Home MooseFest How Kunlé has distilled his vast influences into a sound that’s easy...

How Kunlé has distilled his vast influences into a sound that’s easy to sum up


Kunlé performs at MooseFest: celebrating 5 years of Roots Music Canada, a one-night festival in honour of this website June 4 at Toronto’s TRANZAC. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Show starts at 7 p.m. Get your tickets HERE

Growing up in a music-loving family in suburban Ibadan, Nigeria, Kunlé listened to nearly every genre of music under the sun.

His father brought home new records every week and played them on his family’s high-end hifi system – everything from Rod Stewart to folk, country and jazz.

So when Kunlé came to Canada to study music and learned about the concept of branding, he felt frustrated at first trying to shoehorn his music into a simple descriptor.

“I was still young. I was still … getting …to the point where I feel confident in who I am,” he said.

“All I care about is, ‘Is the music good? Does it inspire people? Does it make people feel good?”

But as time has gone on, he’s come up with a description he’s comfortable with.

“I just call it ‘contemporary roots’ or ‘roots contemporary’ he said.

“Some say ‘world music.’ Some say ‘singer-songwriter.’ But I found ‘roots contemporary’ or ‘contemporary roots’ to be a way that I can still sound businessy. At the same time, I am true to myself because I can be me with whatever influence that I’m feeling.”

He describes his sound as having “an element of culture, however contemporary enough to not alienate the listener.”

“It’s more like creating something that shows that, ‘Oh, wow, I can hear that the rhythmic structure is from West Africa. However the use of the guitar is, you know, finger picking, and [I’m] singing in the Yoruba language using melodies that have a contemporary or western feel to it,’” he said.

Read about our other MooseFest performers: Dave Newland, Onion Honey, Noah Zacharin, Tragedy Ann, Tannis Slimmon and Lewis Melville, Lynn Harrison, So Long Seven and the Memberz.

Kunlé didn’t begin his career as a professional musician. His first degree was in marine engineering, and he began his adulthood working on boats.

But after looking for ways to continue his musical studies, he settled in Canada in 2014 and enrolled in the Music Industry Arts and Performance Program at Centennial College.

Almost immediately, he was booked to play the Mariposa Folk Festival, prompting him to record a five-song EP in 2015.

Since then, Kunlé has continued to gig, but his primary focus has been composing for stage.

He recently worked for six months doing music direction and composing for the Stratford Festival.

“It was an emotional period for me,” he said. Because, looking at where I was coming from, and landing such a role in what is called the ‘big theatre festival in North America’ – it’s one of the most prestigious, apparently – it was really good. I had a massively good experience there.”

New projects

Kunlé is currently working on a new 10-track album set for release next year. He expects to begin releasing singles later this year.

He describes it as a tropical folk and contemporary roots project that draws inspiration from West African rhythms and stories. The texture is inspired by big band efforts by Phil Collins and Angelique Kidjo.

He also has two other projects on the go.

He will be doing an experimental performance in Stratford July 17 that explores the overlap of cultures musically, morally and socially.

The show will feature gayageum (Korean harp) player Roa and include Afro-Cuban percussion.

He’s hoping it might evolve into a concert series or festival, he said.

The other project is called Folk from Home, and it’s a concert in Stratford in August that places folk music from around the world in a classical context.

And of course, Kunlé will be performing at MooseFest: Celebrating five years of Roots Music Canada TONIGHT at the TRANZAC. Get your tickets HERE.


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