The First Time I heard IK Dairo’s Juju was in Lagos Traffic. This was sometime in 1997, a year after his untimely demise.
My mother and I had happened upon an elderly gentleman peddling bootleg cassettes in a Lagos traffic. The gentleman assured my mother that it was a fine selection. I remember his words all spelt out in eloquent Yoruba except the English word, selection. I forked out money from my mother’s bag and paid the gentleman, ever the dutiful co-driver. I inserted the cassette into the car stereo that was going to last less than two months in our care.
The music blared out, but not before some shuffling static. The music was old without being ornate. I remembered I was shocked at the quality of the sound, devastated about how it was nothing like what I expected. They said IK Dairo was a Juju musician, so why was he sounding nothing like King Sunny Ade. This was a few years before Paul Play delivered an updated version of his father’s masterful song.
Fast forward to 2017 and I am a collector of those old sounds I once couldn’t bring myself to admire.
My 20-year journey to this form of ethnomusicology or sonic archaeology is not important. What is interesting is where I get these sounds from; definitely not from elderly bootleggers pawning sounds in traffic. I visit the internet, precisely the blog of a presumed gentleman in Netherlands who is miffed that Juju musicians “present themselves as some sort of home-made priests.”
Cue in Isaiah Kehinde Dairo, a doyen in the Mose-Orimolade led syncretic Cherubim and Seraphim Christian faith. He was famously called Baba Aladura in his lifetime.
There is a documentary on YouTube where he was interviewed in his own church. Baba Aladura, who hailed from Ijeshaland, began his career as an itinerant cloth-seller (oshomalo) but the love of music soon turned him in the direction of Juju music apprenticeship under the watch of Ojoge Daniel.
IK Dairo is often credited for his role in modernising juju music and for obvious reasons. It was under his watch that the accordion sneaked into the ensemble. The falsetto vocalist could play the guitar, talking drum as well as the accordion. What he did with the accordion was to add a rueful wail to Juju music, little wonder he was King Sunny Ade’s first Juju hero.
His 1968 LP album released under Decca Records is pretty much his most robust outing, with the benefit of hindsight. The cover art reveals a small-statured Dairo sitting elegantly with musical equipment like the talking drum, the mother drum, guitars, etc.
Listening to this album which begins with instructions to a taxi-driver to take you to your lover’s address, one is taken by the range that Dairo brought to the music. Juju music became a motley of lived experiences under Dairo’s watch. The seamless way he transitions from divine praise giving to praise-singing, switching from the statutory Oyo Yoruba to Ijesha dialect to Twi to Itsekiri maps the fluency of a man whose earlier career as a travel salesman enhanced his later calling.
The harmonies of the Blue Spot members did justice to a number of Christian hymns rendered in Yoruba and the fluid musical turns of phrase that eased into more complex rhythms of praise singing is what has ensured that his music remains timeless.
What history remembers of IK Dairo is about his decade-long reign as the King of Juju Music in the 60s while his descendants, Sunny Ade and Ebenezer Obey equipped themselves, to take over from him in the 70s, and this is not enough!