Computer Is Killing The Talents Of Our New Age Musicians – Sir Victor Uwaifo

Sir Victor Uwaifo is a house hold name when it comes to Nigerian music. He is a writer, sculptor, and musical instrument inventor. His evergreen songs include “Joromi” “Guitar Boy” and “Mummy Water” which made waves in the late 60s and 70s. The multi-talented music maestro has the ability to play Xylophone, Sax, Clarinet, Piano, Guitar, Bass Guitar and many other musical instruments. He is a Professor of Arts at the University of Benin. Sir Victor Uwaifo Sir Victor Uwaifo In this interview with Saturday Vanguard, the 76 years-old music legend reveals plans to launch his new album next month, just as he reviewed the kind of music being played by the younger generation, regretting that the use of computers in productions these days is killing musical talents. Excerpts:

Sir, can you tell us a little about your background Well

I was born in Benin City when there were very few cars about three or four car. The first belonged to the Oba of Benin, the second was owned by Omo-Osagie while the third and forth belonged to Obaseki. There were other big vehicles carrying timber as well. I was brought up in a strict disciplinary environment as my father was a disciplinarian. My mother was from the Idusogie Royal family, while my father also was a councillor to the Oba. In those days when we were small, the streets were virtually free, we used to run from Lagos street to Ring road and it was the centre of the town where there was a field. I remember in 1951, there was a match that took place in Benin, one Rev Fr Carl was the goal keeper and the only goal that was scored that made Benin to win the match was scored by Perry Idahosa, the father of Justice Cromwell Idahosa. The atmosphere was cordial and the environment was clean. Then, we had sanitary inspectors who inspected the streets, compound and quarters as well. There were few points where we had public taps. There were no problems, our people swept and it was not a case of a monthly sanitation, it was daily and the Binis used to polish their houses with snail shell which looks brown as if it was painted. So this was the environment in which I grew up. But I found out that I became interested in arts as a growing child. I used to construct aeroplanes, cars with bamboo sticks and fly kite. There was a time I did an air craft and during the wind storm it flew and a white man who was passing by our street saw it and gave me one pound. So I had the potential and love for it. In music we had a gramophone record, my father used to play gramophone and if you had it you were a wealthy man then. So I grew up under that atmosphere and the gramophone record was mostly Latin American, Spanish songs, Jazz but the one that really touched my heart was the Latin American and the Spanish. Whenever I heard the guitar and strings, it touched my soul, it was always ringing in my head and I thought I should be able to get one. So I made one for myself with ply woods, bicycle spokes and strap strings and used cock-bottle as the tuning buttons. After a year or two I found a way to make money so that I could buy the real guitar. My parents were very sad that I had to do a menial job somewhere along the street to make money but I bought the guitar. I was playing my first Spanish guitar and was using it my own way but when I took it to the palm wine bar where guitar was played, great guitarists in their own class couldn’t play mine because I turned it to my own taste and I couldn’t play theirs. But I discovered that theirs was a conventional guitar, that was how I worked to buy the conventional guitar. So I started going there and I would buy them a jug of palm wine so that they could teach me their own guitar and I did my rudiment, first in Spanish and then palm wine style. That is why today I can play the guitar in different form from Palm wine to high life to Jazz to Classical and handle any type of guitar. I now invent guitar. The latest one is the revolving magic that spins round and I also had a guitar that has a keyboard on it which has never happened before. All along it has been experiment and discoveries not only in music but also in art. I have been able to harmonise art and music. I am so gifted and I thank God for those gifts Joromi was one of your major hits, how was it? The final triumphant entry is Joromi. It made the first gold disc in Africa; it is like a Grammy award. So I was the first Gold Disc winner in Africa and it was on Joromi. After 10 years, the single phased out and nobody has single anywhere in Nigeria. That was one phenomenon. It is the only gold in Nigeria and the first in Africa. So I have always been there first, opening the doors for different awards for blacks.

