Last weekend a musical Iroko tree fell in Benin City, Edo State! The legendary ‘Joromi’ melody exponent, Sir Victor Efosa Uwaifo (MON), joined his ancestors in the Edo state capital city at a ripe age of 80. He was a former Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism in Edo State during the Lucky Igbinedion governorship. He made history in 1996 when he was presented with the first Golden Record in Nigeria, West Africa and Africa by Philips for his hit song, ‘Joromi’.
Uwaifo was invited by the United Nations Staff Day International Committee to perform during the UN Golden Jubilee celebration in 1995. He was a lecturer in the Department of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Benin (UNIBEN). His evergreen hit songs included: Joromi, Akwete, Mammy Water, Do Amen Do.
Prof. Uwaifo was a graduate of UNIBEN. He was about the most intellectually-minded performing musician of his generation. He was talented, witty, industrious and imaginative. A rare gem Uwaifo through his ‘Joromi’ hit song made name for himself globally like King Sunny Ade, the late Osita Osadebe, Sonny Okosuns, Christy Essien-Igbokwe, the late Oliver De Coque, the late Fela Kuti etc. Uwaifo loved the academia hence his pursuit of knowledge even in his fifties.
Tributes and eulogies have poured in from far and near, high and mighty following his glorious demise. From President Muhammadu Buhari down to the performing artists and artisans on the streets everyone was convinced that he lived a good life contributing his quota to Nigeria’s artistic greatness.
I remember coming very close to the late Uwaifo during a botched live concert at the lawn tennis court of the Ogbe Stadium in Benin City decades ago. Then as a student I bought a ticket for the concert advertised as one featuring the late Ras Kimono and the late Uwaifo. But sadly controversy and violence soon set in with the late rastaman Kimono nowhere to be found.
As the crowd waited and waited for Kimono to mount the stage to entertain us with his reggae music frustration soon became a recipe for violence. Faced with hecklings and restiveness of the young men and women assembled while on stage the Uwaifo team announced to our utter consternation that Kimono could no longer be there for some unavoidable logistical reasons.
Commotion ensued as soon as the announcement was made leading to chaos. We struggled to be on the safe side as bottles and other projectiles were used by the crowd to attack Sir Uwaifo and his band members. Uwaifo was taken out of the stadium through the back door by his bodyguards as disappointed fans yelled for refund of their money!
Of course I felt disappointed myself and we questioned why Uwaifo could have organized a fraud of a concert believing that he deliberately put Kimono on the ticket to attract more people and make more money for himself. Some of his musical instruments and equipments were damaged or destroyed as the bedlam lasted for long minutes.
Of course it is said that a prophet is never respected or recognised at home. Uwaifo’s case that chaotic day demonstrated the preference of Kimono by those in attendance. One radical student screamed that he came to see Kimono perform and not Uwaifo!
Another close encounter I had with the late music legend was at the Edo Broadcasting Service (EBS) New Lagos Road office in Benin City. We were billed to record a programme ‘Can You Guess?’ that fateful day. As we seated and waited patiently for the time to be ushered into the studio Uwaifo drove in! He came for a live programme. As he entered the building we were excited to see him greeting him warmly as he greeted us in return, shaking our hands.
Yet another encounter I had with the late ‘Joromi’ exponent was at the Trade Fair Complex off Aerodrome Close in downtown Benin City. With my friends we were having a great time when the proprietor of Holy Mary College, S. Dory Ikpasaja, the MC, announced the presence of Uwaifo. We searched the complex to see where he ‘parked’ and saw him in company of the high and mighty bantering and laughing happily.
Along Dawson Road in the ancient city of Benin Uwaifo had an office where he sold some sculpted artworks. He used to drive around the streets of Benin City with an ancient unique car that was always the cynosure of all eyes. He was a great man from all indications; a great Edo son and a great Nigerian!
Sir Uwaifo was a role model for many new-generation performing artists in Nigeria. In Benin City and Edo state in particular and Nigeria in general he was a household name. Some of his great songs had been remixed.
As he goes to the great beyond he would forever be remembered for his giant musical strides and contribution to arts development in Nigeria. Artists do not die, so goes the saying! As long as music is part of humanity constituting one of the five human natural senses Uwaifo would live forever in our hearts and minds.
Fare thee well, Sir Victor Uwaifo! We shall miss you. We grieve for you!