Article MT111 - from Musical Traditions No 1, Mid 1983

I K Dairo, MBE

a major African recording star


Whereas the last twenty years have seen a colossal amount of research carried out into all forms of black American traditional and popular music, the equivalent developments in Africa, often reflecting and drawing from these cultures, has largely been overlooked.  The music of Africa is as diverse and as complex as the continent itself.  In addition to the countless forms of native tribal music, many fascinating musicals hybrids have developed as a result of foreign influence - American, British, Latin, Arabic and Cuban amongst these.

The two most popular forms of West African popular music are currently High Life and Juju.  Broadly speaking, and I must stress this, High Life is essentially Ghanaian in origin, favouring driving brass sections while Nigerian Juju music is more reflective and heavily features the guitar.  An easy, though not entirely satisfactory, comparison would be between R&B/Soul (High Life) and Blues (Juju).

The development of Juju as a recognisable form also closely resembles that of the Blues from a rural background (the field holler and country dance tune) to a modern brash popular form (the music to be heard in a South Chicago bar).  Juju is based on the centuries old traditional music of the Yoruba - choral singing and complex percussion - and was brought from the Nigerian countryside to the towns of Lagos and Ibadan by migrant workers in the Twenties and Thirties.  Here the guitar lead was assimilated, often Western influenced, and, as cheap imports became available, progressively amplified.  As with the Blues, Juju is essentially dance music however the vocals are far less radical or rebellious, normally extolling the virtues of traditional Yoruba values and achievements.

Although not the founder of Juju, I K Dairo MBE was an important and influential exponent of the music and a top selling African recording artist of the sixties.  This article is a portion of a slim volume 'Songs of I K Dairo MBE' delightfully written by Benson Corporo Okagbare, printed by the Nigerian National Press and published in 1969.

Isaiah Kehinde Dairo, a humble, gentle and a very polite man who today is and who forever may be holding the hegemony of the Juju empire was born in 1930 at Offa in Northern Nigeria.  This genius who brought Yoruba's indigenous Juju to nation-wide recognition attended the CMS School at Offa for only two years after which financial strains forced him out.  In company of his retiring father who served the Nigerian Railway Corporation as a carpenter for many years, he left Offa for Ijebu-Ijesha - his hometown.  The year was 1937.

Shortly before they were to leave Offa something remarkable happened: the father drawing on his carpentry skill made a drum for young Dairo.  Little could it be guessed that such a gift summarised his whole mission on earth.  Isaiah was so fond of this drum that he would not part with it - early in the morning, at meal time, going to fetch water or doing any other thing his drum was beside him.

At Ijebu-Ijesha, he became a barber after some months of training.  When he was not busy at barbing, he was on his drum so much that his father was alarmed.  At evenings he would go and watch his predecessors of Juju music at play.  These were Orioke, Oladele Oro and Mike - all of whom were then based at Ijebu-Ijesha.  From the knowledge I K gained from his father as a carpenter, he made drum after drum for himself.  Not long after, he succeeded in gathering some boys to make up a band.  One Taiye Igese was the captain.  This was in 1942.  The band soon broke up .

Dairo who afterwards was to become the most popular of Nigerian musicians, went to Ede as an Osomalo - a pedestrian cloth seller from one locality to the other.  He did this for four years after which he became a road worker for six months.  When he saw that pays were not regular, he became a labourer clearing cocoa farms at Oko Apara near Oshogbo.  At Oshogbo I K heard rumours about the construction of the Queen's College, Ede and of the Ede Water Supply Scheme.  Soon after, he was at Ede working in these undertakings under Cappa and D'alberto.  Wages then ranged from l/9d to 2s daily.  Kehinde made a little of savings at Ede and with this he came to Ibadan.  At Ibadan, he again worked with Cappa and D'alberto who were then busy on the University of Ibadan.  This was the place where I K experienced the greatest hardship.  He carried blocks upon blocks on his bare head so much that these shove a ring on this head.  He was, however, relieved of this heavy labour when he was made a carpenter.  Pays there were within the range of l/9d and 2/3d daily.  I K indeed did much of labourer work to earn a living: to free himself from the fetters of inherited poverty.  What an encouragement to some of us!  If Isaiah had not inherited wealth, and if he had none thrown to him, he was bent on achieving one.  And this he has done.

Kehinde did not at any time leave his drum behind.  At day, he did his manual labour; at night he played with Ojoge Daniel - a Juju musician based at Ibadan.  Ojoge soon stopped him and I K sought fresh avenues.  Jobless he roamed for some time until advised by one Enoch to work with Hausa labourers in producing gravels for road.  In those days labourer work was much valued and before one was taken he must have, at least, seen the foreman - to offer some sort of bribe.  This was probably the only certificate required for entry.

Having wandered so long, I K felt homesick.  Twelve years had elapsed since he left home and he had yet nothing.  So with only a sixpence a guitar and carpentry tools, he reached his place of birth.  With nothing but confidence, he formed his first band.  The year: 1957.  They were all ten.  The band went by the name Morning Star Orchestra.  They were invited to marriage ceremonies, burials, etc.  to play.  Fame attended this group and in 1961 they were to compete with some other Juju bands at the WNBS/TV.  I K won of the 16 artistes invited.  The new name of Blue Spot is also traceable to this time.  Of the many that I K could remember connected with this name are one European 'Black Lench', MacGregor, Adebo, Olu Falomo and Kunle Olasope.  I K thanks all of them.

