The Life and Music of I. K. Dairo, Rex Jim Lawson and their protege, Wale Glorious and Orlando Owoh.
In my last article titled “How Competition and Role Modeling can change Nigeria” my preoccupation was mainly to showcase how competition and recognition or celebration of what is good in our country and beyond can be emulated for the good of our country and how it can also lead to a multiply effect that can positively change or galvanize our people to greater heights.
Today I am going a step further to focus my searchlight on two preeminent Nigerian Musical idols, and how their amazing sound and musical ingenuity have promoted national integration in much the same way like Soccer have become the central glue holding our fragile country together, if you really think about it. Those who label Nigerians among the happiest species in the world only need to see how the great majority of Nigerians, especially in the South, respond to music, and what is ably defined by King Sunny Ade in our own hip-hop culture as “ariya ko lopin” (celebration galore or euphoria without end).
Why for goodness sake, would any casual observer or visitor to our country or social gatherings or Churches not think we are some of the happiest people in this planet regardless of what we ourselves have come to know as the real state of our Nation? We are all just too good at feigning happiness and success, even when we are facing hard times in our private or public life. Most Nigerians, regardless of what pressures they are facing, would still manage to act and behave in certain situations as if we all live in some Eldorado or Utopia. You don’t have to say “Cheese” to have the average Nigerian give you a smile in photo opportunities in the Church or any social gathering. Even our newest Prince of the Catholic Church in Rome, Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie was candid enough to draw attention to how the kind of “ariya” that goes on in many of our Churches today in the name of God and Praise Worship, is clearly beyond the pale. I totally concur with the Cardinal. All is rationalized as joyful praise to God. “Mukulu muke ma jo for Olorun mi” Sunny Ade used to sing. Any wonder then to conclude that music and those who unleash it on our people have been a major factor in our togetherness or unity as a Nation.
I also might add that a huge part of our happy demeanor in public places, all comes from our music and culture, As a mark of respect and adulation, or make believe, our musicians especially in the South West in particular, and to a lesser degree in other parts of Nigeria, have eulogized us and pay us compliments that some of us just know we truly do not merit or deserve. The musicians do it for their financial gratification, and many of us oblige them, in large part, because we all need our ego to be massaged. We embrace those unearned and unmerited praises and adulation because we are human.
I am particularly interested in the multiply effect of our musicians’ effort as a group, and the useful lessons that can come from that that. I see I. K. Dairo and Jim Rex Lawson as the epitome of those virtues as two of our musical giants that have done our country proud with their incredible talents. They have shown the light to younger ones coming behind. The success of King Sunny Ade the current “Oluaiye” of Juju Music, and Commander Ebenezer Obe, the “Ajagunmole” of the finest composition in Yoruba Language you will ever know, can be traced to their inspiration from the older generation of musicians like Denge, Olatunji Yusuf, Tunde Nightingale, Haruna Ishola, Kasumu Adio and Suberu Oni, not to talk of “Ijesha Nimere”, Baba Aladura, I.K.Dairo himself whose music had gotten him the uncommon attention of Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second. it will be recalled that Her Majesty was pleased to honor I.K.D. with the insignia of an OBE, (Order of the British Empire) in recognition of Dairo’s amazing talent and contribution to our national unity.
