Prog-rock funky pyscadelic trio from Amsterdam talk to me about their concepts behind their music, and much more.
WOMAD Festival / Religious expression / Yoruba - Ifá practises / Electronic - London music scene
WOMAD 2017 Sunday, Ecotricity Stage, 5-6pm
IIII+IIII Album Out now:
As a student of ethnomusicology, the concept of music as a form of religious or spiritual expression is something we frequently touch upon; be it the use of the African mBira for connection with the ancestral spirits, or the Islamic recital chanting of qawwali music, but Otura Mun’s debut album in his ÌFÉ outfit; IIII+IIII is a unique contemporary exploration of faith and spirituality through electronic music.
ÌFÉ firstly as a title of an album resonates religious connotations as it rings familiar to the ‘ Ifá ’ faith system within which our profound conductor of this musical outfit is himself, a practising priest. Ifá is a branch of the Yoruba religion practiced throughout West Africa (Benin,Togo, Niger ect) I spoke to Otura Mun about these undeniable connections of faith in the album that at times plays as a spiritual experience;
Otura Mun: I initiated in Ifá; which is a part of the Yoruba religions as practiced in the western hemisphere. In which basically I am a priest, we are also called babalawo and our job inside that religious practices (Ifá) is divination.
So my job is basically to find and define, what we understand as the divine destiny that each person is living or expressing at any particular moment in their lives, or looking back in their lives. So if you sit down in front of me, I’m going to define the sign out of the 256 (signs) that talks about the energy that you are manifesting.
Within Ifá, a process involving a wooden ‘divination tray’ named the ‘Opon Ifá' is used along side the sacred palm or kola nuts named ‘Ikin’, together the babalawos (otherwise known as Iyanifas/priests) will use this with the ‘256 signs’ in order to establish someones energy with the divine;
Otura Mun: My job (as a babalawo) is to identify the energies and help you balance yourself with it, with the idea that if you can grab onto your destiny and the life you are supposed to be living, and adhere to it right, and walk that path, then you are going to enjoy the fruits of life, have a long life of health, salvage relationships with people, you know, open roads in life.
But if you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing, if you're not walking the path you're supposed to be walking, then you might experience loss and sickness and conflict. So my job is to help you see that destiny, and help you to give yourself to it.
So some of what you're hearing in the record, is sort of maybe me coming to terms with another way to view the world around me. Because I initiated in this practice maybe around four years ago right; so this is an African religion and an African way of viewing and understanding the world that you live in, right. So maybe seven years ago I would have thought it would be silly to be praying to a stone, right, because of my western up bringing, I couldn’t understand that a stone has life, it is expressing itself, just the way that say this wood *holds table* is still expressing itself you know what I mean. But I couldn’t really wrap my head around that, it was me, meeting a new me, working through this new way of understanding the world, and inside of the songs, theres almost always a theme that I'm dealing with, and they’re general theme, say like loss or forgiveness.
The last song ‘Yari Gemini’ is talking about forgiveness and it’s talking about a friend of mine that helped me get through a ruff moment in my life, you know. And so, Geminis are the two stars that are in the sky, and so I think about living with this best friend of mine forever, we’re going to be together forever you know, and inside of the Yoruba religion, the two twins are ‘Ibeji' and so theres a song at the end of the album, where I'm talking about the Gemini's being these two stars in the sky, but then you flip it and were singing to the Ibeji which are the twins in the Yoruba religions. So there’s sort of several different levels on which you can understand the music
Having presented the album originally on ‘A World In London’ as an exclusive ‘new release’ back in May on SOAS Radio (https://soasradio.org/music/episodes/awil-221-full-swing), I’d relinquished in the opportunity to divulge fully into the album. Each tune sways seamlessly through speaking Yoruban or Spanish to English lyrics; as with faith that transcends languages, it seems this is another way in which the album becomes almost a religious experience. With further reminisce of trip-hop and a Cuban percussive section, I rather became entranced with the album. I asked Otura Mun how the rest of the world have reacted to the release…
Otura Mun: It has been pretty amazing, I am really just overjoyed with the people that have hit me up from so many different parts of the world I think that were somehow able to connect through the music, on so many different levels, whether it was somebody who lets say is initiated in a certain part of the nation that let’s say is part of the religion, and say it touches them there. Or whether it's someone that doesn't speak either Spanish or English or Yoruba, but it is somehow able to connect with the sentiment of the album, in a very clear way. I’m just really grateful to be able communicate with so many different people, and for people to be able to pull something out of the record that’s meaningful, that’s special.
