Friday, July 21, 2017

A00761 - Isaiah "I. K." Dairo, Father of "Juju" Music

Isaiah Kehinde (I. K.) Dairo, a Nigerian musician who was an important innovator in juju music, died on Wednesday in Efon-Alaiye, Nigeria, where he lived. He was 65.
The cause was complications from diabetes, said Chris Waterman, the author of "Juju" (University of Chicago Press, 1990), who worked with Mr. Dairo.
Mr. Dairo took juju music -- Nigerian pop built on Yoruba drumming -- and added new rhythms and instrumentation to reach a broader audience. He played accordion and talking drum, both of which he introduced to juju, as well as guitar. Through his group, the Blue Spots, juju became an intricate mixture of traditional Yoruba songs and praise poetry, African and Latin-American rhythms and Christian hymns. In a five-decade career, Mr. Dairo made hundreds of albums and toured the world as one of Africa's first international stars. He said that songs often came to him at night, in dreams, borne upon the wind and the wings of angels.
Mr. Dairo was born in 1930 in Offa, in the state of Kwara, and was educated there at a missionary school. He joined his first juju band in 1942. Through the 1940's, he was a part-time musician while supporting himself as a cloth seller and laborer; he worked for a time with an early juju band leader, Ojoge Daniel.
He formed his own band, the 10-piece Morning Star Orchestra, in 1956, changing its name to the Blue Spots in 1959. While adding new elements to juju, he also incorporated traditional songs and rhythms from various Yoruba subgroups, reaffirming the music's roots, while his arrangements reshaped the music to work within the three-minute limit of early recordings. When Nigeria gained its independence from Britain in 1960, Mr. Dairo's music embodied the nation's cultural autonomy.
In 1963, Mr. Dairo was made a Member of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth. Through the 1960's he was overwhelmingly popular in Nigeria, providing a model for such younger juju musicians as Ebenezer Obey and King Sunny Ade. His audience continued to grow in the 1970's and 80's, as he toured internationally. Working for musicians' welfare, he helped to found the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria and was a president of the Nigerian chapter of the Performing Rights Society.
He was also the leader of a syncretic Christian movement in Lagos, Nigeria's capital, where his Seraphim and Cherubim Church stands on I. K. Dairo Street. In 1994 and 1995, Mr. Dairo was a member of the ethnomusicology faculty at the University of Washington in Seattle.
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He is survived by his brothers Michael, Sunday and Sola and a large extended family, including three wives and 24 children.
Isaiah Kehinde Dairo (1930) MBE (1930–1996) was a notable Nigerian Jùjú musician.

Early life[edit]

I.K. Dairo was born in the town of Offa, located in present-day Kwara State; his family was originally from Ijebu-Ijesabefore migrating to Offa. He attended a Christian Missionary primary school in Offa, however, he later quit his studies due to a lean year in his family's finances. He left Offa and traveled to Ijebu-Ijesa where he chose to work as a barber. On his journey, he took along with him a drum built by his father when he was seven years old. By the time he was residing in Ijebu Ijesa, he was already an avid fan of drumming.[1] When he was unoccupied with work, he spent time listening to the early pioneers of jùjú music in the area and experimented with drumming. His interest in jùjú music increased over time, and in 1942, he joined a band led by Taiwo Igese but within a few years, the band broke up. In 1948, he went to Ede, a town in present-day Osun State where he started work there as a pedestrian cloth trader and played music with a local group on the side. One day, while his boss was away traveling, I.K. Dairo decided to join his fellow friends to play at a local ceremony, unknowing to him, his boss was coming back that same day, the boss was furious with the act and he was relieved of his job as a result.[2]
IK Dairo later pursued various manual tasks after his firing and was able to save enough money to move to Ibadan, where Daniel Ojoge, a pioneer Jùjú musician usually played. He got a break to join a band with Daniel Ojoge and played for a brief period of time before returning to Ijebu-Ijesa, most of the gigs he plays with Ojoge's band were at nights.[3]

Musical rise[edit]

I.K. Dairo's musical career entered the fast lane when he founded a ten piece band called the Morning Star Orchestra in 1957. In 1960, during the celebration of Nigeria's independence, the band was called on to play at a party hosted by a popular Ibadan based lawyer and politician Chief D O A Oguntoye. With a lot of prominent Yoruba patrons at the venue, I.K. Dairo showcased his style of jùjú music and earned attention and admiration from other Yoruba patrons present, many of whom later invited him to gigs during cultural celebrations or just lavish parties. In the early 1960s, he changed the band's name to Blue Spots and he also won a competition televised in Western Nigeria to showcase the various talents in jùjú music. During the period, he was able to form his own record label in collaboration with Haruna Ishola and achieved critical and popular acclaim and fame.

