The Lagos-born Bowofoluwa Olufisayo Odunsi dropped out of a Ghanaian university in 2015 because of his struggle with A.D.H.D. and soon ended up in a recording studio in Accra, where he experimented with beats pulled from ’80s and ’90s funk music.
“I feel like, just being from a middle-class home…you’re not poor, but you’re not rich. So it’s like, you can see both worlds, you know what it’s like to have and you also know what it’s like not to have. So you’re going through both circles, both experiences, regularly. It produces a very unique result. That’s the perspective I came from and it helped me relate to people in a different way and to see situations in a different way. And also I was inspired by the music scene from Lagos and all the superstars that came out of the country like D’banj, Wizkid, Davido. Being able to witness people like that from where you’re from kind of inspires you.”
Growing up as an artistic, middle class kid in Lagos, Odunsi – or Odunsi (the Engine), to give his full artist alias – was exposed to a wide range of musical influences and it shows in his musical output. Citing Prince, Sade, and 00s Nigerian musicians like Yinka Ayefele and Trybesmen as inspirations, Odunsi’s sound is hard to peg down, with he himself labeling it ‘Afro-fusion’.
“Hip-hop, R&B, soul, pop, funk, disco; a lot of those songs were around me. I listened to some Nigerian music, very popular Nigerian music at that time. Highlife, I listened to some highlife, too, from my parents. The biggest influence is probably the R&B and soul because I heard more records like that around. They were always around me.”
His debut album, “Rare.,” released in October 2018, defies categorization, hopping between dance-worthy pop and quieter ballads.
On the syrupy track “Star Signs,” featuring the Afrobeats star Runtown, Odunsi fuses classic highlife melodies with auto-tuned verses about falling in love.
“My process is really just vibes,” says Odunsi, 23. “I get inspired by real-life and online conversations. I create music to represent you, living in time, living young, free and with the ability to document your moments.”
In the past year, Odunsi has also gained recognition as a key figure in his country’s growing Alté scene, a youth movement known for embracing individuality and bending genres in the music and fashion worlds.
“Basically, everything for me is just like … something has to be written in time for it to make an impact, I guess. There’s been no movement that hasn’t had it or had something to recognize it by. I feel like that’s what happening right now. There have been several periods in the country where the music scene has transformed into a new space and new energy but it gets cut short because there probably isn’t enough movement, power or press behind it. Unconventional methods, unconventional styles…people just propelling themselves independently to where they’re trying to be and it’s a very, very huge number as compared to the other eras. So, I think that’s what this means. It just means there’s a description that just makes it easier I guess.”
“Culture is a way of life, so as people do things more consistently, people see something more consistent, and it becomes something. I don’t think any man can control culture or status without the people around moving or reacting to it, and ultimately, making it a reality. For me, it’s an honor to be part of something that gets to bring in a lot of change, something that’s going to obviously mean a lot in the future and inspire people to see how far they could go.”
The Warner Music-signed performer collaborated with the British singer Raye on the swinging pop song “Tipsy,” elevating him to the international stage. “I’m a young Nigerian, and it’s already hard being from here and making it,” he says. “What encourages me is that the world is big enough for me to shine through, connect with people and see the bigger picture.”
“When I know I’m working on a project, I watch more things. I watch shows, videos, and just have a more open window for getting inspired. When I was making ‘rare.’, I connected with the ’80s era since I had grown up with ’80s music around stuff. I was reconnecting with a lot of videos, watching some shows, watching some modern shows that were also ’80s themed. That also contributed. I was watching shows like The Get Down, Martin, Fresh Prince of Bel Air, stuff from the ’90s, too. Just all these shows, because the music on those shows, the selection is always great, especially core selection.”
“Working with Davido came out very randomly, very unplanned. He saw me somewhere; I think it was at Burna Boy’s ‘Outside’ listening party last year. He [Davido] came in and then he sees me, and then he’s just like, “Give me a hug. Yeah, I know you, I like what you do. I’m gonna give you a call sometime this week.” And then he actually calls me during the week. Played him music from the album, he encouraged me, gave me some advice, then got somewhere for us to record the song. That’s really how it happened.”
“As harmless as you try to be, basically, because of everything … if anything goes bad or happens, it’s all on you.”