Yoruba Records' Osunlade Talks Spirituality, Burning Man, and His Final House Album
What do Sesame Street, Patti LaBelle and the West African Yoruba religion have in common? Well, they're all part of legendary DJ-producer and Yoruba Records chief Osunlade's fascinating story.
Back in the '70s, he started out by juggling different musical gigs, like composing for Sesame Street and putting in studio time with the likes of LaBelle and Freddie Jackson. But he was also very much attuned to the rapidly emerging sounds of garage and house music.
That's what brought Osunlade to New York City where he founded Yoruba Records in the late '90s, a label named for the faith in which he's been ordained as a priest.
The Yoruba imprint has since become one of the most revered in the international house community, synonymous with timelessness, infusing classic house with jazz, soul, and African flavors.
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Unfortunately for fans, Osunlade has claimed that 2011 long-player Pyrography will be his final house album. But give him enough love when he plays at the Electric Pickle this Friday and maybe he'll be persuaded that the world's clubs need more Osunlade.
Crossfade: Legend has it that you composed music for Sesame Street back in the '70s. What can you tell us about that?
Osunlade: That was simply a right time, right place situation. I was at the time living with Toni Basil of "Mickey" fame. She was choreographing a few segments for Sesame Street. It just so happens that I created the music for those segments, nothing more.
How did you transition into dance music?
The transition happened after a two-year hiatus from producing for majors and the commercial realm of music back in the mid '90s. I'd always created dance music, I simply had yet to release any. In 1999, I founded my label Yoruba Records.
How would you say your creative process evolved over the last three decades?
Very much so. Mostly it has become more digital in its approach, however I tend to contain the organic appeal in the theory of its sound.
What is your connection to the Yoruba faith? And how has it permeated your work as an artist?
My connection is that of a personal nature. It's my foundation and has given me balance in life, not just as an artist but in totality.
It's been four years since your last LP and your new album Pyrography is supposed to be your final house album. What can you tell us about it? And why will it be the last?
Pyrography is indeed the last house album for me. It's a joint project with artist Scott Marr. It contains 15 original paintings of the Yoruba deities alongside traditional never-before-published Oríkì's Yoruba prayers. I feel that house music in general has become too lukewarm and there are so many variables that have made it unappealing for me personally. As well, there are so many other things musically I'd like to explore.
How did you hook up with Scott Marr? And what was the concept behind the album's artwork?
I was introduced to Scott's work via one of the artists on the label. I immediately fell in love with the organic sensibility of the work. I contacted Scott and ventured down to Australia to speak further about the possibilities. We met and it was a kindred meeting.
Your focus as a producer seems to be on quality over quantity. How do you typically approach the songwriting process and how much time on average do you dedicate to the completion of a single track?
Quality is the most important for me as my view on creating anything is that it lives on even after I will, so it must be honest and convey who I am. I don't have a formula per se. However, I usually start with drums or percussion. Rhythm is the most important for me. I'd probably then either go on to create a sound bank or chord structure from there. Again, there are no real formulas. Some songs are lyrics first with nothing else. It simply depends on what I hear inside.
What do you plan to work on after you've put the house genre behind you? Will Yoruba Records prevail?
That is a good question. I have no plans for what's next. I will let the universe dictate that. As for Yoruba, I believe I will continue to release full-length albums yet. As time moves on that may change. I'm not entirely sure as of now.
The electronic dance music scene is very caught up in hedonism and substance use. As a deeply spiritual person, what sort of emotions or experiences are you aiming to provide on the dancefloor? Does it transcend just carnal fun?
For me, DJing and the club life is about making people dance and educating them on new music. The other things that have become the norm are not my concern. Yet I do see how it has affected the entire spectrum of things.
What have been the highlights of 2011 so far? And what do you have going on for the rest of the year?
Just waking up every day, having the pleasure of living the life I have is the highlight. Burning Man has become a huge blessing for me over the past five years, so I am very much looking forward to that. Otherwise, I'm just excited to be.
What can Miami expect during your performance at the Electric Pickle?
Good music and an enthusiastic dancefloor.
Osunlade with Djinji Brown and DHM. Friday, August 19. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The show starts at 10 p.m. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.
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