With a computer a dog can be a musician now: Victor Uwaifo's parting shot

Late Sir. Victor Uwaifo: Edo State Government announces programme for his funeral ceremony

Late Sir. Victor Uwaifo: Edo State Government announces programme for his funeral ceremony

When he marked his birthday in March this year, the legendary musician, teacher and sculptor gave an interview in which he spoke about his creative journey.

Uwaifo, who has never hidden his criticism of younger musicians, advised them to go for apprenticeship before venturing into music.

“A few of them are good,”, he said about the younger musicians.

“But the majority of them don’t have anything. These days, with a computer, a dog can also be a musician”, he said.

Read the excerpted interview with The Guardian’s MICHAEL EGBEJULE:

At what point did you begin develop music skills?
Music runs in the blood and my family; my father had a gramophone. I made my first guitar at the age of 12; I used trap ropes for the strings, a sardine opener for the pegs, and spokes for the belts. I managed to produce some sound and I did it my own way until I tried it with some downtown guitarist – the palm wine bar. When I played my guitar, they couldn’t play their own too; there was a variance. Their own was conventional, a kind of training while mine was only my own way, my own style. Only I can play it. So, I had to learn their conventional guitar. It wasn’t easy learning, they asked me to buy a jug of palm wine, though I didn’t have the money, I had to look for the money to buy a jug of palm wine for them to learn the conventional guitar method.

My brother was a church organist and a lawyer too; he taught me the rudiments of music. I had to learn the rudiments of music. Like when bands will come from Ghana to play in Benin, bands like E.T Mensah, we go and watch the band from beginning to the end. I was mimicking television style and different kinds of music with my guitar. The whole thing revolved around practice; there was more practice than perspiration.

It got to a point my father was not comfortable with my guitar. At that time, guitarists or musicians were not people to actually reckon with because they end up in the palm wine bar and go into womanising and all that. But I have a vision. My mother had to save my guitar when my father seized it and I promised that I would read my books. So, I got my guitar back until I gained entrance into a secondary school; I still have primary school result of 1955.

You are multi-talented; a writer, teacher, musician, sculptor, and philosopher. How have you been able to manage these things together?

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It’s a matter of discipline, that’s the basic answer. Without discipline, I don’t think someone can be able to overcome the vices of life. First, I promised myself that I would not smoke; I have never smoked in my life. I have never touched a cigarette with my lips because musicians were known to be smokers, ‘drunkards’, womanisers and drop-outs. I thought to myself, I would reverse all these things. I wanted to be an Avant-guard; I plotted my life. I was focused because I knew where I was going; I wanted to do what will give me joy. I was a sportsman, a bodybuilder, and a weight lifter. As a body-builder, there was a time I thought I could even stop a moving car.

What do you think is missing in the Nigerian music industry today from what it used to be in past?

The problem with Nigerian musicians today is that they don’t go through music apprenticeship. Everybody wants to make it in a hurry; it doesn’t work out like that. You cannot become a graduate without going to school; you cannot read and write without learning ABC to Z. You cannot also play music without also knowing the solfa notations – d, r, m, f, s, l, t, d! Twelve or thirteen notes make the whole music in the world; then 26 alphabets make all the constitutions. In ordinary mathematics, 0-9 makes the whole money in the whole world. Even in colours, only three primary colours make the whole colours.

So, in life, if you know the basic principles of life, then you now have to navigate other actions. If a man can use axiom to evolve the geometric structures of the world, man can also use esoteric axiom to evolve the intangible structures of the spiritual world.

Music is a spirit; when you hear it, it heals you; it moves you. I act, I see and I touch it and bring it to life. Most of these objects talk, but we don’t understand their language. The more you practice it, the more you become esoteric and privileged. A car needs somebody to start it. Everybody has his/her own talent, but you have to discover your talent early and know the way to go. In philosophy, I always tell people, don’t wait for your destiny to wake you up; wake up your destiny.

In our time, it was real music. I am still in this present time, so, I have seen it all. People should undergo music apprenticeship and learn the basics and rudiments of music. For example, if you want to go into carpentry or fashion, you must go somewhere and learn the job. Just like before becoming a lawyer, you must go to law school and learn. Everybody can argue, but that doesn’t make you a lawyer; you must go to law school. Everybody can sing, but that doesn’t make you a musician.

The young generation is too much in a hurry; they want money very fast. It doesn’t happen like that; you must learn and sustain it. Music is not only an apprenticeship, but there is also business in music. I was the first to employ a manager in my time; nobody knew that you needed a manager to manage you, but I did it first. Technology has improved music in this generation. In our time, we played real music. I understand the rudiments of music – I play guitar, I play the flute, I play saxophone, I play teno-saxophone, I play virtually all musical instruments. I set up different bands; that’s business. Ebony Band, Vintage Band, Baba 20-10 Abuja… they are all my products. Technology has improved the quality of sound but has made musicians lazy. Its like, you have an exam, they set you a question and you have the answer on the reverse side of the question – its no more an examination; that’s what the computer is doing to music. Remove computer, these young musicians can’t play anything on their own.

Looking at the music industry today, do you think they have any message for their audience?
A few of them are good, but the majority of them don’t have anything. These days, with a computer, a dog can also be a musician. To sit to actually compose a message, melody that can even make someone weep; if you are in a sad mood, you become happy; if you are happy, you become happier; if you are alone and you want to meditate, you can meditate with good music. But these days, some music can distract you; that’s why classical music is different from the music of these days.

Music is kinetic; I tell people to stand up and play music in those days because I also stand up, I jump, I dance. I avoided cigarettes, narcotics, or any other drug because music is madness. So, if you add any other music to it, it becomes worse.

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