How have you been able to cope with fame and women?

It was discipline, I knew where I was coming from. I knew where I was going, and I knew what I wanted. There is nothing that has not existed unless you have not been opportuned to have that esoteric knowledge to experience or know them. I kept myself busy to be happy and when you are busy you don’t have distractions. It is only somebody who is not busy and doesn’t plan how he wants to live his life that will be distracted. Some people don’t have plans so they can easily fall prey to anything but it will interest you to know that I don’t smoke and I have never smoked in my life. It is hard to believe that I have never ever smoked cigarette, I don’t drink; only nowadays I take a glass of wine because it is good for the heart. So discipline is the key and moderation. I do most things with moderation; I eat healthy food, do exercises and a whole lot of things though it is discipline. Life is like a circle and the beginning of the circle is life itself. You must understand life, philosophy, geometry, spiritual axioms, where you are coming from, where you are going and understand history. In every situation there must be a template, that is why I said the worst plan is better than no plan at all. Plan something so that you have a route of where to follow. When you plot your graph, you go places and next time you can even improve on that graph because where theory and practical fails, experience takes over so you would have gained experience.

Are you impressed with the kind of music you hear these days?

They are completely two worlds, you go to the studio and record, when you make a mistake you repeat all over again but over time they started introducing small gadgets until we got to the age of computer. In computer you don’t need to have a band, one man can record, he goes to the studio, lay down the track, play the other instrument, get the other musician to lay down his track differently, just like a tailor making a shirt. He cuts them into pieces and sews them together. So, for our young ones today, it is not that they understand music but they play music and the computer is arranging it for them. The computer will concise the bad voice and put it in line and shape and the producer helps a lot. The producer has an idea but the computer is supposed to be a model to have an idea of what a song should sound like but it is not music itself. You still have musical instrument. People must learn how to play musical instrument because once you know the rudiments of music, you can play several instruments. I play almost all musical instruments, from piano to sax, to bass guitar, guitar, clarinet, xylophone and a lot of other instruments. I didn’t want to play trumpet because I didn’t want any mark on my lips, that is the only one I avoided. So over the years, music has always been revolving. In our days, you don’t dance anyhow you have to go to a dance school to learn how to dance Bolo, Quick Step, Foxtrot, Cha Cha, Bolero, Pechanga and classic but now it is a free for all dance. But all I know is that we allow them to go because who would have given them jobs. Most of them are self-employed. Whether you like it or not they are making waves and also making a living out of it but for how long?. We only thank God that most of us who have been there for over 50 years are still there and the young ones are still appreciating us. Sometimes they go back into our archives and give it a remix. But I will still encourage them to learn how to play musical instrument so that they can also be equipped with that in life.

Don’t you think the computer thing is killing talents?

Yes, it kills talents. The computer is a rogue and a thief, it is like you allow somebody to go into the examination hall with mobile phone, he knows the answer before the question. So music from the computer is known before they are recorded and that is no music. The person doesn’t know music yet he is playing music. The best thing is to encourage them to be playing live music and learn musical instruments. Instruments are still sold and they are taught in schools. Life is give and take so let’s give them the benefit of doubt, they are young and if I were born in this era, I probably would have behaved like them. So it is the situation they found themselves and it is the implied act of their existence. The implied act of my existence was 60 years ago but I have been able to give new rendition to events of life. I have reinvented myself over and over again but some of these people have one way to go and when that way is blocked they think that is the end.

Tell us about your new album which will be launched soon My new album is titled “You Are the Finest” and the second title is “Wa’bugie”.

Finest is a painting of a picture of beautiful lady, while the Wa’bugie is about a traditional wedding ceremony. It is a song that will be a must for all occasions, coming all the way over 60 years. I am still composing and releasing albums as I have produced over 600 songs. I am presenting it officially on the 3rd of December, and after that I will give it to few DJs.


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