Tag Archives: Nigeria

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: 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: Baba Olajagun

Baba Olajagun

Born in Oka-Akoko in Ekiti State of Nigeria, Baba Olajagun (vocals, talking drum) is a pillar of New York’s Nigerian community. A highly esteemed master drummer, teacher and ceremonial performer, Jagun first came to the U.S. as a member of Fela Anikulapo Kuti’s Egypt 80 band.

Residing in New York City since the early 1990s, Baba Jagun has focused his efforts on keeping the traditional rhythms of his homeland present and accounted for. The 2003 release of the groundbreaking dance remix “Odo Oya” on Spiritual Life Records put Olajagun on the map as a recording artist in his own right.

Jagun’s own orchestra, Ancestral Rhythms, features some of the most skilled and exciting percussionists currently based in New York City: Kunle Ade (conga, jembe); Baba Azizi (conga, djembe); Foly Kolade (conga); Segun Ajaye (conga, djembe); Arthemio (conga); Tunji (sakara); Oscar Debe and Jojo Kuo (trap drums), and Judith Rahilly (backing vocals).

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Artist Profiles: Baba Ken Okulolo

Babá Ken Okulolo

Nigerian master musician Baba Ken Okulolo has roots that extend deep into traditional village life and folk music. Better known as the bandleader whose warm, smiling personality enlivens the popular Afro-beat band Kotoja and the all-star West African Highlife Band, Okulolo was first seen in the U.S. as bassist with King Sunny Ade’s world tours, and he continued to appear on Ade’s recordings. Five times, the Nigerian Journalists’ Association has voted him the country’s top bassist.

In addition to his vast body of Nigerian studio and production dates, he is known for his early work with highlife master Dr. Victor Olaiya, Steve Rhodes’ African Voices, and the seminal Afro-rock group, Monomono.

Okulolo was born into the Urhobo ethnic group, to a family of traditional dancers and musicians. In the tiny fishing village of Aladja, surrounded by deep forests and lagoons traveled by dugout canoes, he was exposed to the traditional stories, rhythms and songs of his people.

As a student in the city of Warri, Okulolo was exposed to the historic touring highlife bands of the era. On short-wave radio, he listened avidly to jazz, Afro-Cuban, rhythm and blues, and Congolese music.

Inspired, he took up the bass guitar and began sitting in with bands coming through town, and was soon touring regionally with the highlife band Harmony Searchers, until a talent scout for the great bandleader Dr.Victor Olaiya recruited the young bassist with the ‘roots’ feel to leave his homeland and head for the giant city of Lagos.

In a few years, restless to explore the modern potential of African music, he joined vocalist Joni Haastrup to form the seminal and legendary Afro-rock band, Monomono. By the early 70’s, they were at the top of the charts and touring West Africa with the albums Give a Beggar a Chance and Dawn of Awareness (EMI), fusing African roots music with rock, soul, and funk.

Okulolo became a mainstay on the Nigerian music scene, touring Europe with various groups, producing and performing on countless recordings, including his own hit album, Talking Bass (EMI), and leading his band, Positive Vibrations.

After moving to the U.S., he assembled a formidable band with top Nigerian and American musicians to create the modern Afro-beat band Kotoja. Featuring Ken’s vocals and original tunes, Kotoja blends jazz, funk, highlife, Afro-beat, and juju into exciting, animated shows. Comprised of a heady mix of top Nigerian and American musicians, Kotoja, led by Nigerian bassist/vocalist. Baba Ken Okulolo, has excited audiences around the U.S. with their infectious mix of African highlife, juju, funk, and jazzy horns.

Okulolo also leads the West African Highlife Band, joined by other distinguished West African music veterans to revive the great hits of the highlife music era. Their hot, dance-inspiring music is available on the CD, Salute to Highlife Pioneers (Inner Spirit/Stern’s).

