KSA CAN'T PLAY THE GUITAR —UWAIFO
Sir Victor Uwaifo a.k.a. Guitar Boy, the highlife legend, spoke with Entertainment Cafe about highlife music, KSA, the music industry and other issues
[bQ: How did you receive news of Osadebe's death?
A: I did not believe it at first but when it was confirmed, I felt sad because highlife artistes are not many, especially the known ones. It is a terrible loss to highlife music.
Q: What is the origin of highlife music?
A: Highlife music came from Ghana but today, everybody has his own type of highlife. But the most popular one actually came from Ghana through the late E.T. Mensah. This was in the late 40s and early 50s. The word was coined from the normal ballroom dance.
You know those who are not allowed into the ballroom and were peeping through the window, had an impression that the people dancing to the music were having a higher life. That was how E.T. Mensah coined it and added some guitar flavour to it. And this kind of music was also acknowledged here in Nigeria by the likes of the late Bobby Benson, Victor Olaiya and others.
Q: What happened after the death of Bobby Benson because it seems that the music is dying?
A: Well, Bobby Benson was not a real highlife artiste. He did a song entitled Taxi Driver and it became popular. He actually played a cross over type of music.
Q: Are the young ones not playing that brand of music?
A: I wouldn't say they do not. Even today, some of the new generation musicians still borrow from our songs. I also play a different brand of music. I can't be considered as an highlife musician even though I consider it as part of my music. Music is like colours and one should be able to differentiate the kind of music he plays. Even Oliver de Coque does not play pure highlife, but we can brand it under that umbrella as well. In Ghana, it is still strict highlife, but here in Nigeria, we have all the variations.
Q: Why are we not having young artistes coming out to play raw highlife music, is it because they are not encouraged?
A: They are there but it is just that you may not know them except for the popular ones.
Q: Is the music so difficult to play?
A: Yes, it is, because it requires discipline. Highlife is not like computer beats the new generations are playing. They can't play live on stage. That is not music, because to play highlife, you must learn how to play musical instruments as well.
Q: You are very creative with the guitar, what informed this?
A: That is what scares a lot of people away from highlife. You must be able to play the guitar very well so that it can add flavour to the music. Apart from the guitar, your ability to play other instruments matters. Also, you must have a sense of arrangement, harmony, etc. Highlife is a kind of music that you must learn.
Q: Who taught you how to play the guitar?
A: I started very early in life as early as 12 years. My brother bought me a book which taught me the rudiments of music and I picked up from there. I taught myself how to play the guitar.
Q: Did you have any encounter with the mermaid (mammy water) that gave you a break in highlife music?
A: It was instrumental because I saw the mermaid at the Bar Beach in Lagos. That is the truth.
Q: How was the encounter?
A: I was then an adult working with the NTA Lagos after graduating from Yaba College of Technology and I usually went to the Bar Beach till late in the night. It was during one of my visits that I had an encounter with the mermaid. That melody was really from the mammy water and I was frightened. It's a long story.
Q: Can we just have it briefly?
A: It's really a long story, but I must tell you that, that melody was from the mermaid and I was frightened to my bone marrows.
Q: What did she look like?
A: Very pretty and shiny. In fact, all that frightened me. That's why I said: “If you see Mammy water, never you run away...”
Q: Did you enjoy going to the Bar Beach for spiritual reasons?
A: No, I just loved going there to unwind. But on that particular day, I stayed late till about 1 a.m. and at that time, I was living on Ikorodu Road area of Lagos State.
Q: Did you continue going there to unwind after your encounter with the mermaid?
A: No, I stopped going there.
Q: Okay, you started playing music at the Church, but what kind of person are you in the real sense?
A: I am a very disciplined person and as I told you, I only read books on music, no formal education. And I am still reading books. After Yaba Tech, I went to UNIBEN to study sculpture. I am currently a lecturer there.
Q: Why are you not releasing albums like before?
A: I still release albums and there is one under way. To be current on my works, you need to log on my website: www.victoruwaifo.com.
Q: What is the title of your forthcoming album?
A: Well, I have not decided on that yet, but it will be released to mark my 50 years on stage.
Q: What is life to you?
A: Life is like a circle, it involves mental, physical and the spiritual. If you're able to nourish all these, then your life will blossom.
Q: It is believed that highlife musicians enjoy the company of women and engage in drinking. Do you do all these?
A: I am a different person because I am from a disciplined home. My background speaks volumes about this. I neither smoke nor drink.
Q: How then do you get the energy you use to perform on stage?
A: I was an athlete and I did that even when I was in the institution of higher learning. That's why I am still physically fit. As a musician, you ought to be fit because music is another business.
Q: Now, are you fulfilled as an artiste?
A: Yes, I am fulfilled because there's nothing I have not achieved as a musician.
Q: You invented the double-headed guitar, when are you inventing another?
A: I did another one, Gordon-Magic guitar. There's a keyboard embedded in the guitar box and you can see all that on my website.
Q: What happens if a new artiste plays your songs?
A: If he/she seeks my permission before doing it, no problem, because those songs give them inspiration and that shows our industry is growing.
Q: As an academician and musician, would you support if any of your siblings steps into your shoes?
A: All my children are playing music.
Q: Could you assess other popular musicians who are also very good at playing the guitar?
A: I know Sina Peters said he learnt how to play the instrument through my music. Ebenezer Obey once confessed to me that he used to come and stand by my side while performing, just to listen to how I was playing. So, he copied me.
Q: What about King Sunny Ade?
A: Sunny Ade cannot actually play the guitar. He just holds the instrument but there are people playing it for him. He tuned his guitar the other way round, not the conventional way of tuning it. He tunes it like the Hawaiian pedal strings and to his own taste. The Spanish tune is the normal way. Apart from that, he is a good music player and song arranger. He has a good balancing of songs and knows how to go about the business in the real sense of it.