“I am not an anomaly. What I’ve done, others can do. It’s doable. You just have to have the courage to take the first step and be low-key about it.”
Have you ever thrown caution to the wind? Have you ever left everything you knew and loved behind to start a new path? Have you ever let life lead you, instead of constantly trying to lead it? Well, this is exactly what the talented and thoughtful Otura Mun did when he let his desire to see new ways of living and life beyond the boundaries he had previously known lead him to Puerto Rico, where he remains to this day.
… but who is Otura Mun?
Otura Mun is a man on a journey. He’s got things to do and places to go. He is also committed to music and his craft in such a way that his artistry has truly become a part of who his identity. Hailing from Northern small-town Indiana music came to Mun early in life. One of four siblings and the son of a nurse and a gas company employee, Mun hails from humble beginnings like many of us. However, that did not deter his musical mother from insisting that all her children play an instrument. One sister plays the violin the other the cello, his brother played the trumpet and Mun thinking he was smart, told his mother he wanted to play the drums because what parent wants their child to play the drums? Surprisingly, his mother said yes to the drums, and thankfully Mun dug playing them and never looked back. In addition to the drums, Mun’s father gave him his first hand-held radio and tape cassette and introduced him to the greats such as Sly and the Family Stone, Eric Clapton, Bob Marley, James Brown, Parliament Funkadelic, and many other artists.
Mun’s hometown during his childhood was somewhat isolated in that the local radio didn’t play rap on the radio. You could only hear rap music if you had cable tv which Mun’s family didn’t. Thankfully Mun made a new friend who had recently moved out from Harlem and shared his cache of cassette tapes which had recordings of all the hottest rap and hip-hop talent from the Billboard charts. Like many youth of the period, Mun’s hip-hop education was cemented when a “Yo! Magazine” was placed in his hands. For the first time, Mun was able to put faces with the names of his favorite artists of the day, De La Soul, Public Enemy, etc. Mun honed his drumming craft by playing along to the greats his father exposed him to and to the music of his rap heroes. Because of this dedication, Mun earned a spot on the drumline in an ultra-competitive music program at the University of North Texas in Denton, TX and proved so talented as a freshman he played on the drum corps circuit next to musicians who were much older and more experienced than he was. During this period, he worked with great instructors, great musicians and learned the important lesson that “through hard work, you can be the best at something” which he was when his drum line won a national championship that year.
After winning, Mun quit the drumline and got into West African drumming around the same time he encountered DJing. In 1995, Mun was drumming on the street when a DJ heard his beats and, on the spot, pulled out his equipment starting scratching and vibing with him. That same night, Mun received a flyer to an underground hip-hop show in Dallas about 40 minutes south of his university. At the event, Mun met the event organizers, many of whom were HBCU grads including the young Erica Wright later known as Erykah Badu who closed out the show. Mun quickly fell into this creative group and started traveling to Dallas every weekend. Soon after that Mun began promoting shows in Denton, building bridges between Dallas and Denton, and making his living as a DJ.
VSCO presents a short film about a man breaking free from his past to forge a new identity and to realize his place in the world through music and spirituality. Featuring Otura Mun, the bandleader of the contemporary Afro-Caribbean ensemble ÌFÉ. Directed by Omid Fatemi and filmed on location in Puerto Rico.
For Mun growing up, travel wasn’t a part of his environment. So when he decided to make an impromptu trip to the Caribbean, he had no experience with travel. At the time, Mun was into reggae music and wanted to go to Jamaica or St. Thomas. None of those flights had room, so he ended up going to San Juan, Puerto Rico with only 150 dollars in his pocket and a bag full of mixtapes. This initial trip to Puerto Rico would forever change the direction of Mun’s life in that it exposed him to a new place, a new smell, a new look, and most importantly a new sound. Based on the formative impression his experience had on him, two years later, Mun moved to Puerto Rico and has made it his home for the last 19 years, where over time he has mastered the Spanish language and uses in it in many of his musical projects.
Once Puerto Rico full-time, in addition to DJing, promoting, hip-hop production, and drumming, Mun immersed himself in Cuban Rumba which had captured his attention. Mun dedicated himself to studying Cuban Rumba intensively for 2 years from 9 am to 9 pm, so that he would get to a level of proficiency that allowed him to play with the structure of the music and “improvise” in much the same way the jazz greats like Coltrane, Dizzy, and Miles did with jazz. Mun wanted to improvise ancient musical structures and to make the retro ultra-modern using electronic music elevating the appeal of that musical style to today’s audiences. From there his most recent musical project ÌFÉ was born.
Otura Mun is a complete person in that he has focused large portions of his life on exploring both the physical and spiritual aspects of life, with the aim of living completely. According to the ÌFÉ website, “Mun, an Ifá priest or Babalawo in the Yoruba religion, has been a vanguard artist in the Puerto Rican music scene since his arrival there in the late 1990’s, producing critically acclaimed albums and songs for many of the islands most important musical voices.” Mun’s most recent musical project ÌFÉ is “a powerfully progressive synthesis of electronic sound and Afro-Caribbean language,” in which Mun is the director and founder, drummer, producer, and singer. Mun is currently working on a new record now anticipated for an early 2019 release and continues to tour globally performing his critically acclaimed ÌFÉ.
In closing, Mun offers some sage advice to those seeking the courage to follow where life attempts to lead them: “I am not an anomaly. What I’ve done, others can do. It’s doable. You just have to have the courage to take the first step and be low-key about it.”
To learn more about Otura Mun, his story, and his music visit here.