For your information I. K. Dairo was a stark illiterate with a superb musical talent. He himself had acknowledged that in one of his Albums when he sang, “Won ni mi o m’owe o, oniwe mewa nse lebira ni Ikeja, won ni mi omo we o” meaning they all say I am an illiterate, and I accept that for a fact, but I also know that I am still far better that a School Certificate holder at Ikeja who is “suffering and smiling” as a Cloak room attendant”
When Dairo made that statement more than 20 years ago, one had thought it was hyperbolic and funny to say the least. But today I know Ph.D holders in our country not to talk of Masters and Bachelor’s Degree holders who would be more than happy to be a cloak room attendant at Ikeja,just to keep body and souls together now. On many occasions I. K. D. had turned out to be one of the greatest predictors of the future in our country, sometimes more accurate than the Prophet Olabayos of this World not to talk of T.M. Joshua who is reportedly able to, instantaneously, heal all your infirmities by merely looking at you or using some body language to expel out of your frail body, the diseases or evil spirit tormenting you. I.K.D was the very first Nigerian to correctly predict the Nigerian Civil war and the morass that we are all in, today in a country that was ordained by God to be one flowing with milk and honey due to our God given natural resources and manpower which are simply limitless, if you are paying as much attention as I do to Nigeria’s potential. I. K. D. had sang “Gbim, Gbim, langbo, a o mo bi ibon ti ndun, K’olori d’ori re mu o, ka biye s’ara, oran Nigeria yi o, ko ma ba d’ogun” The Biafran war was still several years away when I.K.D had waxed that masterpiece. He, intuitively knew what the great majority of us could not immediately fathom, that the war was coming, and it, surely, came to pass with clock-like precision.
That uncanny talent to predict or prophesy is not what I am about in this article. What I am targeting is how I.K.D had used that tremendous talent to aid the move to self actualization of musical giants like Ebenezer Obe and Sunny Ade to mention a few. The one I am highlighting in this piece is the late Wale Glorious of Akure fame, who was only a toddler when I. K. Dairo’s amazing career had begun. I am profiling Wale because I know him best. He and I hail from Akure, and I was, for a long time, one of his many self appointed promoters who first saw him as the Crown prince or Heir Apparent to I. K. D. in the fullness of time. I remember going out of my way to earn Wale Glorious and His Aiyesoro Spot Band, a slot at one of the several Musical Carnivals hosted in 1965 by the Student Council of the great University of Ife when the University was still located at the Ibadan Campus. I was in fact targeting him to play at the great Havana Night, our own Nigeria or West African equivalent of the OSCAR or Grammy’s Award in those good old days. Playing at Havana Night at the mother of all Universities in Nigeria, was like playing in the Grand Opry in the City of Music at Nashville, Tennessee, or playing at Radio City or the Lincoln Center in New York, the greatest city in the World or the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Wale Glorious’ musical talent in Juju was galvanized by I. K. D. Wale was well on his way to becoming the Heir Apparent to the I.K.D’s. particular brand of Juju in Nigeria. I call him the Heir apparent because Obe and Sunny would appear to have broken out of the pack to create their own variant of Juju Music which is slightly different but very similar to I.K. Dairo’s music when they all first started. Sunny and Obe did not at any point introduce the accordion to their music for some reason. That was a major difference to the kind of sound and percussion the two icons had crafted to create a unique identity for themselves in Juju Music in Nigeria. Even though Wale Glorious too did not introduce the accordion to his music, his unique voice and composition ingenuity and style bore the closest resemblance to I.K.D’s music and visibility.
Wale Glorious was like Moses who had seen the promised Land from a distance but just did not get there, before he was snatched away from us. But within those 15 glorious years or more that he played, he was clearly a cynosure of all eyes, and he did it with one or two albums I must focus in this eulogy and tribute to what would have been. The first of those albums that first caught my imagination, was titled “Awa L’Akure Oloyemekun, omo amuda sile m’ogun erun pani” which has now become the national anthem of the Ondo State Capital by acclamation and consensus because it was a classic that can never be repeated in a hundred years in the way it was choreographed, crafted and rendered by Wale. Even I.K D., in his life time, had described that album as a one a block burster by a genius in the making. The other album that took my fancy or fantasy out of many, is titled “Igbeyawo” That too has now become a national album that is played through out the nook and corners of our country for newly married couples at their Reception Parties, because it was so uniquely beautiful and fit for the occasion. “E rora mi a gb’ese, je k’oko Iyawo wole, E rora mi a gb’ese, j’alarade wo le” it was an invocation or a clarion call to the Wedding guests to all stand up and accord the highest honor to the newly wed, as they come into the Hall in the majesty of their newly consummated love and respect for each other in deference to what the Almighty God has ordained as the very foundation of Life society, and partnership everlasting.
