An interview with Osunlade

Two weeks ago, Dj and producer Osunlade played at the 360 Degrees party in Bird, Rotterdam. House Cult had a little chat with the multitalented artist who’s also the owner of Yoraba Records, one of the most influential labels of dance music during the last decades.

Making music seems to be a natural thing for Osunlade. It all began in the late ‘80s when he started working as a composer for different projects like the legendary kids television series ‘Sesame Street’. Some years later his career gained momentum when he (co-)produced records for celebrated artist such as Grammy Award winners Patti LaBelle and Freddie Jackson. Afterwards his repertoire grew rapidly. The list of collaborations contains lots of artist of the dance scene but also Latin singers (Rico Suave, Malena Pérez), old and new soul artists (Musiq Soulchild, Eric Benét), jazz players (Roy Ayers), and a few big names of African music (Salif Keita, Cesária Évora).

A perfect example of Osunlade’s musical diversity is the production of the modern soul classic ‘Rock Wit U’ by Erro (aka Eric Roberson, part of the album ‘The Magnificient’ by DJ Jazzy Jeff on BBE Records).

“The Erro thing happened as Eric and I were writing partners for artists like Vivian Greene, Musiq Soulchild , Eric himself as well as others. When he did the collaboration with Jeff, my good friend Pete from BBE thought it was a good idea to do a dance remix for the project, since I’ve been working with Eric for years I knew exactly what to do. As for other mainstream productions, I basically have gotten those gigs from the merit of my work on the label and/or other remixes I’ve done.”

At that time, ‘Rock Wit U’ hit the market in 2002, Osunlade achieved increasing success as a DJ/solo artist and had already started his own label: Yoruba Records. Since its beginning in 1999, the label released over 300 records, including work by Atjazz, Djinji Brown, Afefe Iku, and Santos. As a solo artist Osunlade gained success with tracks like ‘My Reflection’ (2007), ‘Envision’, a major dance hit in 2011 also because of the popularity of Âme’s remix, and this year’s EP ‘Dionne’. Like himself, his label Yoruba Records continues moving the boundaries between different musical genres .

“I am proud of the label of course, the artists that have joined me since the beginning are basically all still part of the family and in my opinion have all grown naturally with the label as well myself. However grateful I am for the support, I can’t help but feel that the artists that haven’t produced 4/4 house music have been over looked but in all the quality of the music has been the priority of the label and as long as I am sane enough to have an ear to continue I will.”

His latest album, ‘A Man With No Past Originating The Future’, is a perfect example of how the music of Yoruba Records keeps developing. The album contains mainly a warm, ambient and jazzy sound, build by many different layers. Also the use of his vocals and thoughtful lyrics, for example in the track ‘Sour The Plan’, stands out. But the exceptional number of instruments Osunlade played is particularly significant. Thirty-seven to be exact. The choice of using instruments from all continents and time periods is typical of his life and character. Although Osunlade was born and raised in St. Louis (Missouri) he travelled all over the world in order to find the perfect place to live the life he wants to. After spending some time in Los Angeles, New York and Puerto Rico, he found that place in the middle of ancient Europe. The small Greek island Santorini became his new environment.

“It was an impulsive action as most things in my life are. I was living in Puerto Rico at the time and it was simply the universe showing me that Greece was my new home.”

The island had a major impact on his life and music. “It simply serves as a source of peace, it’s what I consider home when someone says the word, that place that you can fell protected and unplugged from the world. Santorini has an energy that suits mine and somehow I’ve managed to find my place on this earth. It has and still inspires me, the simple beauty as well the sheer energy of the island itself are very special and I have a connection with it. I guess the balance and energy I reserve while home are what the island puts in place for me.”

Something else that distinguishes Osunlade of the ordinary modern musician is his dedication to the Yoruba religion.  He has been a priest of Ifá for quite some time and carries on the traditions of his believe in the name of his record label, album covers, and also the titles of some of the tracks. Becoming a priest seems to be a logical consequence of his life.

“This was I believe my path, plain and simple. From strangers I met on the street or knowing priests and/or having interest in the mystics of the culture, a well it gave me insight on my heritage and allowed me how to find myself during the process  of this experience.”

The next edition of 360 Degrees is at the 20th of June. For more information click here

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Michel Ribbens

Michel lives and works in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Since he got access to the internet he’s collection all sorts of music. He grew up with hiphop in the mid ‘90s and later on started searching for the best soul and dance music he was able to put his hands on. Beats, rhymes and life is still his life motto.