Tunde Olaniran’s Dance Vanguard (Interview)

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“Oh this is a Black male singer so he’s definitely going to do rap”

Tunde Olaniran’s play with fantasy, magick and rhythm has crafted a matchless auricular profile in dance music. His theatrical but tightly choreographed stage shows are next generation expressions of a club culture previously blazed by the likes of Sylvester, Green Velvet and Grace Jones. The Flint, MI based artist released his outré Second Transgression EP earlier this year shunning Daft Punk’s statement that electronic music is not growing and exposing the vapidity of the pop-oriented EDM movement. His dance-oriented muse is rare in its ability to blend hip-hop with electro house and then present itself in colorful live shows influenced by African religious rituals. He’s currently touring and preparing the next edition of the Transgression album series that will be his next exploration of emotional journeys.

What have you been up to?

I’ve been doing shows and just letting people know what’s been going on musically and making new fans.

Who and what inspires your stage shows and videos?

As far as the videos go I read a lot of fantasy novels as a kid but I’ve also loved fantasy movies like Labyrinth is my favorite movie. There’s just something about I want it to have an emotional journey but I want it to come across in a more aggressive and vibrant way.
So I just didn’t want to have two characters in a relationship. I want it to be grander than that and I just refer to things I’ve always been interested in as a kid.

Are you inspired by magick or ritual at all?

Yes and I didn’t realize it until maybe this year but I started out. My dad is from Nigeria and voodoo ritual and practice originated in Togo but also in Nigeria. So I feel like those modes of thinking about the world and how the world works seep into my consciousness because I spent time with family and my grandmother has daily rituals even though she’s Christian which I don’t even know if she’d connect it to voodoun. But it’s similar and I also studied a lot. One of my favorite anthropologist professors did a lot of research in Togo about voodoun practices and how it relates to women’s political agency. So those things have always really been in me it’s nothing that I had an explicit desire to put out there but I feel like it just comes out as you make art. Especially like with the Afro-Futurism label that’s something that I wasn’t even familiar with until a few years ago. You kind of realize that you connect with things before you knew what they were.

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Why did you decide to be independent?

Right now there’s a lot of musicians doing R&B that it actually doesn’t make a lot of sense with what I’m doing. But I think even up to two years ago that wasn’t the case. So it was hard to get anybody to get what I was trying to do. Now there’s even like Dawn Richard she’s like some of the imagery is based on similar stuff so I’m really happy to see that happening now. I think people kind of put it in a box which is kind of OK with me as long as they’re willing to open the box.

What is the significance of the face paint?

The whole Transgression theme was coming from having to deal with different boundaries in my life especially as an artist and having to resist being defined as “Oh this is a Black male singer so he’s definitely going to do rap” like trying to go beyond that but then just trying to redefine for me what political action has to look like, what activism has to look like how you have to perform your gender those are all areas I feel like you have to be like a warrior. I feel like we’re at a point now as a society where we shouldn’t accept the things we can’t change we need to change things that we don’t like and accept. Now it’s time for the sword it’s not time for peace or the white flag.

You produced your whole album what was your machine of choice?

A Dell Computer from 2003 and Fruity Loops. Fruity Loops is probably like the Fischer Price of music production and I just upgraded I’ve been using Fruity Loops 4 I just switched up to 9. I’m not like a software technology person I just like to play for me that’s just how it works.


What about what’s next in the third, fourth and fifth Transgression have you planned any of that?

I have a cool group of people that I have a costume director that pretty much who sent her inspiration photos and sketches and it’s pretty crazy so I told her I want a crystal mask and she was like ‘Ok.’ So I’m lucky to have people that I send stuff to for the third Transgression now. The third Transgression is actually going to turn the videos on their head a little bit we’re going to do like a musical so it’s going to be ’50’s and ‘60’s inspired musical number done within that dramatic fantasy piece. So I’m really excited about that because I love dance and I want to be able to work with a bunch of dancers and have it.

What’s the narrative?

The narrative is going to be kind of taking off from the end of Second Transgression and going into a sequence that describes they all are metaphors for emotional journeys. So the Third Transgression is going to be about having a really very very positive outlook and knowing that it’s OK but also mentioning that it’s covering stuff that you may not want to accept that you might not recognize. So this musical is going to be very very pretty with a sinister undertone that reveals itself as the story continues. We’re still fleshing it out I project broad ideas but I like to leave other details even when it comes to lyrics until the last minute because I feel like it works better for me that way. I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone but for me I think it feels more authentic than if I sit down and try to like “I’m going to write a song” that doesn’t work I have to kind of leave it.

Tunde Olaniran will open for Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr on April 20th at The Majestic in Detroit and April 26th at the Music Hall Of Williamsburg in Brooklyn