Category Archives: Artist Profiles

Artist Profiles: I. K. Dairo

I. K. Dairo

For many years, I.K. Dairo was an influential Juju musician and made a lasting impression on musicians in Nigeria and other parts of Africa.

The son of an itinerant carpenter, Isaiah Kehinde Dairo was born on January 6th, 1931 in Kwara State, Nigeria. The death of his twin brother Taiwo, according to Dairo, was caused by his mother’s refusal to heed the oracle’s revelation that the twins wished her to take them along the street with song and dance (a Yoruba tradition for the birth of twins).

Because his father did not believe much in formal education, Isaiah Kehinde attended school for only three years. When his father left his carpentry job with the Nigerian National Railway in 1937, he took all of his 12 children back to his farm in the Ijebu-Ijesa area of Oyo state. Shortly before they left, the father, drawing on his carpentry skills, made a drum for his son. I.K. was so fond of his drum that he wouldn’t part with it. Whether at mealtime, while going to fetch water or any other activity, his drum was always with him.

As a youth, I.K. apprenticed and trained as a barber, but used all of his free time to play drums. He spent evenings watching his predecessors of Juju music (Orioke, Oladele Oro and others) in action. Using knowledge he gained from his father, I.K. began to make his own drums. Not long after (in 1946) he gathered up enough young friends to form his first band. For the next fifteen years I.K. sojourned through many professions including cloth peddler, road worker, cocoa farm laborer, construction worker (carrying cinder blocks on his head) and even a carpenter. I.K., however, never left his drum far behind. During the day he labored, and at night he played with early Juju masters like Ojoge Daniel based at Ibadan.

Weary of all his wandering, financial success having eluded him, I.K. returned home in 1954 with only a sixpence, a guitar and his carpentry tools. In 1954, with no more than sheer confidence, I.K. formed the ten member Morning Star Orchestra. I.K. Dairo and the Morning Star Orchestra began to play at the usual range of available venues, weddings, naming ceremonies, burials and so forth, and their reputation grew. In 1961 they were invited to compete with 15 other Juju bands at a WNBS/TV contest. I.K. Dairo and the Morning Star Orchestra took first place and so began their rise to international fame. It was during this period that the name was changed from Morning Star Orchestra to I.K. Dairo and his Blue Spot Band.

When Nigeria became a republic in 1963, I.K. Dairo became a knight of Imperial Britain. Queen Elizabeth, on her tour of Nigeria bestowed upon him the title Member of the British Empire (M.B.E.) and he became the first African musician to receive such an honor.

I.K.’s star continued to shine as that decade brought him success after success. The band traveled all over the world, representing Nigeria in the Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar in 1965 (where I.K. and the Blue Spots stole the show from O.K. Jazz), and in the World Music Festival in Tokyo in 1972. They performed widely in Europe and recorded in London where I.K. dazzled the studio engineers at Decca Records by recording two full LPs and two singles in one day (DWAPS #33 &34).

In 1958 I.K. amicably parted ways with the original Blue Spots (who went on to form their own group) and gathered up a new band, even sharper than the original Blue Spots. It was during this era (1957-75) that I.K. Dairo had an immeasurable influence on Juju music and the Nigerian music industry. He introduced numerous instruments to Juju music, including “talking drum” and accordion and he made guitar its staple instrument. He pioneered the use of the “hook” (short memorable refrains) in his songs as well as singing in regional dialects. his clarion voice and a knack for eloquent lyrics, coupled with his deep involvement in the church earned him the title Baba Aladura (Father of Blessings).

In 1975 his career took a sudden downturn. In his own works, “Record dealers who used to sleep at my doorstep refused to sell my records. I built two hotels. One at Ondo (town) was called Parkland Hotel…If I walked into the hotel and noticed that there were many people around, I might decide to play for them. But once I’d pick up the guitar, they’d all leave in anger. If (Ebenezer) Obey, Sunny (Ade) or any other artist come, the whole place would be filled up. So I just stopped playing” A deeply religious man, I.K. Dairo increasingly devoted his time to the Cherubim and Seraphim church movement in which he was already a prominent figure. He preached regularly in the church built at his primary residence on Kehinde Dairo street, one of several streets named after him in Lagos, and integrated Juju music into his services. When the Lord revealed to him that his hotels and nightclubs were dens for thieves and prostitution he closed them down (including Kakadu nightclub, one of Lagos best known hot spots). After a stormy decade of preaching and several unsuccessful forays into the business world, I.K. Dairo MBE came back to what he knew best, music.

