Osunlade – Music is the Only Reason I Exist

Osunlade has been immersed in music since he was a child. His upbringing in St. Louis, Missouri, filled his mind with jazz, blues, and soul. At a young age, he discovered that music was his calling. He learned to play the piano at age seven and taught himself how to play the drums, bass, and guitar by the time he was twelve. Soon he found his voice and started writing his own songs.

Today, his musical style combines house music, funk, jazz, soul, r&b, and world music which has earned him worldwide acclaim. In addition to being an accomplished DJ, Osunlade has worked with a long list of high-profile collaborators. He has released more than 20 albums and countless singles, including collaborations with Roy Ayers, Patti Labelle, Salif Keita, and Cesaria Evora among others.

In 1999, Osunlade launched Yoruba Records, a celebrated dance music label that’s been instrumental in defining the sound of house music. Yoruba Records has been a successful platform for Osunlade to release his music and develop new talent. Yoruba’s roster is a stellar list of heavy hitters: Art Bleek, Bernadette Copper, Coflo, Mr. Flip, Afefe Iku, OVEUS, Don Kamares, and Mike Stevas to name a few.

One of the most iconic figures in the house music scene, Osunlade, took the time to talk with The DJ Cookbook about the importance of growing your food. He also spoke about his admiration for Prince and what he learned from him that solved the drummer and bassist problem. Spending his summers in Chicago and discovering house music on the radio and the process of getting to know a new artist and developing their journey together.

Q: What is your first meal of the day? Are you a morning or night person?

A: I am definitely a night person. My first meal usually is fresh apple ginger juice.

Q: What is a must-have food staple in your fridge or pantry, and why?

A: Ajvar! Its sweet bell peppers and eggplant makes any pasta sauce stellar.

Q: How would you describe your cooking skills?

A: I pride myself on my cooking. Being fortunate enough to travel the world and taste it. You adopt many things. I’d say my cooking skills are rich in flavor and earthy. I grow about 40% of my food, as well as growing mushrooms, and I am an inspiring beekeeper.

Q: What do you enjoy doing in the kitchen?

A: The kitchen is one of the quietest times for me. I usually put on some music and go in. Cooking for me is like making music. You’re trying to get the right ingredients as you would with sound, so I’m always playing with the colors of the food as if it were sound if that makes sense. Lol!

Q: What is your least favorite thing to do in the kitchen?

A: Cleaning the oven! PASS! My mom and I fight about it! She eventually does it for me, complains, and charges me for the work.

Q: When you’re home, do you enjoy cooking new recipes?

A: Absolutely. I recently challenged myself to cook a different cuisine for a month, which was fun. I mostly lean toward Asian as it’s lighter and more about balance, but I’m mean on the grill as well.

Q: Did you join the cooking and baking bandwagon at the height of the pandemic?

A: I cook every day, so nothing changed for me there. What did happen, was my love of growing mushrooms.

Q: Is there a favorite Osunlade dish that’s a hit in your household?

A: My pasta and citrus chicken pot pie are winners.

Q: What makes your dish special? Is it the ingredients, the cooking process (simmering, baking, boiling, frying), or the flavors blending together?

A: All of the above. It’s about getting the right balance of sweet, salt, sour, or whatever the plate warrants.

Q: Do you think when food is cooked with love it tastes better?

A: 100%

Q: Do you think a meal can tell a story?

A: I think it can and does. Usually, it’s a silent one if it’s done right.

Q: You’ve lived in different states in the U.S and different countries. Foodwise what reminds you of Greece, Los Angeles, New York, or Puerto Rico?

A: Greece, everything! The freshest of it all. When you understand how important it is to grow your own food, you realize what things are really meant to taste like. Nothing so specific about the other places.

Q: You were born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. Tell us about a dish that’s 100%, St. Louis.

A: Imo’s Pizza. They use a cheese called Provel which is local. It’s a very thin crust pizza, with a great sauce, a staple is also fried ravioli. Chinese food in St. Louis is quite specific. It’s more street food and greasy goodness.

Q: Do you have fond memories of your family getting together for the holidays and cooking together? Who cooked what?

