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.
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)