Track Review: Joromi By Sir Victor Uwaifo
It is a popular position that music is inspired by personal experiences and feelings. Tracks borne from this source are less strenuously composed than those inspired by someone else’s story, or those intended to chronicle or narrate the culture of another person. Most musicians prefer writing songs from personal experiences, arguably because less research and work goes into a rough composition. Ready examples are songs by Fela Anikulapo-Kuti. However, the song, Joromi, falls in the latter category of music.
Joromi, a highlife song, was first released on the album titled ‘Big Sound’ by Premier Records on June 27, 1969. Its release stirred a big wave in Nigerian music as it was met with so much anticipation. Joromi’s uniqueness among other evergreen songs is that it is composed in the artiste’s local dialect, but its message is unlikely to be fully understood and appreciated by many. A five-minute track, Joromi had for its solo, a mastery of skills on a variety of musical instruments including the electric guitar with an accompaniment of percussion and the electric piano. Uwaifo also made use of vocals in making beats, which added more flavour to the song.
The song is based on a folktale of the ancient Bini people (now the people of the Benin City in Edo State). It tells the story of an undefeated warrior, named Joromi. He had wrestled and defeated rivals until he was the ultimate warrior on earth. Without any more rivals, he decided to take the battle to the afterlife. Against the counsel of the elders, the fearsome Joromi engaged in battle with a warrior from the afterlife. This personal quest led to his end as he neither returned nor did the people of Bini till this day hear any news about him. It is not even known if he emerged victorious or not.
The message of the song seems to be: “Pride goes before a fall”. Joromi, the great warrior, had become so proud and dissatisfied with the victories that he had amassed and was greedy for more. These vices, pride and greed, led him to battle not flesh and blood, but with a spirit, a supernatural being who is beyond pain and death. The song warns listeners of the dangers attached to such bad vices, especially pride.
The same artiste, more recently remixed the song, introducing pulsating Afrobeat rhythms and groovy sounds to produce a unique blend of the old with the new. The remixed version was released in 2009 as part of the album ‘Legend Reborn Vol.2’ by the label, 960 Music. Alongside the instruments played on the original track, there is the addition of the bass guitar, keyboard, the drum set and most significantly, the percussion instruments – the cymbal and the gong. The lyrics, however, remain the same, in the language of the Benin people.
According to a survey, more people preferred the earlier version in the ‘Big Sound’ album. Chief amongst the reasons is that in terms of rendition of instrumental solos, the highlife version contained more originality than the later Afrobeat one.
Born on March 1, 1944, and now aged 75, Sir Victor Uwaifo won legendary status in Nigerian music through Joromi. The winner of 12 Golden Records, Uwaifo was nicknamed the Guitar Boy because he was reputedly so skilled that he was able to play the guitar with his feet and tongue.
As well as being a renowned musician, Sir Victor Uwaifo is a sculptor and a writer. From 2001 to 2003, he served as the commissioner for Arts and Culture in Edo State, under the administration of Lucky Igbinedion. In recognition of his contributions to the development of music in Nigeria, in 1983, Sir Victor Uwaifo became the first musician to be honoured by the federal government as a Member of the Order of Niger (MON).
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