Tag Archives: Soul

ÌFÉ’s Otura Mun Explores His Divine Destiny

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Photo by Mariangel Gonzales.

DJ, producer, percussionist and composer Otura Mun was born Mark Underwood in Goshen, Indiana. A drummer fluent in R&B and jazz (and the youngest member of the renowned University of North Texas drumline in his freshman year), Otura Mun took his first life-changing trip to Puerto Rico almost 20 years ago. He now calls the island home, and it’s where he and his ensemble ÌFÉ create electronic music that channels the musical and spiritual worlds of the African diaspora throughout the Americas and the Caribbean.

The ensemble and the music they make are also connected to Mun’s desire to study the Cuban rumba—which led to his initiation as a babalawo, or Yoruban high priest. The perspective now orients both his musical and his personal life.

As Otura Mun explains it, he chose the title IIII+IIII for ÌFÉ’s debut because it marks “the beginning of a new era, a change in the guard, a spiritual awakening,” a path an individual can take on their divine destiny.

To talk with Otura Mun is to become caught up in a heady whirlwind of ideas about music that’s constructed with layers upon layers of aligned signs and evoked meanings. We caught up with the San Juan-based Otura Mun via Skype to get a glimpse of the wondrous, spirit-filled world that informs his music.

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(She’s Got) Power: Tasha’s Soulful Ethos of Black Love and Liberation

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Tasha. Photo by Zachary Belcher.

Tasha Viets-Van Lear, who records music simply as Tasha, believes unapologetic black love is crucial for black liberation. An activist with BYP100 as well as a musician, Tasha weaves the political with the personal, promoting inner power. Her music focuses on love as a force against societal institutions that would prefer black people hate themselves and their skin. The poetic, thoughtful “Divine Love,” the title track from her 2016 EP, sets forth her ethos with warmth and passion: “I want a song that’s gonna tell me I can love myself/ But not for the purpose of being better at loving someone else/ Got all this light around me/But I can’t see it through this haze of my own insecurity/ This fear in me that I can’t glow from the inside out/But naturally, see, I got moonlight spilling from my mouth.”

Tasha’s a regular on the Chicago scene, playing often, sometimes with a full band—a powerhouse group of talented musicians whose members also play alongside Jamila Woods, Noname, Ric Wilson, Kaina, and more. While she hasn’t released anything since last year’s Divine Love EP, there’s a lot more in the works—music videos, a new website, and new music. Right now, she’s concentrating on building a robust foundation before releasing anything new.

We sat down with Tasha over tea at her Chicago home and talked about her processes, self-actualization, anger and joy, community and activism, journaling, and her music.

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Album of the Day: Tanika Charles, “Soul Run”

Soul Run, the debut LP from Canada’s rising soul star Tanika Charles, is ostensibly a breakup album. But these songs are so exuberant, and Charles’ voice is so defiant and confident, that it hardly registers that way. Charles’ 2010 EP What! What? What!? demonstrated that the Edmonton singer wasn’t content to stay within the parameters of retro soul—the G-funk-influenced “Parkdale,” in particular, demonstrated her eagerness to cover fresh ground—and Soul Run continues that imaginative streak, yet often in subtler ways.

Charles constructed these songs with a series of producers, including the Drake collaborator Slakah the Beatchild, and as a result Soul Run presents itself as a grab-bag of surprises. The short “Intro,” with its modulated voices and effects, provides a thrilling launch pad into the thumping title track, while “Two Steps” leans on an unexpected and glimmering Afrobeat guitar riff. Both “Endless Chain” and “Money” evoke vintage Muscle Shoals recordings, but with an emphasis on precise and booming percussion that keeps them fresh and modern.

These varied styles give Charles different contexts to experiment with her vocal gymnastics. Throughout the album, she pays homage to legends like Aretha Franklin and Etta James—on “Sweet Memories,” she does an uncanny take on the Jackson 5’s shrill howls—but she’s got a sense of spunk that’s all her own. From start to finish, Soul Run serves up one kiss-off after another to Charles’ ex. At one point she insists that she “don’t need a man to walk me home,” and by the album’s conclusion she declares, definitively, “I won’t be back.” But because she manages to channel her angst in a way that sounds more playful than bitter or mournful, Tanika Charles makes it clear that she’s moving forward. We can’t help but want to follow along.

Max Savage Levenson

On the Come Up in Music City: Rising Rap and Soul in Nashville

Rising Rap and Soul in Nashville

Jota Ese, Saaneah, & Kyshona Armstrong. Illustrations by Brandon Celi.

Though it’s historically well-known for its country music scene, Nashville, Tennessee isn’t just the town of honky-tonks and the Grand Ole Opry. With indie labels like Infinity Cat and Nervous Nelly Records providing a showcase for punk and rock, and with Americana and folk lining the rosters of Jack White’s Third Man Records and Dualtone, Nashville these days is truly Music City, writ large. Pop aficionados can also find a place here, as well as anyone interested in hip-hop and R&B. It’s those last two genres that have seen the biggest growth lately, as former residents of LA and NYC flock to the city, and established locals can finally find both collaborators and an audience to help support their craft.

Growing up with gospel music in the church, DeRobert Adams, of the G.E.D. Soul Records band DeRobert & The Half-Truths, moved to Nashville’s sister city Murfreesboro in 2000, home of MTSU, where he joined his first band. He’s been making music ever since. G.E.D. Soul has been one of the hardest-working labels in Nashville for the last decade, producing, recording, and distributing funk, soul, and R&B tracks, mostly via the label’s Poor Man Studios in north Nashville. Boasting what the label calls an “analog aesthetic,” the records feel like lost gems dug out of a dusty stack of retired jukebox 45s. Label owner Nicholas DeVan says “Country is still the main attraction, but there’s always been an enormous amount of non-country music being recorded and performed here. I would say that we are seeing a different type of person being in the music scene here, lots of LA folks and musicians from other cities. I feel like Nashville has always been a destination for musicians that need a more low key city than LA or New York; people come here to lose the big city vibe.”

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Chicano Batman on What Freedom Means

Chicano Batman

Chicano Batman by Josue Rivas

Freedom is Free, the latest piece of retro R&B heaven from L.A. troubadours Chicano Batman, is full of heart, soul, and fire. It’s their most reflective release to date, a simmering collection of vintage-organ-laced tunes that renounce modern-day oppression while rejoicing in all things freedom.

Conjuring the supple bass grooves of Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly, the romantic atmospherics of Spanish caballero Camilo Sesto, the spirit of Motown, and the strangeness of tropicalia, Freedom is Free is a multifaceted marvel. The funky “The Taker Story” references Daniel Quinn’s heady book Ishmael (“We’ve been enacting the story for 12,000 years/The one that says that man must follow no natural law”), while the title is a deep dive into the idea of mental slavery. “La Jura” is an eerie ode to resistance that borrows the steel riffs of Santo & Johnny’s “Sleepwalk,” to critique systematic violence with heartfelt empathy.

We talked with frontman Bardo Martinez about contemporary dystopias, what freedom means, and the uniqueness of growing up Chicano.

(For more with Chicano Batman, tune into the February 25th edition of the Bandcamp Weekly)

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