Separately, to satisfy the demand for traditional African music in an acoustic format, Okulolo started The Nigerian Brothers. They recreate the sweet, lilting sounds of their earliest village memories, bringing folk, “palmwine,” and highlife songs to life with their harmonious voices, acoustic guitars, and hand percussion. This gentle but rhythmic music has been a special treat at museums and folk music festivals for those who love authentic African music.

Today, he lives in Oakland, California, with his family. Says Okulolo, “I see the world today as one family, as one village. We all have the same needs and wants. Peace, love, and understanding will help solve the world’s problems, and that’s what we are trying to spread to all people with our music.”

Discography:

Ken Okulolo “Talkin’ Bass Experience” (EMI Nigeria, 1976)
Babá Ken and Kotoja “Freedom Is What Every Body Needs” (Inner Spirit Records, 1990)
Kotoja “Sawale” (Mesa/Blue Moon Recordings, 1992)
Kotoja “Super Sawale” (Putumayo World Music, 1994)
West African Highlife Band Salute To Highlife Pioneers” (Inner Spirit Recordings, 1998)
Babá Ken Okulolo & The Nigerian Brothers “Songs From The Village” (Inner Spirit Recordings, 2001)
Babá Ken Okulolo and the Afro Groove Connexion “Deep Down Beat” (Inner Spirit Recordings, 2008)
Babá Ken Okulolo “We Are All From Africa” (Inner Spirit Recordings, 2009)
Babá Ken Okulolo “African Drum Songs” (Inner Spirit Recordings, 2012)

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Artist Profiles: Ayo Adeyemi

Ayo Adeyemi

Ayo Adeyemi was born in Nigeria where he was initiated as a babalawo in the indigenous Yoruba religion, Ifa. He has been drumming, singing and dancing since he was a child.

In the 1980s, Ayo, whose name means “happy,” moved to the United States, where he lived and toured with renowned Yoruba master drummer Babatunde Olatunji for eight years. Ayo has performed with The Grateful Dead, Mickey Hart, Keith Richards, Ginger Baker, Carlos Santana, and at the celebration of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison.

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Artist Profiles: Ayetoro

Ayetoro was formed in 1996 by Nigerian Composer and piano player Funsho Ogundipe. This band defines the sound of modern afrobeat.

Ogundipe is a jazz influenced musicians and his compositions and sounds have twice changed peoples perceptions of afrobeat in Nigeria. In 1996, his album Naija Blues was the first to experiment with Afro jazz and Hip hop when he featured Nigerian Film star and former rapper J T West on “J T’s Tale.”

Another defining moment was the critically acclaimed ‘Something Dey,’ a blues based afrobeat tune whose video -apart from being voted among the top 50 Nigerian videos in 1998- featured simple African backgrounds. It set a trend for outside shoots for Nigerian African flavored songs. The video, directed by Ogundipe himself, has clearly set the template for Ayetoro music and visual productions, one of understated posturing, offkey songs and allusive lyrics.

His love of poetry and prose comes out in the lyrics of the band’s single “Naija Blues Part 2,” from the 6000 Miles and a Minute album released in Nigeria in 2004 on his own Ebutte Metta record label. His interesting wordplay sets down visions of modern Nigeria, a place beset by its own challenges and inherent contradictions.

Ogundipe is also a jazz composer of some weight. His harmonies are modern and take afrobeat into uncharted areas. Melodic minor scales are featured on “Becklow Gardens,” a tune he wrote in honor of the block of flats he lived when in West London.

Ayetoro has been able to attract serious musicians in its two incarnations. There are presently two versions of the band. One in London the other in Lagos. Byron Wallen, the Belize / British born trumpet player and composer, is a collaborator in the London ensemble, alongside others like Nick Cohen (bass), Robert Fordjour (drums); while in Lagos, the Cameroonian guitar legend Oscar Ellimbi has played on every Ayetoro release except one.