I K has played in various foreign countries.  He has played in England and he represented Nigeria at the Negro Arts Festival held in Dakar in 1965.

I K Dairo was the first African Musician to be honoured with the title of Member of the British Empire (MBE).  He has won this owing to his originality and the improvement he gave to the Juju Music - an improvement, an innovation, which can hardly be forestalled by any living artiste.  He introduced the talking drum into Juju, he introduced the accordion and made the guitar an essential part in Juju music.  The father of Juju is as old as the Yoruba race but the father of modern juju is I K Dairo.  This is particularly seen in the number of Juju musicians that have sprung up following closely the footprints of I K Dairo.  Some, which are also admirable, have been striving to reach I K Dairo's record.  In this bid they have not only imitated I K's brand of music, they have gone the whole length to copying his exact words and ideas.  They add slight changes to effect disguise.

The ship of the Blue Spot hit a huge cataract on the 23rd day of February, 1968 after a long laborious journey for eleven years.  The nine people with whom I K Dairo started in 1957 left on this date.  The nine could not advance any reason why they decided to leave.  On their departure, I K gave to them the van they were formerly using, and also placed at their disposal all the playing instruments which he bought for them.  The nine have long formed a band that operates here in Lagos.  I K has since made up a new Band which is indeed superior to the former.  His later songs Ekun Rere and Baba Nigbati nba sako lo state this vividly.

The Yorubas are famous for their enjoyment of life.  They therefore have a variety of music: they have the Juju, the Sakara, Bembe, Were, Pankeke, the Apala and many others.  Each of these has its origin from one or a combination of the dialects.  Juju comes from Ondo Province, Ijebu is very much associated with Apala and Sakara Pankeke is famous in and around Ilorin, etc.  The Juju through I K Dairo has been the only one which has won not only national attention, but also international recognition.  Haruna Ishola has put the Apala on a line of fame too.  It is currently attracting audience from non-Yorubas.  He is particularly famous in Dahomey where the Ajase people prefer his records in their radio request programmes .

I K has a character trait which is peculiar to him; he does not like to be interrupted when he talks and if you interrupt he will go on talking without a break in the line of thought .  This peculiar character trait is much to his advantage.  In any hotel, whenever he is playing and Bacchus is at work, people go very close to him. Some even go to the extent of entering on the stage to talk to him. All these do not disturb I K.  In certain cases when the crowd - particularly girls, in miniskirts crowd on him while playing, he will close his eyes to avoid distraction; he prefers the audience far from the playing stage.  I K is one of the greatest admirers of beauty; he has a great likeness for girls but he loves them and admires them as he would his sisters.  This is another candle placed on a candlestick.  I believe others will see light.

"The girls I sing of are not my girlfriends or lovers.  In certain cases I pick up certain names and sing of them.  Most of the characters are fictitious I am currently composing a song on Sunbo - I know nobody of such a name.  I sing of girls and of 'love' because these are, in face essential factors in our lives.  They are necessary compliments to whatever we are 'Love' is indeed one of the essential ingredients of music and love songs are most appealing to all and sundry.  I therefore sing them merely to give satisfaction to the people whom I am happy to see satisfied.  I have carefully avoided flooding the market with such songs as they are most likely to encourage immorality".  I K then concluded that if a musician was to retain his glory long he must abstain.

I K is a Christian and he belongs to the Aladura sect (Seraphim and Cherubim).  He and his family have chosen to serve the Lord.  All along with his music, I K Dairo observes his religious duties.  Some of his songs are religious some are taken from song books and are adapted to the rhythm of the juju music.  The tone and the language of the psalmist are detectable in some of his songs.  He is a preacher and a reformer through the medium of record.

One of the reasons why I K s records sell like hot cakes is that they are full of prayer and good counsel.  Any sane man will prefer good statements of prayer and advice to those of meaningless collection of sound - or less so, of curse, abuse, sorrow or regrets.

It is necessary at this point to state that most of I K's 80 songs are in two or three parts.  Sometimes these parts are related sometimes they are not.  Any listener to a record of I K will note that beats change after certain intervals.  When these happen it is usually another song within the same record.  This is a good device for eliminating monotony from his songs.  This system is being employed by all musicians irrespective of brand.  It is the same thing outside the Yoruba World.  English songs are not like this.  For a record there is only a theme.  Monotony is broken by instrumental interludes and the song resumed - it is never another song as in the case of Nigerian songs.

I K is no factionist.  He is not politically inclined.  He sings of people in different parties.  He sings of Kola Balogun, of Chief Awolow, of Late Major-General Ironsi and of Major General Gowon.  He is more of an objective commentator on current Nigerian Affairs.  He is no tribalist nor a stooge of any power.  His songs in Urhobo, Hausa, Edo, Akan and in some other languages are living witnesses to this.  I K sticks tenaciously to conviction.

He is a true embodiment of public opinion.

Benson Corporo Okagbare

Article MT111

I K Dairo still lives in Lagos in the street named after him but has not benefited significantly from the popular music industry's current infatuation with African Rhythms which has seen other Nigerians such as King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey and Prince Nico become international stars.  I K Dairo did however feature in Jeremy Marre's TV film Kon Kombe of Nigerian music.  It is hoped that this film will be shown again later this year on Channel Four - if so do not miss it as it is one of the finest films ever made on traditional music.  It is also anticipated that further, more recent, information on this fascinating artist will appear in a future issue of Musical Traditions.

Top of page Articles Home Page Reviews News Editorial Map

Site designed and maintained by Musical Traditions Web Services  Updated: 1.10.02