Victor Uwaifo Guitar Boy Superstar: 1970-1976 Review

Released 2008.  

BBC Review

A valuable look at a key period in a unique musician's life and career.

Michael Quinn 2008

The self-styled Sir Victor Uwaifo made his first recording in 1963. Before the decade was over he had received the first gold disc awarded to an African artist. In the four decades since he has remained a central and influential figure in popular Nigerian music, adding poetry, the teaching of sculpture, the running of an art gallery, espousing philosophy and politics and, as a Justice of the Peace in his birthplace, Benin City, dishing out jurisprudence to a long list of accomplishments.

Guitar-Boy Superstar gathers together 19 songs from the first half of the 1970s when Uwaifo had returned home after 13 years in Lagos, during which time he had toured to the United States and Europe and extensively in Africa.

A new decade and a new location prompted a new musical direction. With his 12-piece band, Melody Maestros (among whose numbers was the young Edo musician Sonny Okosuns, who passed away in May) he created a fresh, rhythm-driven sound based on a traditional Benin coronation dance called Ekassa, launching it in 1971 with the highly successful Dododo.

What followed was a period of intense creativity during which Uwaifo blended ancient Benin fables, folklore and chants with a very modern-sounding musical pot pourri that had elements of American soul and rock, European pop and African vitality held together by Uwaifo’s own distinctive and dazzling virtuosity on the guitar. Four Ekassa-style albums and a handful of singles, some 50 songs in all, followed before another change of direction and new band name in the second half of the 1970s.

Adding context to this essential compendium for anyone interested in African music of the most half century, are numbers such as Iye Iye Oh, Madaka and Mother Witch from immediately before the Ekassa period, and West African Safari and Agho (with its catchy reference to The Flores Trio hit, Tequila) from immediately afterwards. They showcase a guitarist of astonishing inventiveness and seemingly limitless energy and drive with an enviable technique and an all-encompassing musical sensibility that bypasses your ears and injects itself straight into your bloodstream.

You might want to check your copy before purchasing: it wasn’t clear whether my review disc or the sound quality on some of the never-before released recordings was at fault. Even so, this is a valuable look - with a good but uncredited contextual essay and track commentaries by Uwaifo himself - at a key period in a unique musician's life and career.

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