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Odunsi Is the Producer Transforming Nigerian Music

With his unique blend of afro-fusion, Odunsi is creating a sound that expands what it means to be an African artist.

Lagos’ creative culture is booming and we're seeing a wave of young people throughout Nigeria who see the possibility of taking their creative talents to the next level.


Artists like Odunsi The Engine, also known as Odunsi, are using their globalized world as a way to explore different cultures and shape their own sound.

Odunsi's approach to music mixes genres like afrobeat, soul, R&B and electronica. His style, which has been coined 'afro-fusion,' creates an experience that many people in the world haven’t heard. With it, Odunsi's shaped a sound that's not only hard to replicate but that also expands what it means to be an African artist.

His music has been received so well around the world that his track “Situationship” recently made Spotify’s U.S. Viral 50 and was featured on Billboard.

He's worked with artists like Santi, whom he collaborated with on ‘Gangsta Fear,’ a track that made it on our best of 2016 song list. With no major label behind him and only one EP in, there's definitely a lot in store for Odunsi.

We got a chance to chat with Odunsi about the creative scene in Lagos, his inspirations and what is next for him in the New Year. Read on for our conversation with the artist.

Image courtesy of the artist.

At what moment did you decide that music is what you wanted to pursue full-time?

I decided to pursue music professionally on January 25, 2016. That was my “Yeah, let’s do this” moment. This was after I had recorded a song with GMK, I felt at that point that I wanted to do music for real.

If you weren’t making music, what would you be doing?

If I wasn’t making music, I might have become a lawyer or a professional football referee.

How has growing up in Lagos fueled your passion for music and inspired your content?

Growing up in Lagos, has been my biggest influence musically, because I have been able to interact in a place that is so energetic and very competitive.

At a young age the city really instills in you the value of your personal hustle and work ethic. Lagos also teaches you to find a way to create something out the little you have and that’s one major thing I have got from growing up here. It has taught me balance and how to work with different people and approach different situations.

Talk a little bit about Nigeria’s creative scene and how it is shaping in the new generation?

Nigeria’s creative scene has been growing daily. There's always new content and new people creating and the amazing thing about it is a lot of the artists are really young. This is really new for Nigeria, to see a whole generation of young icons, people representing their culture in different ways through music, photography, music, movies and fashion.

What makes it even more beautiful is that there's a lot of collaboration and willingness to help. More young people now have mentors to look up to and are able to learn quicker than previous generations. It’s inspiring that more people are taking charge of their lives at a young age and more people are creating their own way to be successful.

You describe your sound as 'afro-fusion,' how would you explain this style?

Afro fusion as a style has been around for ages. I don’t know if the name has been around for as long but the style definitely has. We have had people like Angelique Kidjo and Wale Thompson that were afrofusion. They were creating music by blending direct influences from their roots and other places they experienced, which created a very unique sound. Over time, the genre has gotten bigger and now we have people like Burna Boy, Black Magic and newer artists who are still building a presence.

Your song “Situationship” recently made Spotify’s US Viral 50 and was featured on Billboard, did you expect the reaction for the song to be so big?

With "Situationship," I don’t think that anyone in my shoes would expect their song to get on Billboard. I don’t think anyone goes like "yeah, I am releasing a song on SoundCloud and it’s going to end up on Billboard."

The song was an intentional release because I wanted to put out a song that had a style that no one had heard before, but at the same time, any one in the world could listen to. That’s what I try to do with my music, I want anyone in the world to be able to pick something from it, something to hold on to. So, I am not surprised that a lot of people could relate to it outside of Nigeria and Africa, but getting featured on Billboard was a big surprise and I’m thankful.

What was the experience like working with Santi on the track "Gangsta Fear" and seeing the video on MTV?

Santi has been like a brother to me because I grew into my complete artistry with him and learned a lot while working on the last project he put out (Suzie’s Funeral). It helped build my confidence and I learned a lot of things technically and how to relate with people.

"Gangsta Fear" was just a record that was a bit impromptu, we were on Skype one day and GMK was making the beat. I wasn’t interested in the song at first but Santi sent me an email after he had finished his part and asked me to jump on it. The funny thing is the song almost didn’t make it on to the project, little did we know that it was going to be a favorite for everyone. I still haven’t seen the video on TV unfortunately but I still get calls from people that they saw the video and like it. It’s a good feeling knowing that something you did while having fun has gotten so big.

Who are some of the Nigerian artist (any art form) that OkayAfrica readers should look out for?

There are so many talented artists coming out of Nigeria. We have Santi, Nonso Amadi, Lady Donli, Aylo, GMK, Zamir, Tomi Thomas, Genio Bambino, Bridge, Mafeni, DJ Femo, Tonero, Le Mav, Higo, Tay Iwar, Funbi, Dami Oniru and Doz. Then we have photographers like TSE and directors like Demola and UA. I can’t even mention all names because there are so many people doing amazing things in Africa, it’s a big family of creatives and were all growing together.

You currently don’t have any music videos out; can we expect any personal visuals in 2017?

There are going to be a lot of visuals, from short films to videos, photos and documentaries soon. I was taking my time to learn more about visuals before putting anything out.

What piece of advice would you give your younger self on how to approach the music industry?

To just focus on my own sound, keep developing myself and making sure I am the best version of me and not trying to compete with anyone. Being the best version of yourself is more important at the end of the day.

If you could do a show in any city, where would it be?

Sao Paulo, Brazil would be a go-to location. I have an obsession with that city and I don’t know why. I like the way the place is set up and the architecture. I really like the whole vibe there and I think of it as a place that could one day be my home.

What’s next for Odunsi?

