ÌFÉ’s song “Umbo (Come Down)” has deep lyrics – a cry out to Olokun, the Orisha that lives at the bottom of the sea. “The song talks about the deepness of life.” says the band’s founder, Otura Mun. “Through possession, we have the ability to commune with the divine in a very literal way.” The traditional ritual Bata drums, their tones substituted with spooky electronic sounds, summon the spirits to descend from heaven and possess the follower. “The drums play the prayer and “whether you realize it or not, the prayer is working on you,” Mun promises.
An airline messed up Mark Underwood’s flight between Texas and his home state of Indiana. Compensated with a voucher, and seeing a chance to do something unplanned while coping with the pain of losing his brother, he took a trip to Puerto Rico. Underwood, a DJ working in Texas, was immediately drawn to the island’s culture, through its music. He moved to Puerto Rico in 2012, and created a kind of alchemy, presenting traditional instrumentation to trigger electronic sounds, with his group ÌFÉ (which means ‘love’). Simultaneously he transitioned to life as a Yoruba Babaláwo priest, adopting a new personal name, Otura Mun. The band’s mercurial rise landed them tour dates in Europe after the release of just two songs.
The rhythms and spiritual underpinnings come out of Cuba, but Jamaican dancehall plays a major role. Mun describes the music as if “Jamaica and Cuba had a child today, this is probably how it would sound.” The music of the Orishas and the Yoruba religion is alive and relevant in the streets of Cuba. On the Jamaica end of the spectrum, ‘dancehall’ is also a kind of social fabric. “I just love Dancehall, I love it with the same love that I have for Cuban rumba,” says Mun. “It is the news of the people. If something happens, they are talking about it the same day in music.”
“Everything I know about rumba and the music of Orishas comes from Puerto Ricans that taught me this music,” describes Mun. He learned many lessons living in Puerto Rico, especially about faith. “I didn’t feel like I understood the spiritual world, the invisible world around me. When I came in contact with people who practiced Yoruba in Puerto Rico, there was something there inside the practice for me.”
Mun’s commitment to his spiritual practice helps him understand his role as a human being in these tumultuous times. “The Orishas are my support to find my role in this world. I understand this is a time of change and revolution and of spiritual awakening,” Mun continues. “I don’t believe war is a way to solve human conflict. War is a way for the rich to get the poor to fight for their interests. It’s a trap.” His Afro-Caribbean version of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” touches on his ultimate quest. “I think that the basis of change has to be a revolution built on love.”
ÌFÉ released their debut album, IIII + IIII earlier this year. The album brings surprising contemporary treatments to Yoruba praise songs, with a result that is mysterious, otherworldly yet celebratory – a reflection of what Otura Mun has absorbed through his own personal journey.