|Osunlade: Music for the Gods
The producer had his life changed more than a decade ago when he began to work for himself. It will change once again later this year when he releases his first acoustic-based album. We catch up to take stock with perhaps the most spiritual man in deep house.
For fans of soulful house music, Osunlade is something of a legend. But it took many years for the producer to become an accepted force in the scene. Hailing from neither New York nor Chicago, Osunlade spent much of the '90s cutting his teeth in the major label business, crafting tracks for others, his name buried in the credits. All of that changed, however, around the turn of the millennium when he began to practice the African tradition of Ifá and struck out on his own with Yoruba Records.
Since then, Osunlade has become a deep house force, working with labels like Soul Jazz, BBE and Strictly Rhythm, as well as leading an imprint that has taken plenty of influence from sounds—and artists—from around the world. Perhaps the imprint's largest success, in fact, comes from Afefe Iku, an African producer, whose "Mirror Dance" caught the ears of DJs from a variety of genres and was licensed for numerous compilations, including secretsundaze's Volume 2. We caught up with the producer in advance of his first appearance in London for the crew to talk about his two new albums, why he thought Iku's "BodyDrummin" would be much bigger than "Mirror Dance" and how Ifá changed his life.
You're based in Greece nowadays. I know you grew up in the States, and spent some time in Puerto Rico.
"Every time I would turn
around, there was something
associated with Ifá,
guiding me toward it."
Yes. It'll be five years in January that I've been in Greece.
Will you ever come back to the States, do you think?
Never. I will stay in Greece. That's my home.
Why did you love it so much there?
The island of Santorini is peaceful, it's quiet. There's not a lot going on. It's perfect for my life. I have a real personal connection with the place—and the energy of the island. It took three days, but I knew quite quickly that it was the place for me. There are only about 9,000 people on the island. Lots of farmers. Lots of wineries. It's great for me, for peace of mind, for working on music. And it's perfect for balance in my life. I get enough chaos when I'm touring that when I get home, I want to be home.
You've been touring North America over the past few weeks. Were there any gigs that stood out to you?
Las Vegas. I'm not a fan of Vegas, but I was really surprised. The promoters have a really good party at The Palms. It's a pretty well-known hotspot, so I expected it to be very much not my type of place, but it turned out to be exactly what I needed. The party was on the rooftop of the hotel, and we had a nice view of the city. I'd never done a party that was in a place that was so commercial that wasn't a commercial party. If that makes any sense.
You grew up in St. Louis, which is quite close to Chicago. Were you going to the city and to parties and record stores when you were growing up?
Not to parties, no. Every summer, though, I would end up going to Chicago. So I grew up around the movement that was electronic music in Chicago. But back then it was all about the radio. It provided everything you needed for the music.
How has radio changed in America since then?
It's not the same at all. It's non-existent. It's all Clear Channel-owned bullshit. Sponsored, garbage, pop music.
But, of course, you worked with major labels quite a bit over the years. Not so much anymore, though. Are you still doing major label things?
Not as much, no. I don't really find that there are artists, labels or A&R's that really understand the integrity of music. Most of the people running the business these days are kids, most of the artists are kids. It's a younger generation that is catering to a younger generation. I think the music business itself is non-existent.
Do you find that your music is connecting with younger kids?
Yeah, I think so. When you say it's younger, though, I don't think it's the kids listening to the radio or watching MTV. It's the kids that are now turning 25 and looking for a little bit more substance than what they're used to hearing. I even see it in the clubs where a lot of the kids are coming from this hip-hop background and they're just now discovering house. And that's really inspiring, because most of the people that listen to house music are pretty much older—they're in their 30s now—and with a younger generation coming to this music, it will only help and expand what we do.
Are there particular places in the world that seem more receptive than others to what you're doing?
Asian countries and European countries.
What Asian countries?
Indonesia and Singapore. Both have small, but very good, scenes. Recently I've been out there quite a bit. Zouk, of course, is the place in Singapore. And, in Indonesia, it's an open field. They have a few big clubs, but it's mostly around the promoters. They do things at several different places, which is a good thing because they're bringing what I do to lots of different audiences.
What is so special about Zouk? I've never been there, but I've heard such good things.
For me, it's the owner, Lincoln Cheng. He's one of the few people I've met in the world that is a true music lover, and does what they do because of their love of the music. You can see the love and the care that's put into the place because of that. It's the same thing in Indonesia. They're all of these young people doing clubs and venues there that are having the same type of appeal. It's all very passionate, and doesn't have much to do with the money.
Speaking of the music, let's talk about your label. What's up next on Yoruba?
I have two albums coming out. One is for me, my first album. It's a soul, acoustic thing called Rebirth, and it will be released in November. The second is another house album that I'm currently finishing up. It won't be out until spring of next year. There will be a single in March for that I think.
Do you have remixes lined up for the single?
No, not yet. I have a real issue with remixes these days. For me, remixes are so warranted these days, when they actually shouldn't be. I don't really get into it unless it's something that really needs to be done. I like them, but some songs are just better off left alone. So many people do things based on someone's name or sound that you kind of miss the whole point. And that's why I've been trying to release more albums over the past three years than singles. I want to try to get people out of this "buy this track" mentality. Because you don't get very much from an artist via one song. You don't get a vision.
Obviously you have had remixes, though, on the label.