A: Absolutely, family gatherings were usually big ones. They’d reserve a spot at Forest Park (our Central Park) and bbq, mom was usually on the soul food stuff, my aunt Ruby was all the cakes, etc, and my older cousins om the bbq duties.

Q: Is there a special family recipe that’s been passed down from generations in your family?

A: Nah…nothing!

Q: What role did music play in your family, and how important was it?

A: It was everything to me. I’m an adopted only child so you can imagine pretty much music was my only friend. It was always on, my parents were party people. They would have weekend sleepover parties so I grew up in a very open setting.

Q: Did you look forward to eating after Sunday church service? What were the meals like?

A: I hated church and the meals. At age nine, I told my father I didn’t believe any of it, and from that day on, I never went back.

Q: As part of your church’s choir, how many times a week did you rehearse?

A: I was in the choir for a few years, we’d rehearse if I recall once weekly.

Q: What was the best part of performing in church?

A: Dancing and clowning with the fellas, but also the music. It’s the ONLY thing I cared about with church.

Q: When did you realize that music could be a spiritual experience? Was it a particular moment or a series of events?

A: I think in my twenties, nothing specific happened, I’m simply an intuitive person, and when I realized vulnerability can be strength, vibrations are more organic hence a natural occurrence and connection.

Q: During your formative years, who influenced you musically?

A: Prince of course. I loved the fact that he did most of it himself. Being in bands early on I learned fast that the drummer and bassists are always gonna be an issue so I learned what I could to solve that problem. Prince was the beacon for that.

Q: What is that one album that you still listen to today?

A: Wow, so many can’t narrow that down sorry… The pandemic put me into a hyper mode in terms of music buying.

Q: Do you remember when you were introduced to house and techno music?

A: Yes, in Chicago. I spend most of my teenage summers with my cousin there. We would listen to house on the radio. As well some older cousins would go clubbing to hear Frankie Knuckles.

Q: When did you start DJing?

A: I’ve kinda always DJed, I was in old hip-hop groups but professionally my first gig was in Milan with Harley & Muscle.

Q: Do you remember your first gig as a paid DJ?

A: That was it..$250!

Q: You’ve had a very prolific career as a producer and musician in the music industry. Do you think the music industry is still stuck in its traditional modus operandi? Do you think it has evolved at a fast or slow pace?

A: It’s changing fast, and honestly hard to keep up. However, I’m old school and am more about the tangible. Wax is so important to me as it stands the test of time. The new streaming platforms, TikTok, NFTs, and all the web3 stuff will definitely shake things up. I will be finding my place in it all but I’m not eager just yet as musically, what I do has its own tribe and we must get there together.

Q: Did these experiences inspire you to create your label Yoruba Records?

A: I never had the thought of it until Tommy Musto offered me the opportunity which I’m forever grateful for. He and Silvio Tancredi took me in, showed me the ropes and we did great numbers back then you could sell 10k a release.

Q: What do you look for when releasing new music on your label? You have a very diverse roster of musicians and producers on the label. What is essential to the Yoruba sound?

A: Mentorship. I don’t sign anything from anyone I don’t know and/or have not spent time with. It’s important to the person first. I can’t present something to anyone without knowing their honesty, where they want to go creatively, and how best to get there. It usually takes 2-4 years before something is released tbh. I rush nothing.

Q: Besides the sound, tell us about the artwork that goes with each release. Are there visual artists with whom you regularly collaborate?

A: All artwork is my collages unless we use an artist’s photo.

Q: Do you see yourself as a vessel for music?

A: It’s the only reason I exist.

Q: Have you felt the music flow right through you when producing? Is there an album or track that might describe this experience?

A: Every song is that for me. It’s literal.

Q: Do you work alone or do you invite musicians along for the journey?

A: Mostly alone, I am a creature of habit.

Q: How do you set the mood in the studio?

A: Lights lots of them. My bubble is otherworldly with the universe in the ceiling.

Q: In your opinion, is it possible to return to that organic state of being without enslaving ourselves with technology?

A: Impossible…those days are gone… We are already too far ahead and behind.

Osunlade thank you so much for being part of The DJ Cookbook!

Thank you!

Check out Osunlade’s latest release HERE on Boogie Angst titled ‘Let’s Invade The Amazon (Yoruba Soul Mix)’