PUBLISHED ON TP AFRICA IN AUGUST 2008
LISTEN: (Look at "Listen Tracks")
(From Sir Victor Uwaifo) web site
Born in 1941 in Benin City, capital of the Edo State in Nigeria, Sir Victor Uwaifo belongs to the Benin or Bini ethnic - nothing to do with the Republic of Benin, ex Dahomey - one of the most ancient Empires and one the most sophisticated cultures of West Africa. The Oba - the king - of the Bini is still today the most powerful and respected traditional individual in Nigeria, even more powerful than the Yoruba Oba.
Victor Uwaifo is one of the biggest names in the Nigerian seventies musical scene, a legend, one of the few whose fame has also gone beyond the borders of his country and of Africa to reach the international show business circuits. Joromi, his single published by Philips Nigeria in 1965, was the biggest success of Nigerian music of all times, even more - although I can't believe it - than Sweet Mother by Prince Nico Mbarga and it became the first golden record of the musical African history. Guitar Boy, another single of 1967 had a similar success.
After having studied in Lagos and after having served for some years in the Cool Cats of Victor Olaiya, Uwaifo set up his Melody Maestros, from whom later emerged Sonny Okosuns, he also was a Bini, who then became one of the first African reggae performers.. During the seventies, Uwaifo founded the ekassa sound, a musical style based on a mix of rhythms and traditional highlife, rock and soul.
"I can not say that I have created the ekassa, as it already existed in the indigenous dances of the Benin Empire since the beginning of the XVI century. It was a dance which took place during the coronation of a new king. The dancers would wear stripes of dried nuts filled in with small stones around the legs, so that the crackling would accompany the dance. Some say it is a sacrilege to listen to ekassa when the king is still alive, but I say to them that it is unbecoming that the ekassa should be heard few times per generation, or even less. I also say that the first song of ekassa that I have played had a brilliant success and that many have followed it. Ekassa is the fusion of the tom-tom rhythm and the agba drum together with western wind instruments, two guitars plus naturally, me on guitar and singing in Edo."
"My music is based on our culture, this is evident in our rhythms and lyrics. The fact that I use modern instruments doesn't change the base character, just like a historian writes and ancient story with mondern instruments, as a Parker pen and paper. The ancient African culture evolves thought experimentation and my music is not an exception."
Today Guitar Boy lives in Victor Uwaif Avenue, a road in Benin City that carries his name, he is considered one of the fathers of the Edo art and culture and other than the music he dedicates himself to painting, to sculpture (his monuments also embellish the roads of his cities), to poetry, to writing, to philosophy and to the teaching of History and of traditional Culture. His popularity is so vast that as his web site says “he doesn't need a postal address as this for him would only be a formality. Whoever wants to write to him should write on the envelope "Sir Victor Uwaifo, Nigeria" and with more than 150 million Nigerians the envelope will surely reach his door” The way his character is proclaimed - visit his web site - represents a true triumph of the African megalomania.
Guitar Boy Superstar is the rabbit coming out of Miles Cleret's hat. We have hoped for a monographer like this to come out and now we are pleased. After the three excellent volumes of the Nigeria Special series, any other label would have waited at least some months and created an expectancy before having released the new album, but instead Miles didn't manage to wait, with his childish, enthusiastic and impatient spirit that we well know, a spirit who doesn't give a damn about any commercial logic and for this reason we feel very close to him.
The booklet is about his encounter with Mr. Uwaifo, about his visit to the grotesque Hall of Fame implanted in his residence in Benin City, and about the veneration he enjoys from his people. It is about his story, his discography and various phases of his musical productions, from the first highlife - which he called akwete - to ekassa of the seventies which coincide with his return to Benin City after 13 years of permanence in Lagos and about his change towards reggae and disco music in the eighties, when his group became His Titibitis.
But Guitar Boy Superstar is concentrated on the ekassa sound period "his most productive" so says Miles. Each of the 19 songs is explained by the words of Sir Uwaifo. The lyrics are eradicated into the bini tradition, they are about every day life, marriages, chiefs and kings, magic rituals, children education, social costumes and respect for elders. The rhythms are articulated and relaxed, the melodies are simple and solar. Victor's guitar sometimes makes crazy improvisations, changing from highlife to rock up to colour itself with light psycadelic colours.
Sir Victor Uwaito's music takes us in the heart of Africa, into his joyful and melancholic soul and his ancient values. He takes from Europe some formal ideas, but is not raped by it because the majority of the ancient African cultures have miraculously and proudly resisted to the pressure to which they are forced to for centuries if not in appearance for sure in the substance. Today, our society is on the border heading towards a steep drop, they could teach us something about the balance and the power that comes from being together. The courage to listen and the will to understand would be enough.
2. Iye Iye Oh
3. Do Lelezi
Author: Sir Victor Uwaifo
Title: Guitar Boy Superstar - 1970-76
Label: Soundway Records
4. Egbe Natete
6. Obodo Eyo
7. Talking Instruments
9. Iye Iye Oh
10. Mother Witch-Shu Husu Hu
14. Do Lelezi
18. Happy Day From Me To You
19. West African Safari