If it weren’t for Don’t Stay Up Too Late’s thoughtful (and poetic) 100 Great Singles of the 1960s (That Haven’t Been Played to Death on Oldies Radio), I might never have learned of “Africa’s Guitar King” — Sir Victor Uwaifo — and the heavenly sounds he conjured on his 1966 single, “Guitar Boy“:
According to Uwaifo‘s own website, “Guitar Boy” is a song that was directly inspired by the bandleader’s encounter one night at a Lagos beach bar with a mermaid — hence, the guitar’s “aqueous” sound. As Jusi I Love helpfully explains, the mermaid (who the singer calls mami wata) told him, “Guitar boy, if you see mami wata, never never you run away”. This larger-than-life tale has also been immortalized with a “sculptural representation of the mermaid and his guitar, constructed in a pool at Uwaifo’s Revelation Tourist Palazzo in Benin City.”
Don’t Stay Up Late would commemorate the singer and song thusly:
Had a great life-o.
But he knew he was only the king
’Cos a mermaid had once heard him sing.
Could “Guitar Boy” have been the inspiration for Jimi Hendrix’s epic 1968 composition, “1983 (A Merman I Should Turn to Be)“?
Uwaifo’s biography also informs us that, as a result of the popularity of his songs, a Ghanaian fabric was nicknamed “Joromi” (a song based on the story of a legendary hero in Benin history, as well as the name of Uwaifo’s own style of Highlife music), while “Guitar Boy” was used as a code name for a military coup in Ghana in the 1970s.
Uwaifo invented this double-neck “magic guitar” –
18 strings that can be “rotated 360 degrees at the speed of sound”
Comb & Razor provides very interesting biographical details and music history here. You can browse his discography of recordings on Discogs as Victor Uwaifo, as well as Sir Victor Uwaifo And His Melody Maestroes and other aliases.
First Artist From Central Africa To Receive Gold Record
Although Uwaifo would leave us in 2021, the Guitar King thankfully received screen time in 2022 Nigerian music history documentary, Elder’s Corner, which played at Silver Spring’s American Film Institute as part of its New African Film Festival.