Modupe Onilu

Modupe Onilu, left, and his brother Baba.

African-wear is everyday-wear, says musician Modupe Onilu.

Onilu, 34, an experienced and well-travelled percussionist, is known for his stylish Sub-Saharan outfits both on and off the stage.

The Laventille-born drummer said embracing African culture requires a mindset that goes beyond getting dressed up in traditional-wear on Emancipation Day.

“Luckily, I was raised with the teaching of my ancestors and African cultures so wearing African garbs always was a norm. So my lifestyle revolves around my ancestors and vice versa. From my health to my spirituality it has helped me to this day to stay focused and rooted in my life,” Onilu said through a smile when he spoke to the Kitcharee recently.

Onilu, the son of the late master percussionist and drummer Jajah Oga Onilu, is one of the most sought after percussionists in the region. He has worked with a number of local music greats including master arranger Pelham Goddard, calypso icons David Rudder and Black Stalin (Leroy Calliste), soca stars SuperBlue (Austin Lyons), Machel Montano and Kes the Band.

He has also performed with American hip hop star Lil’ Jon (Jonathan Smith), Jamaican reggae/dancehall star Busy Signal (Glendale Gordon), Bermudian reggae crooner Collie Budz (Colin Harper), as well as with a number of Caribbean jazz and pan masters including late musicians, pianist Raf Robertson and pannist Ken “Professor” Philmore.

Recently he teamed with drummer Rhys Thompson to form the soca rhythmic duo Boomboomroomtt. Together they have performed at Barbados’ Crop Over, Jamaica’s carnival and in the US at the New York City Labour Day, Miami Carnival and DC carnival events.

Onilu was scheduled to start recording an album with his band Dayo Bejide Organic Music Movement alongside his brother Baba when the global Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent restrictions put a stop to almost all creative works on the island. The project, which has since been put on hold, is called Sons of the Soil.

“Well that didn’t happen, but it gave us more time to prepare and tighten up. During the pandemic I was able to do two other studio projects one for a documentary and another for a Canadian friend and that helped with some of the income we would’ve lost this year,” he said.

Putting idle hands to work

With music projects few and far between, Onilu said he turned to the land to provide for him and his family. He also suddenly had more time on his hands to work on another endeavour he started with his brother: a hand craft and jewelry business called Vyombo Designs.

“I’ve gotten into a serious farming lifestyle. During the pandemic I’ve been planting vegetables and long-term fruits, selling wholesale and creating a clientele with my close friends and family,” he revealed.

“My life is always active, to be honest; I always have something to do. If I’m not in the garden, I’m in our workshop making handmade jewelry with my older brother Baba Onilu. We are having an online sale right now on Instagram and Facebook and the sales are coming in, so check that out,” he added with a laugh.

Onilu says investing in other streams of income is something all musicians should be doing, that and ensuring they always follow best business practices.

“My advice to musicians at this time is to take this time to practise your craft get the business side of music together, draft up your contracts, invoices, quotes, band riders, repertoire,” he said.

Onilu also commented on the ongoing global Black Lives Matter protests and the counter chants of All Lives Matter echoed right here in Trinidad and Tobago. He urged his countrymen to take the opportunity to learn more about their own history before adding their voices to the debate.

“I always say the people that have a problem with Black Lives Matter don’t know their history nor do they care to gain the knowledge to empower themselves. All lives do matter but we aren’t speaking about all lives, we’re specifically speaking about one group of people who have been oppressed throughout history from the invasion of foreign peoples.

“We also have to understand how the “system” has been set up to continue to oppress this said group of people. We need to embrace our problems by first uniting with one mission and it’s by letting people be aware and show them why Black Lives Matter,” he concluded.

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