I. K. Dairo, died February 7, 1996 in Efon-Alaiye, near Akure, Nigeria. He was 65.

Discography:

I Remember My Darling (Berachah Music, 1980)
Mo Fara Mi Fun O (Berachah Music, 1980)
Ere Omo Moji F’owuromi Sa (Berachah Music, 1980)
Juju Master (Original Music, 1990)
I Remember (Music of the World, 1991)
Ashiko (Xenophile Music, 1992)
Definitive Dairo (Xenophile Music, 1996)

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Artist Profiles: I.M. Harjito

I.M. Harjito

I.M. Harjito, the Gamelan Kusuma Laras (“Flowering Harmony”) artistic director, is one of the finest Javanese musicians practicing today. He is a graduate of Indonesia’s state conservatory for the traditional performing arts, where he worked closely with one of the major figures of 20th-century Javanese music, R. Ng. Martopangrawit.

Harjito has directed gamelan ensembles in Indonesia, the United States, Canada, and Australia. He is also a composer of traditional and innovative works for gamelan and other instruments.

For the past three decades he has been a faculty member at Wesleyan University. Although he is a master of all the Javanese gamelan instruments, he is most famous for his superb rebab and gendèr playing.

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Artist Profiles: Midiyanto

Midiyanto

Midiyanto is a musician and puppet master (dhalang) from Wonogiri, Central Java, coming from a family of artists. Over the last 30 years he has taught and performed extensively in Java, the US, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada, including 10 years in Portland as the gamelan director at Lewis & Clark College.

He directed the gamelan on the Shadow Music of Java CD, recorded at the Smithsonian, and has been featured in several documentaries. He has taught and directed gamelan at UC Berkeley since 2004, after an earlier stint there from 1988 to 1992.

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Artist Profiles: Heni Savitri

Heni Savitri

Heni Savitri began to study sindhènan (Javanese singing with gamelan) in 2002. In 2003, she won the competition for best singer in her native district of Wonogiri, Central Java. She entered the Performing Arts Conservatory in Surakarta in 2004, and began representing the institution in competitions the following year as well as performing in shadow plays.

Upon enrolling in Indonesia’s state conservatory for the traditional performing arts in Surakarta, she was selected as the singer for many recordings of new faculty compositions and traditional works, representing the academy in the 2008 international vocal competition in Jakarta.

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Artist Profiles: Lagbaja

Lagbaja

Lagbaja is widely considered to be one of Africa’s most exciting and interesting contemporary artists. Combining sophisticated compositions with a dynamic stage show and enigmatic personality, he was a popular in Nigeria, in constant demand for live performance and ubiquitous on the airwaves. His monthly shows at his own Motherlan’ Niteclub, in the heart of Ikeja – the capital of Lagos state, sold-out well in advance.

Lagbaja – which in the Yoruba language has a simultaneous multiple-translation meaning of “somebody”, “nobody”, “anybody” and “everybody” – has always performed masked. On one level, by never revealing his human identity, Lagbaja represents the common man and the faceless voice of the masses. On yet another level, his elaborate masks and stage costumes link him to the ancient tradition of Egungun: Africa’s ancestral masqueraded spirits, who come out in times of crisis helping to guide the people towards truth and resolution.

Musically speaking, Lagbaja’s sound is unique, incorporating a range of influences from Afrobeat to Highlife, Juju, Pop, Funk and Hip-Hop. Generally his music is identified under the umbrella of Afrobeat, which is one of his major influences. Incorporating contemporary elements such as horns, guitars and keyboards alongside the most traditional of Nigerian instruments (such as Bata and Dundun drums), Lagbaja?’s music spans the generations of African expression.

