The Rich Mosiac of Wumni Previously posted on Expats Post
In the world of dance music, Wunmi is the artist. The manifestation of her art is like a mosaic reflecting many beautiful elements and textures through her artistic expression in music, design and dance. We have been connected through the network of the fierce and fab Jane Stoosh of StooshPR. I have been fortunate enough to work with Wunmi over the last few days. She is eloquent, elegant and effortlessly joins the dots that draw us into her world.
Born in London, Wunmi aka Ibiwunmi Omotayo Olufunke Felicity Olaiya lived in Nigeria, returning to the UK at age 14.
“Moving back to England, the same feeling of not fitting in haunted me and it was at that point my identity started shifting, like …who am I?”
She retreated into a world of her imagination, finding expression in clothes, dance and on the dance floors of London Clubs.
“With time I became Wunmigirl!” I became comfortable with me.”
The enduring image from Wunmi’s early years in music was when she danced silhouetted in Soul II Soul’s ‘Back To Life’ video. As an integral dancer within the Soul II Soul set-up, Wunmi quickly established a bold, self-styled image with flowing braids and her own unique costumes which became a vital addition to the Funki Dred identity. She evolved as an icon of London underground club culture.
“I love dancing and love DJs because they can make me travel.“
And travel she did. In the late ‘90s, she teamed up with Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez and Louie Vega for Masters At Work’s classic 1998 re-work of Fela Kuti’s ‘Expensive Sh*t’, ‘M.A.W. Expensive (Tribute To Fela)’ and the equally strong follow-ups, ‘Ekabo’ and ‘Time Is Now’.
The tracks paved the way for many Nu Yorican Afro-house workouts from the likes of Dennis Ferrer and Jerome Sydenham. It stamped Wunmi’s unique vocal style on dance floors worldwide. The collab continued at Masters At Work’s legendary Nu Yorican Soul parties in Miami. There Wunmi often performed through the Havana cigar smoke along with performers Stephanie Mills, Jocelyn Brown, Jody Watley, and Roy Ayers.
Wunmi also inter-weaves the sounds of Nigeria’s Afrobeat heritage, New York’s house pedigree and London’s jazz, broken beat and classic street soul into her mosiac. After ten years of classic collaborations working with production heavyweights like Masters At Work, Osunlade, Seiji and Truby Trio, Wunmi is now flying solo.
Wunmi’s single, ‘What A See’, brilliantly re-worked by A Guy Called Gerald, and Osunlade’s ‘Rader Du’ for Soul Jazz was followed by her acclaimed debut album, A.L.A. (Africans Living Abroad). Wunmi linked up with many of the top producers that have featured her vocals over the years as well as working with Fauna Flash, Pastaboys and Morten Varano.
Paper Magazine voted Wunmi as one of their 50 Beautiful People. Premier league producers continue to queue up – King Britt requested Wunmi for his ‘Oba Funke’ album project as did studio wizard Ras for Germany’s Sonar Kollektiv. Wunmi released a remix EP titled A.L.A Revisited in collaboration with Jellybean Soul Records and will release a new album later in 2013. (More on that later.)
When the Red Hot Organization commissioned an album paying tribute to Afrobeat Godfather Fela Kuti, Wunmi was at the top of their list. The result? A dynamite version of Fela’s ‘Zombie’ backed by Bugz In The Attic’s razor sharp beats. It became the track from the project and was accompanied by memorable live dates. The most memorable of the Red Hot and Riot live shows was at Europe’s largest multi arts venue- the Barbican in London. Wunmi shared the stage with Manu Dibago, Cheike lo, Les Nubians and Baaba Maal.
On-stage, Wunmi is a revelation. Her shows are known for explosive energy combined with her trademark outfits, hi-octane dance moves, a super-tight band. Her infectious spirit draws in crowds wherever she plays.
Highlights? A memorable appearance at Out Of Africa’s London Summer Street Party, Jump ‘N’ Funk in New York, and the legendary Body & Soul parties in NY and Sapporo Japan. Her fans at Brooklyn’s BAM Café are notorious for stampeding the stage every time she appears.
There’s more…651 Arts presents: Live at St Ann’s Dumbo featuring Wunmi & Ameil Lareaux. A concert still talked about by those fortunate to have been witness to the performance.
Last but certainly not least…The Setai Hotel in Miami where she was invited to perform as part of their New Year’s Eve celebration party with Oscar award winner Jennifer Hudson.
Wunmi has been involved in a number of high profile charity events, starting with a headlining performance at the Millennium Promise and Malaria No More Gala at the Lincoln Center in New York. She was invited by White Ribbon Alliance, an international coalition to save the lives of pregnant women and their newborn children in 90 developing countries. She participated in their ten day musical convoy tour across South Africa. Her song ‘Talk Talk Talk’ was used as their theme music for their short documentary film.
At the end of the tour, Wunmi was enlisted to perform at their New York event for the delegates. This event lead to her performing later that year at the Mazawine Festival in Morocco along with Tony Allen, and touring Europe with Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley as part of the Still Black, Still Proud – an African artist tribute to James Brown.
Alongside her music, Wunmi has become a vital link between today’s global dance music culture and the rich musical history of Nigeria. She narrated a history of Nigerian music for Strut Records’ Nigeria 70 anthology in 2001. She presented a 3 part audio documentary on Fela Kuti for BBC World Service Radio. She was called back for further programs. Living the High Life, on which she hosted live performances by some of the great High Life Musicians including her uncle, Dr. Victor Olaiya. Next came Wunmi’s Urban Groove, based on Wunmi’s travels to three continents to meet and interview local artists who were creating their own style and brand of music.
Wunmi has been profiled in numerous media including UK’s Radio One, One Extra, BBC World Service, France’s Radio Nova, and in the US; National Public Radio, WCRW, BET J and the African Channel.
Now, back to her highly anticipated 2013 release. Wunmi has teamed with co-producers, Jeremy Mage and Kwame Yeboah. Kwame is known for his collaboration with Craig David and Afro funk legend Band Osibisa. He is a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, producer and composer.
Her influences for the tracks are wide – she draws as much from Kate Bush and Sade as she does from U.S. funk and soul. Of course, Wunmi draws on the Yoruba styling of Nigerian Afrobeat, highlife and juju. Behind the trademark Wunmi grooves, she tackles difficult issues. There are tracks exploring the alienation of living away from home, the stark choices faced by those who fall outside of the system and the indifference of governments.
It is Wunmi – from the heart and her artistry. It represents some of her best work and solidifies Wunmi’s solid dance music pedigree. This is not African music, world music or any other genre. This is Wunmi’s world and there is nowhere else quite like it. Listen for music which evokes her physical and spiritual pilgrimage back to Africa and the evolving richness of her mosaic.