The first truly international star of African music, Mr. Dairo specialized in juju music, a lively mixture of traditional Yoruba social dance drumming, songs, and praise poetry, Latin American rhythms, and Christian church hymns, performed on guitar, percussion, and talking drums. In a career spanning more than fifty years, Dairo made hundreds of records, and toured Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Americas, paving the way for younger musicians such as King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, SIna Peters and many others.
Born in Offa, Kwara State, Mr. Dairo joined his first juju band in 1942, and spent the next ten years as a migrant laborer and cloth trader, while continuing to perform music on the side. In 1956 he returned to his family's home town, Ijebu-Ijesha, and formed his first band, the Morning Star Orchestra. In 1959 the band was rechristened the Blue Spots, a name retained until Mr. Dairo's death.
Mr. Dairo's meteoric rise paralleled the emergence of Nigeria as an independent nation (1960), and his music still symbolizes that period for many Nigerians. Kings, Ambassadors, Businessmen, Heads of state all counted themselves among his fans. Beginning in the late 1950s, he introduced new elements into juju music, including the ten-button accordion and Latin-derived rhythms. At the same time, Dairo conducted research into the oral traditions of the various Yoruba sub-groups. His ability to extend the appeal of juju music across ethnic lines while at the same time reaffirming the genre's links to 'deep' Yoruba culture lay at the heart of his success. Dairo was also a brilliant arranger, one of the first African musicians to master the 3-minute song form, required by the recording technology of the time.
Another source of Dairo's appeal was his skill as a composer. His songs covered a range of topics: "Salome," a love song in praise of a young woman with "eyes like traps and teeth as white as cowries"; "O Wuro Lojo," a song about the value of hard work (" The morning of a person's life is like the foundation of a house--lay it on rock, not on shifting sand"); and the 1963 song "Ka Sora," in which Dairo prophesied the Nigerian Civil War years before the outbreak of military hostilities. Mr. Dairo said that songs often came to him at night, in dreams, borne upon the wind and the wings of angels.
In 1963 Queen Elizabeth awarded Dairo the MBE (Member of the British Empire) for his contributions to the culture of the Commonwealth. He is the only African musician ever to recieve such an honor. In 1966 a music poll was held in Spear, a popular Nigerian magazine, and I. K. Dairo won handily. The readers' responses convey some sense of his enormous appeal: "Sensible hedonist. . Dairo's consistent drumming, sedulouslity, impartiality and unservitudeness make him the Shakespeare of Music. An earthly god of music!"; "His music contains a lot of the up and down of his world. It teaches us knowledge, moral spirits and other things." "His is music without tears."
Chief Dairo was well respected by his peers and fans throughout Nigeria. In January 1991 over 2,000 people turned out to celebrate Dairo's 60th Birthday and his "official retirment" from music. Among the crowd were all of Nigeria's top musicians civic and business leaders. Less than a month later he recieved an invitation to come on tour of North America and so posponed his retirement to take the Blue Spots on the first of three North American tours.
In the 1970s and 80s, Mr. Dairo continued to develop his cosmopolitan-traditionalist approach to juju music, touring England, Germany, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Russia, Japan, and North America. He worked for the welfare of musicians, helping to found the Musical Copyright Society of Nigeria (MCSN) and serving as President of the Nigerian chapter of the Performing Rights Society (PRS). The leader of a burgeoning syncretic Christian movement in Lagos, he was subject of several published biographies. Mr . Dairo's final professional position was as a member of the Ethnomusicology faculty at the University of Washington (Seattle) in 1994-95.
At the time of his death Dairo and the Blue Spots were working on material for a new album. Using material he composed during his stay in the U.S., Dairo was ecstatic about recording this new material influenced by contact with musicians from all over the world. Unfortunately, that record was never to be.
Isaiah Kehinde (I. K.) Dairo, MBE, the Nigerian musician and religious leader, died Thursday (February 7, 1996) in Efon-Alaiye, near Akure, Nigeria. He was 65.
This article was written by Andy Frankel and is republished here with his permission. Copyright 1996 Andrew M. Frankel (Graviton). RootsWorld thanks him for this contribution.
Photo courtesy of Rakumi Records/Music of the World
I.K. Dairo on CD
Other places of Interest