play music, I would have also be whatever I wanted to become. If I wasn’t a musician I would have possibly become anything, ‘scientist’. Infact, I wanted to invent something that the world would be amazed of. If you see my guitar, especially the latest one that revolves like the world axis, is my personal invention, it is the only one in the whole world and nobody has ever done something like that. I have invented a guitar before with a keyboard and then double-necked guitar with 18 strings. Apart from that, I invented a car that I drive around, my sport car, the old one. And, I am an architect. If you come to my empire, most of the buildings you will see are all designed by me. I am not far from any profession, infact, I can fit into any area including journalism… (Laughs)
Could all these talents have come from your parents?
I believe so, because although they were not professionals, if you see the design and the motifs of the house my father built, he sure had it in him. My mother was also from the royal family and had a very good voice, so much they called her Iya Egbe.
Who is your fashion designer?
I design for myself, and don’t forget that I first finished from Yaba College of Technology as a Graphic artiste before I went to study sculpture in University of Benin.
How do you shop for your clothing?
I am not a tailor though, but I can do a design and tailor will finish it for me.
How do you cope with women?
Women normally flock around me, but I don’t have children outside my marriage. I am married and I have my children with one wife.
How many wives do you have?
How do you manage women generally?
Well, I am married to my music and my music is also married to me. My main focus has always been in my business, I told myself from the beginning, I don’t want any distraction.
Tell us about your encounter with the mammy water in Lagos
I have had to answer this question several times. That was also true. I was the Head of the graphics department at that time. We used to close late and had to be on set to organize the back-drop. Because of the traffic, I used to deliberately stay late and go to the bar beach to strum my guitar and get inspiration. That particular day, I stayed really late till everybody had gone. Not long after, I observed that each time the waves advance towards me, I would move back, but the farther I moved the closer it came. Suddenly, I observed a figure coming towards me and before I knew it the figure was right before me. I wanted to run away. I screamed, which I later transposed into strumming the guitar, which has become a trend nowadays. She just said, ‘if you see mammy water, never you run away’. I just thought the mermaid loved music, otherwise it would have harmed me.
What was the reception for the song after the incident?
It was an instant hit. It was after Joromi.
Would you say its success was a bit spiritual in nature?
Mammy Water is the shortest lyrics I know in the world and it has remain evergreen; very enduring, that is to show that there is something esoteric about it. It is a privileged knowledge not for everybody. From that time till today, I have been very privileged. I am a spiritual person, I have a chapel in my house. I am not only an artiste, I am an engineer. I have invented a sports car that I invented 20 years ago and I still drive it round in Benin. I have also invented guitars, I wanted a new octave on the normal guitar that would go as far as the ones that are found on a grand piano. I also invented a guitar that had a keyboard embedded in it and many more before the latest one that spins round faster than the speed of sound.
You have performed for over 60 years. How do you still have the energy to do this music as you used to.
I am 74 and I am still very fit. I squat 50 times daily and still do press ups. I do it every morning.
What is the secret of your strength at this age?
It’s consistency. I have been doing body building since 1960
Has it helped your artistry?
Of course, when you build, you have confidence and stamina. In those days, we used to perform for long hours. My night was my day and my day was night. We went on trips round the country, and although they paid to watch us, it was a way to confirm our popularity round the country. I was the first to employ a manager, Babson. After that, Ebenezer Obey hired one too. I was doing music for the love, but when I found out I could make money, I took it as a business and made sure I always paid my tax regularly.
What inspires Legend Reborn and how many tracks are in the album?
I didn’t give the title, Hyper-Tech gave it the title. There are 21 tracks in the album, some are completely new while some are remixes. So, I am satisfied with it.
Do you think what you have in the album is strong enough to stand others in today’s music industry?
It is stronger than any repertoire; you just have to listen to it.
Who would you say is the greatest Nigerian musician of all time apart from yourself?
It’s me. I’m the greatest, no doubt about it. Sorry about that, since I don’t sound like any other person it is still me. That is it.
Do you think highlife music is being represented well nowadays?
They are begging me to be a part of it. Most artistes are going back to remixing songs from the past because they know something good is there and we encourage them to keep doing that.
What kind of perfume do you wear?
I don’t have a particular one, provided it is not harsh
What about wrist watch?
I have different kinds of wrist-watches, I like to wear gold wrist watches.