Discography:

The Afrobeat Chronicles Vol. 1 (The Jazz Side Of Afrobeat) (2002)
6000 Miles and a Minute (2004)
The Afrobeat Chronicles Vol 2 (Flying Monkey Productions, 2006)
Asoju Oba (Flying Monkey Productions, 2014)
Irúnmolè (Funsho, 2016)
Ominira! (2017)

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Artist Profiles: Sikiru Adepoju

Sikiru Adepoju

Sikiru Adepoju was born November 10, 1950 in Nigeria. American percussionist Mickey Hart calls him “the Mozart of the talking drum.” Sikiru Adepoju first came to the focus of the American music scene through his involvement with the Grammy Award-winning Planet Drum project. His technical mastery of the talking drum and various indigenous percussion instruments (dundun, gudugudu, gome, omele, sekere, etc.) have gained acceptance and respect among music listeners of all tastes.

Born in Eruwa, Western Nigeria, Sikiru grew up in a “talking drum family” where he began his tutelage of the instrument at his father’s side (Chief Ayanleke Adepoju), at the age of six. He then went on to tour and record several albums with renowned Nigerian Juju artist Chief Ebenezer Obey and his Inter- Reformers Band. Obey, who called his personal style the miliki (enjoyment) sound, began where noted juju entertainer I.K. Diaro left off. Obey drew in such Western elements as multiple guitars and a Hawaiian steel guitar soloist, adding them to the traditional rhythmic foundation.

After he moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1985, Sikiru soon met world-renowned percussionist and leading African music artist Babatunde Olatunji. Shortly after meeting Olatunji, Sikiru joined his Drums of Passion ensemble and began a 17 year period with the group, recording and touring extensively throughout the world, until a year before Olatunji’s death in 2003.

While a member of Olatunji’s Drums of Passion, Sikiru recorded with Stevie Wonder and Carlos Santana, and performed with the Grateful Dead, where he met Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart. It was after meeting Hart that Sikiru also joined Hart’s Planet Drum ensemble. In 1991 the group’s debut release, Planet Drum, hit #1 on the Billboard World Music Chart, remaining there for 26 weeks, and went on to receive a Grammy Award for Best World Music Album. In 2002 Sikiru joined Mickey Hart’s Bembe Orisha (party to the spirits).

Adepoju formed various bands, including The Honeymakers, Afrika Heartbeat, Sikiru Adepoju & Heart Beat, and Limbo Rhythm Project.

Discography

The Apocalypse Now Sessions, with Rhythm Devils (Rykodisc, 1979)
Juju Jubilee, with Ebenezer Obey (1985)
Drums of Passion: The Invocation, with Babatunde Olatunji (1988)
Drums of Passion: The Beat, with Babatunde Olatunji (Rykodisc, 1989)
At the Edge, with Mickey Hart (Rykodisc, 1990)
Planet Drum, with Mickey Hart (Rykodisc, 1991)
Jungle Fever, with Stevie Wonder (1991)
Drums of Passion: Celebrate Freedom, Justice & Peace, with Babatunde Olatunji (1993)
Big Bang, percussion anthology with various artists (Ellipsis Arts, 1995)
Mickey Hart’s Mystery Box, with Mickey Hart (1996)
Watchfire, with Pete Sears & Friends (1996)
Supralingua, with Mickey Hart and Planet Drum (Rykodisc, 1998)
Honour Simplicity, Respect the Flow, with Kai Eckhardt (2000)
The Best of Mickey Hart: Over the Edge and Back, with Mickey Hart (2002)
Ijinle Ilu, with Afrika Heartbeat (2003)
Life After That, with Airto Moreira (2003)
Soup’s on Fire, with Jana Herzen (2003)
21 July 2004 San Francisco Ca: On The Road, with The String Cheese Incident (2004)
Circle of Drums, with Babatunde Olatunji (2005)
Ara Kenge, with Bola Abimbola (2005)
Global Drum Project, with Mickey Hart, Zakir Hussain, Giovanni Hidalgo (Shout! Factory, 2008)
The Rhythm Devils Concert Experience, with Rhythm Devils (2009)
Mysterium Tremendum, with Mickey Hart Band (2012)
Superorganism, with Mickey Hart Band (2013)
RAMU, with Mickey Hart (Verve, 2017)

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