I have a project that’s very important to me dropping this year and a major single dropping just before the summer. The project is going to be very different from my last one because I have grown a lot more and I have a lot more to push in terms of groundbreaking sounds.

There’s a lot more fusion in this project and I just want to make a statement to the world. I want people to see that it’s possible to make any kind of music and blend anything together.

Image courtesy of the artist.

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Collage by Ta'Ron Joyner

I Would Rather Breathe Than Think Outside the Box

South African artists were already working for little to no pay, but the pandemic has unleashed a flood of exploitative work requests right when we need money the most.

This essay is part of OkayAfrica's SA Reframed series, featuring personal writing from some of South Africa's best young writers edited by Verashni Pillay.

On the radio the other day, I heard a small business owner of a costume design company being interviewed and asked how they have managed to:

a. Reinvent themselves during this period, and

b. Think outside the box while doing so.

Their conversation made me think about how I have not managed to wrap my head around any sort of future, or reinvention outside any kind of box—beyond the one that wraps itself around my immediate reality. When the lockdown was announced, three friends and I withdrew to a remote area where internet access was dubious and, most times, simply not available. I would need to walk a bit of a distance to locate a spot under a tree or up a mountain to be connected for thirty minutes, or so.

Then I would do a basic comb through my emails and respond to work or requests that were already underway pre-lockdown. I only responded to new requests that either afforded me the opportunity to earn an income or those that allowed me to be productive on my own terms.

I was tired, lowkey grateful for the global pause, and no longer interested in the overly productive, overloaded nature of my previous normal. Something about the forced halt made me realise that I was on the edge of everything—myself included. I turned down anything that required me to join the endless online festivals, zoom panel discussions, Instagram takeovers and live readings. I refused all opportunities that needed me to grapple with any sort of forced normalcy. The ones that offered data or airtime or solidarity as compensation or assumed that I had gone pro bono. I needed a moment. I needed the space and time to re-bargain with the point of it all.

The pause was both useful and scary. It brought to the surface fears and revelations about the shortfalls of our industry and how creatives are positioned within the productivity machinery and economy of South Africa, or rather all the ways we fall outside of it.

As Minister of employment and labour Thulas Nxesi mentioned in a briefing two months ago, "On the issue of freelance workers—unfortunately with the current legislation they fall outside. Maybe what we are going to do is that after this we will have to re-look at it in terms of our legislative amendments and start a debate about that." Why are there laws that have gone unchallenged? Who should be challenging them? Why are artists hearing, out loud for the first time, of convenient loopholes that render us outside of an economy that taxes us like everyone else, and consumes us and our work. Yet, in times of crisis, this same economy engages with our art and our productivity and our products, but still deems us on the margin, outside, and non-essential. If we are not assisted financially, how can we be productive, how can we acquire the resources to produce? How can we apply our minds to anything else outside of survival and scrambling to stay afloat.

Pandemics do not mean that artists have gone pro bono

When you approach an artist with the assumption that they have gone pro bono during this time, when you draft an email to request a collaboration, a commission, a participation, a productivity of any kind, please bear in mind that artists are up against an unconcerned and corrupt government that has failed to provide aid and assistance to their sector during this time.

Theatre critic Sara Holdren says "Art is hard and most of it fails—either in small ways or catastrophic ones." In South Africa, the process of making art is hard, sure, but more than that, the conditions and the context in which we make work fails us in catastrophic ways that will require more than a debate and amended legislation. It will need, for starters, a minister who cares about the arts and understands its soul and mechanisms. This pause has brought about more questions and concerns for me than inspiration to reinvent or think outside the box. I have questions about the box itself and why I feel asphyxiated and trapped by its design.

I would rather breathe than think outside of the box

This pandemic has made me question what my career, livelihood and stability have been built on; what has been propping them up all this time, and what has been allowing me to appear valued and valuable in this economy? What does and will the spectrum of value look like in a normal that has been disrupted and now sits in a near distant future that may or may not be near?

Then I find myself vacillating between hope and concern. My hope is that when the pandemic is no longer with us, artists can have a come-to-jesus conversation about what has contributed and exacerbated this attitude and disrespect toward our practice and industry, I hope we can challenge the legislations that we have been dared to challenge, I hope we can be productive in ways that serve us and make sense for our well-being, that we will be paid our worth and that our society will realize that without the artist producing, there will be no art, or music, or films, or books and things that have kept people entertained and creatively nourished during this time.

My concern is that the "free"content artists are currently creating and the free access to art or performances, will not make this realisation possible, and that this kind of access, that was already undervalued and exploited, will be irreversible. The exploitation dialogue is tiring. Being treated as non-essential is tiring and terrifying too, and while most of the world can slowly start going back to work, most artists will probably have to hang tight until 2021, maybe even 2022.

While artists deal with a hoax of an arts and culture department that is dead to us and a minister who tweets more than he does his job, in an ideal world, I wish that artists could afford to indulge uncertainty, and fear, and pause, in ways that allow them to heed the call made by Nicholas Berger in his piece The Forgotten Art of Assembly [Or, Why Theatre Makers Should Stop Making] "We must lean into this pain. We must feel the grief. We must mourn. Mourn the loss of work, the loss of jobs, the loss of money, the loss of life. Mourn the temporary loss of an art form that demands assembly. Lean into the grief. Lean in. Lean in. Lean in. We must remind ourselves that mourning is a human act, not a digital one."

Koleka Putuma is an award-winning poet, playwright and theatre director. Her bestselling debut collection of poems Collective Amnesia is in its 10th print run and her play No Easter Sunday for Queers Sunday for Queers won several awards.

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