Knowing full well that the chart music of Puerto Rico, where Otura calls home, has for some, time been highly dominated by the reggaeton rhythms since the 1990’s. I ask Otura if this has had an impact on the success of his electro-afro-cuban album at home in the heart of Puerto Rico, and if this effects, as ÌFÉ, where he feels most musical at home…
Otura Mun: Home for me is in Puerto Rico, but actually to be honest, my home for performing is London. I love the UK, this is the third time I’v been here this year, all the shows we play in UK have been amazing. Im also a big fan of UK music, like I like listening to BBC One Extra, Mr.Jam is cool, I love al that stuff and so I mean, home is cool, we actually have played three shows in Puerto Rico in total, that’s it.
It’s totally really well received, it’s just that the music scene in general is really conservative over there you know, it’s sort of over run by like, reggaetone and just a lot of crap music. And so you know, there is a space for what were doing, but it’s soo new, that the people, especially the young kids, haven’t been able to reach out and interact, so yeah we play internationally a lot.
I managed to catch up with Otura Mun after his set at WOMAD Festival UK 2017. Otura was playing on the Ecotricity Stage at a sun setting time of 5-6pm. Having listened to the album extensively before the set I was expecting an immersive performance, however was taken aback by the reaction of the audience, whom much like a religious ceremony seemed completely entranced in his soundscapes, almost as if sacrificing themselves to the music. Playing nearly the whole of ‘IIII+IIII’ I left the set feeling as tho I had received a generous helping of IFE’s music, and with unshakable taste for more. I asked Otura Mun if this was the reception they always receive when they play?
Otura Mun: I tell you we didn’t want to leave the WOMAD stage! I suppose we do receive a similar audience participation wherever we go, but you know once again, the UK crowds are a lot of fun. For some reason I think that you guys know electronic music out here, and so you're used to those sounds and those types of performances, and so yeah, I just think that theres something about it, I don't know what it is, I can't put my finger on it, but this music in a way is built for you guys. I think perhaps you are the party people *laughs*.
I highly recommend listening to IIII+IIII in solitary concentration. The beautiful harmonies of the lyrics resonate such as a choir singing a sacred Yoruba praise song. I feel that the album is a journey through the faith and ÌFÉ is the carriage of our discovery. Perhaps in this new era IIII+IIII marks an age of albums being a medium of faith expression, and in themselves become an artefact of religious meditation. IIII+IIII in this case becoming Otura Muns religious manifesto.
The opening song being perhaps the opening ceremony in our journey; with a call and response typical of it’s African influences, along side the cuban son rhythms, we are welcomed to the melting pot of inspirations to be found in the album through a soft meditative chant. The album then immediately picks up in the second track ‘Bangah' (Pico y Palo) with its foot tapping electronic Jamaican dancehall esc energy, suddenly we are able to revise and absorb the message, but it seems we can also express the album through dancing. The third track ‘YUMAVISION' diverting and taking us to a trip-hop ÌFÉ. As well as taking us through a concoction of traditional and contemporary sounds; IIII+IIII also subtly and seamlessly blends Afro-Cuban rhythms, such as their use of the ‘Son’ rhythm which inspired Salsa and originally was of an Afro-Cuban descent. ÌFÉ helps to shine a new light on these otherwise heavily Afro-Cuban sounds rarely heard outside the boundaries from which they originated.
All in all, ÌFÉ’s IIII+IIII may be a personal spiritual exploration for Otura Mun, but it’s also a unique exploration of music as an expression of religion, blurring the line between preacher and the preached and perhaps adding a medium to how one can express faith.
Check out Songlines October magazine review in which IIII+IIII received a 5 star review;