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.
He is survived by his brothers Michael, Sunday and Sola and a large extended family, including three wives and 24 children.
Another Tribute by:
|Andrew C. Frankel|
Saiah Kehinde (I. K.) Dairo, MBE, the Nigerian musician and religious
leader, died Thursday (February 7) in Efon-Alaiye, near Akure, Nigeria. He
The cause of death was renal failure and complications from diabetes.
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 fo rmed 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
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.
A recording entitled “Definitive Dairo” containing 10 songs recorded at
Decca in London in 1971 at the height of his career, but never released,
is scheduled for release later in 1996 on the Green Linnet/Xenophile
He is survived by his brothers Michael, Sunday, and Sola, a large extended
family, including three wives and twenty-four children, and numerous
members of the Seraphim and Cherubim church on I. K. Dairo Street in
A Memorial endowment is being created in Dairo’s memory to support
promising young musicians in Nigeria. The fund will be administered by the
King Sunny Ade Foundation based in Lagos, Nigeria. Well wishers desiring
to contribute to the endowment may send checks in care of Rakumi Arts (a
Washington state non-profit). Please make any donations payable to Rakumi
Arts and in the memo box write I.K. Dairo endowment. Please mail donations
to Rakumi Arts Int. 3809 Wallingford Ave N. Seattle, WA 98103-8245 USA.
Condolences may also be sent through Rakumi Arts or directly to The Dairo
Family at No. 20 I.K. Dairo Street off Lawanson Bus Stop Surulere,
Laba Laba t’o dibo l’egun Aso re o ya.
Laba Laba t’o dibo l’egun Aso re o ya.