He has a U.S. CD, We Before Me, on the IndigeDisc/Ryko label.

Discography:

Ikira (1993)
Lagbaja (1993)
C’est Un African Thing ‎(Motherlan’ Music, 1986)
Me (2000)
We ‎(Motherlan’ Music, 2000)
We and Me Part II (2000)
Abami – A Tribute To Fela ‎(Motherlan’ Music, 2000)
Africano ….. the mother of groove ‎(Motherlan’ Music, 2005)
Paradise (2009)
Sharp Sharp (2009)
200 Million Mumu – The Bitter Truth (2012)

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Artist Profiles: Seun Kuti

Seun Kuti

Aftobeat saxophonist and vocalist Seun Anikulapo Kuti has kept the grace, energy and strength of his father Fela Kuti. With Egypt 80’s musicians, Fela’s legendary group, Seun plays live again the most original incarnation of Afrobeat: using the phrases, the solid brass section, the incomparable groove of African percussion and voices.

With an astonishing maturity, Seun leads with tremendous energy his band on stage, playing his father’s repertory as well as his own compositions.

Discography:

Think Africa (2007)
Seun Kuti and Fela’s Egypt 80 (Tôt ou Tard, 2008)
From Africa With Fury: Rise (Knitting Factory Records/Because Music, 2011)
A Long Way To the Beginning (Knitting Factory Records, 2014)
Struggle Sounds, EP (Sony Masterworks, 2016)
Black Times (Strut Records, 2018)

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Artist Profiles: Majek Fashek

Majek Fashek

African reggae star Majek Fashek has been called a prophet and a poet, and is recognized as one of Nigeria’s greatest singers and musicians. His powerful world beat sound incorporates his core influences (Bob Marley, Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Jimi Hendrix), seamlessly meshing roots, rock, reggae and Afrobeat into a unique signature sound called kpangolo. Majek describes it as “the sound of many cultures coming together.”

Majek Fashek has always sung from the soul about the political and social struggles he has faced in his long and winding road from Nigeria to the U.S. He first attracted international attention in 1987 when his song, “Send Down The Rain” seemed to coax a rainstorm that ended one of the worst droughts in Nigeria’ s history. Performing at an outdoor theater, he saw the thirsty crowd yearning for just a few drops of water. No one could imagine the possibility of a downpour, but as Majek sang the lyric “the sky looks misty and cloudy; it looks like the rain’s gonna fall today,” clouds gathered in the sky, thunder cracked and rain soaked the barren ground. Since that momentous occasion, Fashek has become one of Africa’s most revered contemporary musical performers, rivaling Afro-reggae compatriots Alpha Blondy and Lucky Dube in recognition and popularity around the world.

While he developed an early interest in Jamaican riddims, Fashek was equally drawn to the music of Indian cinema. Learning to play guitar while in secondary school, Fashek joined a band called Jah Stix and, after graduating from the New Era College’s Arts Program, he began playing in Lagos nightclubs, universities and even prisons. Fashek enjoyed a close relationship with the legendary late Nigerian musician and bandleader Fela Kuti, (he includes a Fela composition “Water No Get Enemy” on his new release Little Patience). “He’s like my big brother,” Majek has said and like Fela, he not only delivers hard-hitting rhythms, but also a forceful criticism of social and political issues.

Discography:

Prisoner Of Conscience (Tabansi/Mango, 1987)
I & I Experience ‎(CBS, 1989)
Spirit Of Love (Interscope Records, 1991)
So Long Too Long ‎(Sony Music, 1991)
Rainmaker ‎(Lightyear Entertainment, 1997)
Little Patience ‎(November Records/33rd Street, 2005)

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Artist Profiles: Sola Akingbola

Sola Akingbola

Musician and actor Sola Akingbola has spent most of his life in London, UK, but his roots are in Oregun, Nigeria, where he was born to Yoruba parents. Describing his relationship to Nigeria as a musical odyssey in which he finds his way home via exploration of the unique melodies, rhythmic structures and philosophical poetry of the Yoruba people. Sola reveals his passion for the language of music: “I was always seduced by the sound of the Yoruba language and the way it was expressed within the drumming. When a Yoruba drummer plays, it’s not just music: he’s talking, reciting, teasing, invoking and praising. These qualities open up other worlds of interest for me that go beyond music; worlds that lead me to history, to the essence of my people. ”