If that album were to be waxed in America, it was clearly a shoo-in for an Oscar or a Grammy Award as the album of the Year in much the same way as “We are the World” album was toasted all over the World as the first in his class, because of the motivation for that album, and what it says, and the panoply of talents led by Quincy Jones that brought everything together, making it one of the best, if not the very best album of the last century. Wale Glorious had masterfully brought Juju music together and breaking all comers record in doing so.
Another one is the one Wale had crafted to immortalize the heroic death of Adekunle Fajuyi one of the bravest Nigerian of all times who had gallantly allowed his own blood to be shed and his own life to be snuffed out by coup plotters, in a resolute effort to protect and preserve the life of his Ndigbo guest and Commnader-in-Chief in General Aguiyi Ironsi. History is yet to record any Ndigbo man that could do the same thing as Fajuyi had voluntarily and gallantly done for their kin’s man. Correct me, if I am wrong. Adekunle Fajuyi would live for ever in our hearts, and you have to give kudos to Wale Glorious for capturing that proud moment in our history for generations yet unborn.
Fajuyi’s example was one of the heroic deeds in nation building and loyalty that our entire nation must be proud of. You cannot fully appreciate the import of what Lieutenant Adekunle Fajuyi had done for Nigeria and for the rank and file of Yorubas every where in the whole World, if you have not carefully listened to that album. Wale was able to prove beyond all shades of doubt that we Yorubas are principled and heroic people who think before we act, and who value our principle above our own selfish interest. Awolowo our foremost leader second only to our progenitor Oduduwa had done it times without number in Nigeria, and what did he get in return from a cross section of our country until he finally changed mortality for immortality in 1987 at the age of 76.
No other Nigerian, dead or alive would ever be honored in death like Awolowo was honored. “Kinniun Onibudo” like Adekunle Fajuyi was a brave soldier in civilian dress. He had proved that when he offered to serve as a Minister under a Government to be led by his closest rival, Ogbuefi Nnamdi Azikiwe. He had done it, when he single-handedly championed the interest of Minorities in our country when he led his Party to snatch total victory from the NCNC when he pioneered the Calabar/Ogoja/Rivers Movement, which had metamorphosed into a political force in the 60s. He had done it in the Middle Belt Movement led by the great Joseph Sarwuan Tarka. Awolowo did it when he openly announced that if the East was driven out of the Nigerian Federation, the South West would take a hike in a heartbeat. He did it when he was the first political leader of consequence in Nigeria to openly meet with Odumegwu Ojukwu in the peak of the crisis, regardless of any threat to his life.
Awolowo had done it when he single-handedly brought the Biafran War to a halt and to save further blood shed when he forcefully argued at the Federal Executive Council in Lagos that it made no sense to continue to prolong the war by stupidly looking the other way when some of the Field Generals on both sides of the great divide, were showing more interest in keeping the War going for their own benefits. He had done it when he wisely and prudently managed the Finances of our country in such a way that Nigeria did not have to borrow a penny to prosecute the War. And finally he had done it, when he had looked General Gowon straight in the face, at the peak of his glory, by having the courage of his conviction to resign from Gowon’s Cabinet when the ovation was loudest, by keeping his promise never to serve under an unelected Government in peace time. Adekunle Fajuyi therefore had an anchor for his gallantry. That was the whole point that Wale Glorious had incorporated into his brilliant composition of that album. He had said in that awesome melody that Fajuyi was the true son of his father and a hero of the Yorubas like Awolowo.
Anybody reading this must never forget the role played by Yoruba officers in the prosecution of the war along with their colleagues from the North and the Middle Belt. I am referring in particular to the heroic efforts of Benjamin Adekunle the primadona of all War Commanders on the Federal Side who had started the war, and the heroic role of our current President who had ended the War as the successor to the black scorpion, and the Commanding Officer of the Third Marine Commando. Very few people ever appreciate that Obasanjo had started out his career in the Military not as an infantry but as an Engineer, and not an infantry man per se. That had not stopped him from reaching the pinnacle of his career. Those who often stigmatize or blackmail the Yorubas as cowards in Nigeria had to be living in a different Planet.
