As a DJ, I’ve traveled to three different continents in search of evidence of the fact that house music is a form of global black music, or what I call, electronic music of the African Diaspora. As a Californian native, my relationship to house music was limited, it wasn’t in regular rotation of California 1980s’ black radio nor was it played in my home. Part of the reason for this is because house music’s early development is linked to migration patterns. Chicago and Detroit,
two of the most popular great migration destination sites, are the cities where the music was first produced by its founding artists, many of whom traveled regularly to New York gay clubs.
DJs-turned-producers created a sound that can be described as the space between Saturday night club culture and Sunday morning church. This means that house music has black southern gospel and New York queer-oriented disco roots. At the core of house music is a pulsating vibration that can be likened to a heartbeat. The pulse, also known as the ‘four to the floor” beat situates house music in a diasporic context. Brown folks from places like Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, and who were also part of the NYC disco scene, can be credited with bringing regional rhythms like salsa, merengue and even music associated with Santeria, to the sound of house music as well. This layered origin story of house music explains why I traveled to attend the premier of Yoruba Records residency launch party in Mykonos, Greece. Club Scorpios, where the “Rituals” residency will be hosted from June until September, was stunning and curiously posh which inspired questions about Greece’s declining economy and its tourist industry in response to it. The venue overlooks the Aegean Sea, serves designer cocktails whilst you sip surrounded by Moroccan décor. Walk a few steps away from the bar and you’ll find yourself outside on the dance floor, under the moon.
At the core of house
music is a pulsating
vibration that can
be likened to a
heartbeat. The pulse,
also known as the
‘four to the floor” beat
situates house music
in a diasporic context.
I traveled to Greece to hear DJ and producer Osunlade ‘bless the decks,’ with his special
soulful-afro-techy touch. Osunlade has been based in Santorini, Greece for the past ten
years and is the founder of Yoruba Records. I had a chance to chat with Osunlade, a
black expatriate and St. Louis native, and we discussed his connection to house music as a practicing Ifa priest and his life in Europe. When asked about the relationship between house music and African traditional spiritual practices, he referenced the heartbeat and of course the trancelike percussive rhythms that drive the music and guide those who surrender themselves to it.
One of the most interesting parts of our conversation was his response to my question about the impact of Prince’s death on black music—he’s a huge fan of Prince, so I knew to ask. He spoke about learning from Prince’s business model. Osunlade felt the exploitive and oppressive nature of the music business and wanted to protect his creative process and protect his profit. He decided to no longer work under the influences of corporate ideals and started his independent label, Yoruba in 1999 (no pun intended). Through the process of becoming independent he found Ifa, which he defines as an ancestral based culture/religion based on nature, deriving from the Yoruba people of West Africa (Nigeria) and practiced by the enslaved Africans during the forced dispersion to the Americas.
The venue overlooks
the Aegean Sea,
cocktails whilst you
sip surrounded by
Osunalade’s sound also reflects his childhood Midwest experience where there was full access to jazz, blues and variations of soul. I was excited to learn more about his work as he invited me to his temporary home (really a compound), provided by the club for his guests who will fly in from around the world to spin at the residency. When we pulled up at two in the morning, Osunlade was outside collecting lavender to make oil for close friends that he’ll share as he travels. He offered us fresh ginger tea and gave a quick tour of the villa.
He pointed out the healer’s quarter, as tarot card readers and reiki workers are part of the residency as well. He then showed us the recording studio and the live DJ set up to be available for guests. Yoruba records, headquartered in Greece, is a refreshing break from the formulaic pop music we can’t escape in America, or worldwide for that matter. Find the music of Osunlade and Yoruba Records if you are open to a more intentional and intimate relationship with music that transcends borders in all forms.
Lynnée Denise is a DJ whose work is informed and inspired by underground cultural movements, the 1980s, migration studies, theories of escape, and electronic music of the African Diaspora. Beyond the dance floor, her work provides “Entertainment with a Thesis.” Visit her blog at www. djlynneedenise.com for more information.