Inspired early on by Afro-fusion bands like Fela Kuti and Manu Dibango, Sola’s first journey into Yoruba music was playing percussion and then kit-drum for fellow Nigerian percussionist Gasper Lawal of the Oro Band, who was also based in the UK: “Gasper opened my ears and eyes to a rhythmic perspective that I always felt, but due to a lack of knowledge and technique was unable to realize. The first music I heard was Yoruba. It was inside the language I heard my parents speaking and pulsing through the drumming I soaked up as a child, listening to my dad’s favorite Yoruba artists: King Sunny Ade, Ebenezer Obey, Ayinia Kollington, Yusuf Olatunji and Haruna Isola.”

Entering the jazz scene in the early 90s with the Ronny Jordan band and then finding his feet for the last decade in the jazz-funk of Jamiroquai, Sola has toured the world and played innumerable major international venues.

His 2007 solo CD, Routes To Roots: Yoruba Drums From Nigeria, took Sola way back to his roots exploring the unique melodies, rhythmic structures and philosophical poetry of the Yoruba people.

Discography:

Routes To Roots – Yoruba Drums From Nigeria ‎(ARC Music, 2007)
Nigerian Beats: Rhythm and Rhyme (ARC Music, 2007)

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Artist Profiles: Åse Teigland

Åse Teigland

Åse Teigland was born in 1975. She comes from Utne in Hardanger. She is one of Norway’s talented ardanger fiddle players, and plays with authentic feeling and elegance.

Åse Teigland studied with several well-known fiddlers, including Knut Hamre, Stein Versto and Leif Rygg. She studied at the Folkemusikakademiet in Rauland (1994-96), Bergen University College and the Ole Bull Academy at Voss (1998-2000).

She has collaborated with Knut Hamre, Frank Rolland, Synnøve S. Bjørset, Anne Hytta, and Alexander Aga Røynstrand.

Åse Teigland’s repertoire consists primarily of traditional songs and tunes from Hardanger and Voss.

Discography:

Dansarsteinen ‎(NORCD, 1998)
Håstabøslåttar ‎(Heilo, 1999)
Stille ‎(NORCD, 2008)
Soli ‎(ta:lik, 2010)
Granvin – Spelarhola ‎(ta:lik, 2014)

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Artist Profiles: Frode Haltli

Frode Haltli – Photo by Rolf Schoellkopf

Accordion virtuoso Frode Haltli has received several awards, including a Norwegian Spellemann Prize in 2002, and was named Young Soloist of the Year by the Norwegian Concert Institute in 2001.

Haltli was was a member of Rusk and contributed to a long line of productions, including recordings for the prestigious German label ECM.

Since 1999 he has performed and recorded regularly with Scandinavian trio POING.

Frode Haltli – Photo by Knut Bry

Discography:

Looking on Darkness, with the Vertavo String Quartet (ECM, 2002)
Rusk (Heilo/Grappa, 2002)
Rusk II (Heilo/Grappa, 2006)
Passing images (ECM, 2007)
Yeraz, with Trygve Seim (ECM, 2008)
Arne Nordheim Complete Accordion Works (Simax Classics, 2012)
Vagabonde Blu (Hubro/Grappa, 2014)
Air, with the Trondheim Soloists and the Arditti Quartet (ECM, 2016)
Rumi Songs, with Trygve Seim (ECM, 2016)
StaiStua, with Ulvo and Hole (NorCD, 2016)
Avant Folk (Hubro/Grappa, 2018)

With POING

Giants of Jazz (LLRR, 2003)
Planet POING (Jazzaway, 2005)
River Mouth Echoes (Tzadik, 2008)
Wach auf! (Øra Fonogram, 2011)
Sur POING (Aurora, 2016)
Kapital & Moral (Grappa, 2016)

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