Nobody was able to capture the essence of the Yoruba gallantry in the Nigerian Military better than the young musician from Akure who had described the bravery and the selfless sacrifice of all Oduduwa children, in superlative terms for posterity Wale Glorious has taken off the sting from death, so to speak, and he would live for ever in our hearts.
The last and not the least album he had waxed again, was the one in which he had captured for posterity, the place of Kabiyesi, Alayeluwa Oba Afunbiowo Adesida the First as the goose that lays the golden egg for the modern transformation of Akure into the gorgeous capital it has become in our State. It had all started with the great vision and leadership of Oba Adesida when he had welcomed the early missionaries to Akure, instead of rejecting them like some of his peers at the time. Oba Afunbiowo Adesida by welcoming the Missionaries and the early emissaries of Her Majesty’s Government into Akure in 1897 with open arms, was to reap the full benefits of that vision when Akure was picked as the Ondo Provincial Headquarters in the early 40s. Wale had recognized in that album that the history of Akure was built, in large part, around the personality and legacies of Afunbiowo and his successors to the throne of Akure. Wale had sang in the album dedicated to Oba Afunbiowo. “Owa Afunbiowo, Orisa mo gbe o luyi, Oloja Uku Ekun mo mo gb’Oye gbe o” I leave the rest to all Akure sons and daughters who still look on Wale Glorious as our greatest Musical gift to the Commonwealth of Nigeria.
I now go to life and legacy of Rex Jim Lawson and his musical protege in Nigeria, the one and only Cannery Professor Orlando Owoh who is still with us, massaging our emotional ego and soothing our musical nerves in much the same like the King himself had done in Kalabari for more than 20 years before we lost him. The immortal Rex Lawson and Orlando Owoh are two of a kind even though they have emerged from a different tribe and background. I have to believe that the fantastic lyrics and enchanting rhythm of Orlando Owoh was a Passover from the Master himself, but Orlando has equally put his own stamp and originality to that music by singing in his own Ifon/Owo/Yoruba dialect, with a heavy dose of Pidgin English to match.
The genius of Orlando Owoh arises from the fact that he is not all that literate. But he has cleverly managed to turn that weakness into his greatest strength when he laces his composition with some English verbiage that is unique to him and him alone. You can tell he is not called Professor for nothing. He is both a Professor of Music and Professor of Ifon dialect and the English Language as I will demonstrate in a moment, as I examine in some details my favorite among his so many albums I am profiling for this article.
Since I already wrote a piece on Rex Jim Lawson. last year I am not going to waste your time putting too much emphasis on Lawson this time, but I am going to highlight for you the striking similarities between his music and Orlando Owoh’s as much as possible. The album that has caught my fantasy the most is “Kalakuta Republic at Alagbon” and “A de de, in jia jo o, Umole uleria e ma fowo agbere, a de de, in jia jo o” which is classic Rex Lawson Rhythm per excellence as all of his albums. The only difference is that Orlando Owoh had rolled out that sound in flawless Ifon dialect which is so beautiful and deep in Yoruba philosophy that validates Orlando well deserved claim to Professorship in his chosen field.
The Kalakuta Republic album was Orlando’s narrative of life beyond the iron curtains of the Nigerian equivalent of the German Gulag under Adolf Hitler. it was beautifully rendered and captivating from beginning to the end. Every time I listen to that track, my heart goes back to Rex Jim Lawson, and the album always brings tears to my eyes because I intimately knew Rex Jim Lawson who led the first resident band at the Flamingo Hotel, Akure before breaking out to become a national hot cake in Nigeria.
Orlando has, however, added his professorial stamp when he got into the business of explaining how he ended up being detained at Alagbon in the track he himself had interpreted in his typical hoodlum English as “He get as it be” which means in Orlando’s language “O ni bo ti je” The development of his Kalakuta experience had not occurred without a reason, is what Orlando was telling his fans He had started by asking his fans “if they have ever been to jail before” Katakuta Republic l’Alagbon is the usual chorus followed by his advice to every body to dance to Cannery. “Back to Back, Belly to Belly, dance cannery,” one more time, “Back to Back, Belly to Belly, sing to cannery” Whichever way you sing the chorus is fine with Orlando. it is Rex Lawson’s Blues and Rhythm reenacted all over again but this time, with a beauty that is better imagined than explained in words.
