Born in late sixties St Louis, dance shaman Osunlade quickly progressed to piano lessons, church choir and, at the age of 17, Sesame Street – presenting duties for the popular kids’ TV show proceeded responsibility for its musical content. Into the eighties, and beyond, Osunlade was snaffling production and session work with Patti LaBelle, Eric Benet and India and then, in 1999, came his own record label Yoruba.
Osunlade had grown tired of working in LA, in the heart of a ruthless mainstream, money-driven music business. His discovery of ‘Ifa’, a system of traditional spiritualism and healing distilled from the Yoruba people in West Africa, would have a profound effect on what was to come. Osunlade’s faith and musical versatility combined harmoniously throughout the ‘noughties’, delivering soulfully impactful releases on Yoruba, as well as key underground dance imprints including MAW, King Street, BBE and Strictly Rhythm.
There have been six studio albums to date – Paradigm (2001), Aquarian Moon (2006), Elements Beyond (2007), Rebirth (2009), Pyrography (2011) and A Man With No Past Originating The Future (2013) – spanning the sonic divide between funky uptempo and otherworldly lounge with peerless skill and craft. Osunlade, based on tranquil Greek island Santorini these days (all the better to nurture his ideas), has a seventh long-player, Peacock, due this autumn, whilst continuing to progress Yoruba via pioneering, insightful new releases from Drala and Mike Steva; these following classic Yoruba outings by the likes of Afefe Iku and Jose Marquez. And still Osunlade DJs globally – delighting club crowds in Melbourne, Berlin, Dubai, Amsterdam, Toronto, London and, of course, Ibiza (for Defected In The House at Booom) this year, so far, alone.
After a few false starts, we managed to get hold of him for a chat.
You’re a hard man to pin down!
Sorry for the delay, I’ve been in gig hell. Last week it was festival after festival after festival and no sleep. But it was also great; I was able share a lot of good moments.
Tell us about the new album, Peacock…
It was the fastest album I’ve ever recorded, taking me three weeks in total to complete. I wanted it to sound organic...to flow. Peacock is dedicated to Ochun, the Yoruba goddess of love and the river. There’s a theme of love and relationships running throughout, and a specifically straightforward funk-soul feel with lots of acoustic elements. In terms of delivering sonically, I think I’ve gotten a lot out of this record. I’m very happy with it; it’s simple, organic music.
Where does it sit in terms of the other albums you’ve released?
I think that it sits on its own, as I intend for all my releases. My aim is always evolution, personally as well as musically. Each step [album] is a point of reference of where I am at that moment, a release for the progression.
You said, famously, that Pyrography would be your last house album. Does that still stand?
I love house music but I can’t foresee myself making an album of house again. It’s such a specific thing, and it’s been at the forefront of my career for a long time. I’ve moved on and evolved my overall sound. Right now, I’ve actually stopped producing as much so that I can listen to genres and styles across the board. Having an open-mind is an important part of evolving.
But you still like to play dance-orientated tracks as a DJ?
Yes, this compliments the producing. I’m across so many genres, even just in terms of playing out. A typical set will include deep records, tech, experimental, some downtempo...the best sets are full sets, with lots happening.
What is your view of electronic club music today?
It’s not my favourite genre but there are always great records and dance music allows people to be introduced to other influences and sounds which is a good thing. The problem with music today is that there’s so much of it, and a lot of watered down versions of what’s integral. It makes it harder to truly gauge any genre or scene.
What kind of a music artist are you?
Emotions always come first. Places, people, situations, even just talking a walk, everything influences me on an emotional level. I’ll usually have titles in mind before the song happens; at which point I write the music ahead of the lyrics. I have lots of titles in my head, and they all relate back to experiences. I start things but don’t always complete them – I take my time, and often juggle several projects. I’m an intuitive artist; I don’t force things, I use what the universe gives me. Santorini, where I live, is the perfect place to breathe. I’ve been on the island for eight years now and whilst it’s been affected by recession it’s quiet and has this powerful energy like nothing I’ve experienced before. It’s an interesting place to be.
What are your plans in the short-term?
I’m looking forward to releasing Peacock but I already have two other albums to finish. One is more soul, the other electronic; at least in theory if not final sound. The second album is closer to the eighties and nineties ‘resurge’ – using eighties drum machines for example. I’m also about to work on the soundtrack for a documentary on the socio-political situation in Egypt. And then there’s Yoruba. There are new artists, and some new electronic things to try, so we’re trying to get all that going. The label has its first house album due any time; it’s from Melbourne producer Mike Steva and that’s exciting.
How easily do you jump between such different things?
I have a switch in my head. The shifts just happen; I do what I feel like doing at that time and what comes naturally to me. The electronic album I mentioned came about after I heard an old LinnDrum drum machine, and started having interesting ideas about using it on something. I go where I want and need to....
I started my career with movie soundtracks, so I’d like to get back to more of that in the future. There are a few things here that I’d be open to.
Finally, how do you sum up your sonic journey to date?
You know it’s funny you ask that...I’ve honestly never looked back at anything in life. Everything that has happened...they are all moments that make who I am today. I am an in-the-moment type of guy. I never look back, nor reach towards the future. I revel in the present, as it is a present! I would never change a thing because, as far as I’m concerned, it’s all in divine order....
Peacock is out 19 October 2014 (CD and digital) on Yoruba Records
Osunlade join Terrence Parker, FCL, Luke Solomon and more for Defected In The House at London’s Ministry Of Sound 01 November – click for full line-up and tickets