Influences and inspiration[edit]

I.K Dairo emergence at the end of the 1950s coincided with the rising euphoria towards independence. He was seen then as a premier musician who could capture the exciting moment preceding the nation's independence and briefly after independence. The musical taste during the period had graduated from appreciation of solemn music to much more intensified sounds. The period was also one of lavish parties with musicians as a side attraction.[4]
I.K. Dairo musical success in the 1960s, was influenced by different factors including a resort to include traditional sounds, the political life of the 1950s, which inspired him and a focus on Rhythm, beats and tempo that reflected different ethnic sounds and in the process leading to his appeal rising beyond his primary ethnic group.[5]His band experimented and played with musical styles originating from different Yoruba areas and also utilized the EdoUrhoboItsekiri and Hausa language in some of their lyrics. The band's well organized and slick arrangement, Yoruba and Latin America influenced dance rhythm and patronizing lyrics on the entrepreneur pursuits of patrons were factors that contributed in his rise to the height of the Juju and musical arena in the country. He also employed musical syncretism, mixing the Ijebu-Ijesa choral multi-part sound with melodies and text from Christian sources.
In 1962, he released the song 'Salome' under Decca records. The song mixed traditional elements in Yoruba culture and urban life as major themes. The song was a major hit of his. Another song of his which was quite popular was Ka Sora (Let Us Be Careful), the song is sometimes described as predictive of the Nigerian civil war in its warning about the pitfalls of unreasoned governance. He also released other popular hits including one about Chief Awolowo, who was incarcerated at the time the song was released.


The band made use of an amplified accordion, which was played by I.k., and he was the first high-profile musician to play the accordion. Other musical instruments used by the group includes, electric guitartalking drum, double toy, akuba, ogido, clips, maracas, agogo(bell), samba([a square shaped drum]).[6]

Later career[edit]

Dairo's stay at the top in the Nigerian music scene was short lived, by 1964, a new musician in the person of Ebenezer Obey was gaining ground and by the end of the 1960s, both Obey and King Sunny Adé had emerged as the popular acts of the period. However, Dairo continued with his music, touring Europe and North America in the 1970s and 1980s. He was also involved in a few interest groups dealing with the property rights of musicians. Between 1994 and 1995, he was a member of the Ethnomusicology department at the University of Washington, Seattle.[7]

Partial discography of I.K. Dairo and the Blue Spots[edit]

  • Ashiko, 1994, Xenophile Music
  • Definitive Dairo, Xenophile Music
  • I RememberMusic of the World
  • Juju Master, Original Music
  • Salome 92
  • Ise Ori Ranmi Ni Mo Nse
  • I Remember My Darling,
  • Erora Feso Jaiye
  • Se B'Oluwa Lo Npese
  • Yoruba Solidarity
  • Mo ti yege


Considered by many to be the "father of juju" for his many innovations, Isaiah Kehinde Dairo was born in Kwara State, Nigeria, in 1931. One story has it that his lifelong love of music stemmed from a drum that his father, a carpenter, made for him in his youth and that accompanied him wherever he went. In early adulthood, Dairo tried earning a living as a barber, a construction worker, and a cloth merchant, among other jobs. Dairo sat in with early juju bands at night, led by musical pioneers Ojoge Daniel and Oladele Oro. In the mid-'50s he formed his own group, the ten-member Morning Star Orchestra, which gained fame later as the Blue Spots.
Though highlife was the most popular form of band music in West Africa at the time, Dairo and his band released a long succession of influential singles that, by the end of the Nigerian Civil War in 1970, helped establish juju as the premier Nigerian sound. Dairo changed the tenor of juju by introducing the accordion and talking drums to the orchestra and singing in a variety of regional dialects, which widened the rural appeal of the music. When his appeal began to wane at the end of the 70s, he gave up performing, turning first to managing clubs and a hotel in Lagos, then to a ministry in the Cherubim and Seraphim church movement. In 1990 he recorded his first album in 15 years with a re-formed Blue Spots band.

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