If you really have ears for Music like I do, you would most certainly enjoy and appreciate Orlando’s music. I am simply intrigued by the indescribable wisdom and philosophy coming out of the mouth of this icon of inestimable value.
I find the album titled “E se rere, koba le ye wa/Asaro Elepo rede rede” to be one of the greatest albums of all times in my own judgment. That album simply told the story of a junior and a senior wife, once upon a time, and how their rivalry had led to the greatest tragedy for the senior wife who had deliberately planned to poison the child of the junior wife, but had ended up poisoning her own child instead. The senior wife had thus paid the highest price for a development she could not redress or redeem for the rest of her life. It was a tale told by Orlando in flawless Ifon dialect which sometimes sound like Kalabari in the way Orlando brings it out with his very unique voice and style that closely mirrors Rex Jim Lawson’s rendition of “Baby Sawa le le” or “Riwo Riwo”
How about “Mo dupe o Jesu, Oran mi jope lo o baba” or “Oba Mimo ye ye”, and “Mo mo oriki Ojo” where Orlando had explained in full, to all his listeners, the origin of the name Ojo and what it really means in Yoruba culture. When Orlando calls himself the man with “aditu ede,” a man with an uncommon interpretation of the Yoruba language that will baffle the uninitiated, he was most certainly telling the truth.
The genius of Orlando is the universal acceptance and appeal of his music, not only in Nigeria, but through out the whole of West Africa including Ghana, Benin Republic and Togo including Niger Republic where he has so many fans. He is one Nigerian musician whose rhythm is hot cake among the Ndigbos, the Efiks and the Ibibios of Nigeria, all the way to Bakasi. It is the same story in Rivers State and in Edo and Delta States. When you move on to Abuja, Minna and Okene, Kaduna, Katsina and Zaria going up to Kano Sokoto, Birnin Kebbi and Bauchi and Maiduguri not to talk of the Middle Belt and Adamawa and Zamfara, Orlando has become a national treasure and a household name.
Among Orlando’s fans are Royalty and the Middle class as well as the underdogs in our society from coast to coast and from sea to shining sea. His music appeals to both Christians and Muslims alike. You will hear him praising Omo Ekun Olubushe, Oba Adekola Ogunoye the late Olowo of Owo, Oba Odogiyan of ifon, Oba Ojopagogo, Alara of Ilara Mokin and Oba Ademileka, the Alawe of ilawe. Orlando can shift from the rich and the affluent in our society to ordinary citizens like “Omo Adejumo mi, baba Oladipupo o, se wo ni baba Gbenga, Omo asoro so ri eru, t’eru ba ku, a ro muen si, omo baba gba mi, iya gba mi…”. Orlando has clearly demonstrated his wide appeal in His special lyric titled “Osan gba’lumo are, Alumo, alumo Je je alumo, alumo je je, alumo.
That probably explains why he never stops singing about Obalende, Somolu and Mushin, and the nerve centers of poverty in urban centers of Nigerian cities. Those places are the center of his gravity in Nigeria. There is no question that Orlando Owoh has therefore become one of the greatest musicians of all times to come from Ondo State of Nigeria.
In conclusion, I am paying this tribute to all these national treasures dead or alive who have all put Nigeria on the world map through their music I am compiling the materials to pay a similar tribute to great indigenous artists like Dan Maraya and Shatta who are two of my favorite musical idols from the Northern part of our country. I am also putting finishing touches to the profile I am doing on my look alike, and age group, Sir Victor Uwaifo, the irreplaceable Haruna Ishola and Ayinla Omo Wura who are few of those I plan to write about in the foreseeable future, because I just love their music, and I strongly believe in what they have done and are still doing for our country.
I.K.D, Rex Jim Lawson, Wale Glorious and Professor Orlando Owoh have all become part of our History and part of our world for good. If we are in deed a grateful nation, these compatriots deserve to be recognized and treated as such even before we lose them. I rest my case.