Interview: Otura Mun And ÌFÉ Beckon The Gods With “Umbo (Come Down)"
"It's like a literal translation of mounting or possessing a follower"
Fresh off finishing his LP, Otura Mun, leader of ÌFÉ, is already working on more music for his fans. As he rediscovered himself in Puerto Rico after moving from Indiana nearly 17 years ago, Mun was not only able to get a grasp of the culture and religion, becoming a priest of the Yoruba faith, but was also able to create a hybrid sound that had been becoming popular throughout the world. The Puerto Rican group ÌFÉ manages to create a marriage of Dancehall and Electronica with Afro-Caribbean music such as Yoruba and Rumba. Along with ÌFÉ, Otura Mun has gained notoriety being the producer behind projects like Mima, Cultura Profetica and Calma Carmona.
The group's latest single, “Umbo (Come Down)”, premiering exclusively on VIBE.com, serves as an invitation to the powers that be in musical form and touches on love found in moments of need and dance. The group is set to drop a full-length debut album next year and has given us a taste of what to expect with this track as well as their singles, “House of Love” and “3 Mujeres”. The Afro-Caribeño has also traveled worldwide, performing in London, Barcelona and Toronto, gifting his music and offering the group’s idiosyncratic style.
We caught up with the artist to delve deeper into his persona and musical trajectory.
VIBE Viva: "Umbo (Come Down)" is ÌFÉ’s latest single, what was the inspiration behind this track?
Otura Mun: I started with the rhythm itself, first. The main sound from the beat is based a rhythm called Olokun, which is usually played on three drums called Bata. The rhythm is upbeat and in our version, the rhythm is like a tambourine. I dubbed the beat and I thought about what the Orisha Olokun represents, I started to write around that. An Olokun is an Orisha that lives in the very bottom of the ocean, so we are talking about the deepness and the profoundness of life.
One of the advantages about the religion in Puerto Rico and through the Afro-Cuban tradition is that we have the opportunity to literally get to interact with the Orisha through tambores, which are opportunities for possession in a spiritual in a spiritual sense, through music and dance which creates the opportunity to share, in a literal way, with the Orisha. So "Umbo (Come Down)" is like a literal translation of mounting or possessing a follower. So I took the idea of that in-between place, the idea of being able to communicate with a spirit in the time of need. I thought about the moment when we call upon a spirit in a time of need, that particular time and moment and opportunity.
ÌFÉ merges spiritual depth and dancehall sounds, how difficult is it to make that marriage work?
I think it works so well with me because I love dancehall so much, and I love Rumba on that same level. It has been easy for me to dialogue one with the other. There is a language barrier there that I’m able to cross in a unique way because I don’t think there are a lot of people that are into rumba that speak English, or people that are super into dancehall that understand Jamaican Patois but also speak Spanish.
Last year you traveled to Cuba to complete your initiation into Ifá, were you impacted by the death of Fidel Castro at all?
I think we are all affected by his death. I didn’t have to live there so it may have been easier for me to idolize his role, politically. I definitely have a lot of respect for Fidel as a revolutionary and as someone who was able to stand up to the United States and survive. With very close proximity to the U.S., with very little support. I have a lot of respect for him in that level and I think he’s done a lot of great things inside of Cuba. There was also a level of oppression that I don’t agree with. I’m also not a nationalist, so I don’t believe in the nation states and one of the reasons it’s always irked me is because I believe in the freedom of travel. I only have maybe 80 years, if I’m lucky, and I feel that I should go anywhere I want to go in this world. I don’t think this necessarily has to do anything with his death, but hopefully down the line we’ll be able to see more Cuban travel, so they can get out and hopefully see the world.
You have successfully reconstructed your persona, from the language up. Do you still feel connected to the social injustices of America?
Absolutely. It’s been very difficult for me to be in Puerto Rico, where maybe the populous doesn’t understand the pain and anguish that I feel with each news story and with each happening. I think I am doing the best that I can to engage with friends that are there, whether it’s through social media and some of it is through music as well. One of the themes I was exploring with one of the songs was the theme of freedom. What that means on an individual level, what that means for me, who gives that to me and how do I get that. That’s something that resonates both in Puerto Rico and the U.S. as we think about how to beat off some of the oppressive forces that have lined up in front of us, now more than ever with the election. Once the election concluded, the first thing that I thought of was the justice department. Who is going to have our back? I’ll tell you what, when you see the cover of the record, I think it’ll partly answer your question.
How important is it for you to have creative direction behind your music videos. Do you have any particular direction or inspiration for creating the video for "Umbo (Come Down)"?
I co-directed “House of Love” with an amazing photographer named Luis Vidal. What you are seeing in the video are my ideas in terms of what I wanted to see. I drew the scenes out and Luis was able to make it come to life on camera in a way that I would never be able to do so I got to put it out there. It was one of the first times I was able to have an idea visually and not have their influence to distort what I wanted to do. I hadn’t had a lot of luck with that until this time and I really feel that he took what I wanted to do visually and made it crisper. It was a great collaboration between Luis and me. I’m itching to do it again, and there’s a laundry list of photographers that I’d love to work with. I’m already toying for what I want to do with "Umbo".
What can we expect to hear from your new project coming out next year?
With "Umbo", I based most of what you are hearing off Bata and there is definitely some more of that on the record. It definitely leans more in that direction then it does in a rumba direction, although we do some of that as well. It’s an electronic record and it’s played live so you have that intent in each sound. It's coming from the soul of the person and you are going to hear that too. It’s sum of its parts and not all of it is coming from rumba. A lot of this stuff is putting this music out to an audience that maybe wouldn’t have heard it being a brother that’s coming from Indiana. I think about my nephew because and how he likes ÌFÉ and he tweets it out to his friends in school. To have this music running around with the possibility of it having a sort of popular cache I think is important, because sometimes there are points of departure and you just need a seed.