Sure, but it's usually the furthest thing away from what I do. If it's something I can do, I'm not really impressed by it, you know? I can do it. So I'm looking for the type of thing that makes me go, "How the fuck did they do that?" That's why I go for those people, because I know that no matter what I get from them, it'll be their thing. They're not going to give me me.
I wanted to talk to you briefly about your religion. Because I don't know very much about it.
Well, first: It's not a religion.
OK. What is it, then?
Well, Ifá is a way of life. It's a culture that's based on nature. It's very similar to Buddhism, with the addition of ancestral and indigenous ways, I guess.
How long have you been living in this culture?
What drew you to it originally? How did you find out about it?
I attribute it to my ancestors. At one point in my life, everything, every person, every time I would turn around, there was someone or something that was associated with it, guiding me toward it, saying that this is something that I should be doing. And, actually, for a long time, I ran away from it. I've always been pretty open with my sixth sense, and realizing that there are things around. But when it was facing me, it was quite the challenge to accept. It was more being younger, and unwilling to accept that responsibility that comes with it.
What was the moment that spurred you to accept it?
It was a culmination of a few things, it wasn't one moment. It was where I was at a certain moment in my life. It was what I needed for balance. I had lost a lot, and just needed balance. And it was a submission that I needed to do to move to the next level for myself.
In my brief research on it, Ifá seems like a very intense thing to get involved with.
It is. It's a life-long endeavor. It's nothing overnight. You're always learning, you're always doing things. It's your connection with the source. Like when you were asking about it being a religion...there's no aggregator. No one can tell you about your connection with God. It's direct with you. But it is a constant work, a constant way of life. For me, personally, I realize every component of nature and things on this Earth as direct energy of whatever source or God there is that allows me to sustain my life. And I give reverence to that in every way every day. And recognizing the balance in harmony in those things has given me balance and harmony in my life.
How do you think your music has changed since you found Ifá?
It's definitely clearer. I don't think, anymore. Whatever comes out of me, comes out of me. Like you said before how I used to work for major labels and artists. All of those fabricated things. Those were parts of me, but they weren't all of me. It was a thing where I would produce something because I liked the artist, I wanted to be famous or I liked the money. Or maybe there was a new sound out, and I thought, "Hey, cool, I can do that." It was all of these other things. And it wasn't about creating what was inside of me. And that's all my music is about now.
"I hate when people say,
'Oh, you're hot right now!'
OK. What happens later?"
Is that why you're releasing these two albums now? To get all of those sides out to the world?
Osunlade at Movement Detroit
In short, yeah. One reason for Rebirth is that it's something that I've been working on forever. Before I started doing house music, I only did the type of music that's coming out on this album. This is a personal thing. When I started the label, I didn't have in mind that I would become an artist. I was always a producer/musician, I was the person that didn't have a name. I was the one that you had to search for on the record credits. That was my mindset for a long time.
And when I started Yoruba, I was still there. I was thinking as a producer, and when I put out the first record, I was like, "Oh, I'm the artist now!" That changed my thing. It's a big responsibility, being an artist. Your life changes, your outlook changes. House has been a very easy transition for me. It's not an easier music, but it's something that's a lesser part of me that I have to explore. And, Rebirth on the other hand, is probably the most vulnerable, the closest to my heart that I've been creatively. So I've held it back because I realize that there is a higher demand of responsibility from it. And I just haven't been ready for that change in my life.
I'm interested that you say that house is a bit easier for you. I remember in an interview that you once said that your approach was to treat tracks as if it were an R&B tune, and then to do a house remix.
Yes, and I still do. But I think what I meant when I said it was simpler was that you're restrained to this beat.
Obviously you've gotten a lot of that beat over the years. [laughs]
Oh, yeah. I have! [laughs] I'm not complaining one bit!
I wanted to ask you about the "Mirror Dance" single. Were you surprised at how big of a hit that it became?
I was. I actually thought "BodyDrummin" would be bigger. I thought the approach to that song was dynamic, so I had my heart set on it becoming quite popular. But I wasn't mad that "Mirror Dance" was popular. I knew that it would do well, and I think it was because it's basically an electronic disco song.
Is there more material coming from Afefe Iku?
I'm hoping so. When I speak to my artists, I'm pretty much like daddy. So when they send me stuff, I can be pretty rough. A lot of times, I want to have the approach of a complete thought. I don't want them to send tracks or things that they're working on. "Give me the whole thing, and then we'll hash it out." All of the music that comes out on the label, I have a hand in. But it's in the sense of allowing the artists to grow and to give them the chance to see their own vision. As opposed to me coming back to them and saying, "I like that kick." My view doesn't make a difference for their growth.
It's really important to let them evolve, to sit with things. Time definitely allows one to see differently and hear differently. Artists these days, especially in the house scene—from what I see—are so influenced by each other. And that sometimes doesn't allow people to be as creative as they can.
How does that stifle creativity?
I think it's led to people doing very similar things. You're only influenced by what you hear. And if you're listening to the same stuff that everyone else is, you're going to do the same stuff. If you don't get out of the realm, if you have the same plug-ins, or think "I like this song, so I'm going to do something that sounds like this song," you end up with things that sound similar to one another. I hate when people say, "Oh, you're hot right now!" OK. What happens later?
Published / Tuesday, 06 October 2009
Photo credits / Detroit Movement - Matt Cohen