SXSW Music Interview: Tunde Olaniran

Flint, Mich., artist writes anthems for outcasts

SXSW Music Interview: Tunde Olaniran

Tunde Olaniran doesn’t set out to write anthems for outcasts. He just can’t help it.

The Flint, Mich., artist who spent stretches of his youth living in London, Germany, and his father’s native Nigeria drops uplifting self-affirmations over beats that bang like Beyoncé’s Lemonade. On “Namesake,” Olaniran spits rapid-fire verses before soaring operatic on the chorus:

Now maybe there’s a lesson I’ve been given

Or some wisdom from the stories that I need to tell

And everybody’s hoping and scraping and wishing

They could be something outside themselves

If I can be me, then you can be yourself.

“A purring cat, for a lot of people, is this soothing thing, but cats do it to soothe and heal themselves,” he muses by phone on a lazy Sunday morning at home. “I think that’s what I’m doing. I’m trying to do stuff to make myself feel confident and excited.”

Olaniran is tall with a wide frame. His coiffed hair and penchant for rocking robes and muumuus lead many to mistakenly assume he’s gay or trans, which doesn’t bother him in the least. Flanked by a pair of avant dancers, Olaniran is a force of nature onstage, performing with a swagger that belies a long journey to self-love and acceptance.

“We all have our own things that we’re dealing with when we walk into the world every day, but if you present differently in any way – whether it’s gender expression, the size of your body, the color of your skin – it can be a real struggle. You have to get past the fact that you will be harassed or you will have all of these aggressions or micro-aggressions leveled at you, and have your right to exist called into question. Sometimes I literally have to give myself a pep talk just to be in public.”

With a follow-up to 2015 debut LP Transgressor due this summer, Olaniran is sure to continue thwarting expectations.

“Being a fat black man with dark skin, it’s really hard for people to see anything but that, so I get lumped into rap, or people think I’m gonna be Luther Vandross,” he relays. “Or they say, ‘You should really sing gospel.’ Like, I’m an atheist, what are you talking about?!”

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Tunde Olaniran, SXSW Music 2018

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