How Tunde "Tune Day" Ogundipe is Bringing Authentic African Culture to American Audiences

“My mission on this Earth is to help creators.”
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Tunde Ogundipe

I. Corporations & Culture  

“I’m just going as an observer and appreciator of the culture,” Tunde "Tune Day" Ogundipe replied when asked which team had his allegiance in Red Bull’s seventh annual Culture Clash. We sat at the bar located within W Atlanta, a Midtown hotel near the outdoor, sold-out venue, and 1,165 miles away from Jamaica—from where the sound clash draws its inspiration. Considered “the world’s biggest musical battle,” the euphonious 2018 bout paired Zaytoven and Zaytown Global, Fuego and Fireboy Sound, Kranium and Frequent Flyers, and Mija and Kenny Beats in a four-crew, genre-blending DJ competition. 

The bartender brought our whiskey gingers as Tunde's cell phone conversation concluded. “The second year was seamless, one of the smoothest productions I’ve seen live,” he says in praise of Red Bull’s 2011 contest. He goes on to applaud the corporate entity for remaining a trusted brand who has respectfully brought dancehall and urban cultures to the masses for nearly a decade. Emphasis on respect. He insists that artists, managers, and the overall industry feel rightfully represented in the Culture Clash space. 

The intermixing of culture and corporation is a subject close to Ogundipe’s heart as a Nigerian-American music scholar and cultural savant who recently accepted a job he considers a “dream”: Spotify’s Global Lead of African Music & Culture.

“I’m fortunate enough to have been born in the United States, raised by two very, very Nigerian parents of Yoruba origins,” he explained. It was his parents who insisted that their Connecticut-born son “be a sponge” with frequent visits to their home of Nigeria and time with family in England to soak up what wasn’t present in their stateside backyard. The importance of African culture and sharing with the uneducated was embedded in his upbringing. Ogundipe's role at Spotify allows him a similar opportunity to do as an adult what he did as a child:

“There’s a lot of people, especially Black Americans and Black British-Americans, that I’ve met throughout my travels who are interested in African culture and really want to understand their ancestry. My journey has always been to use the awareness that I have, and the privilege that I been afforded as a—first or second generation depending on how you want to define it—African in America to really help people become aware and appreciative of authentic African culture. Not told by someone who thinks they know, or someone who likes the music so they think they’re an authority, but someone who has lived the experience and is able to translate the experience to others who are unfamiliar with it.” —Tunde "Tune Day" Ogundipe

On Friday, October 5, as part of Spotify’s Global Cultures initiative, the streaming service launched Afro Hub, a playlist section dedicated to celebrating African music on the continent and the African Diaspora. 

Music from Southern, Central, West, and East Africa are carefully curated along with new releases, podcasts, artist-takeover playlists, and more. Covering what’s happening in the continent allows listeners to discover what’s growing in all diverse and unique corners of Africa. The hub isn’t just a source of music, but a source of enlightenment for the intrigued but uninformed. 

Music is inherently a universal language able to break communication barriers. Ogundipe understands the power of music as a connector. “You have a bunch of different cultural representatives in one space and the goal is to educate everyone,” he says, beaming about the hub’s potential. 

“It’s really an exciting time. I’m happy the team at Spotify has been supportive in helping a dream I’ve been working on for years come to life. This wouldn’t be possible without my work mentor Austin Darbo who is Head of Shows & Editorial for the UK (who’s been a key founding player in pushing the grime and Afro-swing scenes into the mainstream), Melanie Triegaardt, my super knowledgeable colleague and Sr. Editor, South Africa, and former bosses Rocio Guerrero (formerly Head of Global Cultures) and Doug Ford (formerly Head of Music Culture). Can’t forget Daniel Ek (our CEO), who supported the vision Rocio and Doug had for Global Cultures from the start as well. Daniel really gets it, and I’m proud to be working with a team that believes in the future of African music globally.” —Tunde "Tune Day" Ogundipe

II. Dream Them Dreams Then Man Up and Live Them Dreams

Tunde began as an artist and producer before expanding his expertise. Opportunities in A&R, management, tech, and digital strategy allowed him to enter almost every avenue in music over the last 15 years. During the blog era, he blogged. Just as podcasting was beginning to boom, he started No Wahala in 2016 with Bawo, a fellow Nigerian-American. He throws African parties, has hosted shows, and can be seen in the hilarious viral clip interviewing a woman in Brooklyn who had some choice words for Nicki Minaj and ISIS.

Ogundipe finds pride in people knowing him for multiple things, a true Swiss Army knife who believes maintaining usefulness is valuable in all fields, but especially in the music business. “While having a job, I always did something I was passionate about,” he confesses, a way of distracting from how unhappy he was, or how convenient the actual job might have been. 

“If I don’t talk about Combat Jack, none of this matters,” Ogundipe states in remembrance of his late mentor and friend. The late, great Reggie Ossé—better known as Combat Jack—encouraged the Brooklyn-based creative to find a way of merging his passions for music, culture, and tech and the one who nudged him in the direction of returning to Nigeria. 

“Everyone else in my life told me to pick a box. Combat recognized I had an African side, a Connecticut side, and that the conflicting sides of my persona wasn’t a negative. He told me, ‘You’re Nigerian. You have family in the Nigerian music industry. Go find out what’s happening in the Nigerian music scene.'

"So, that’s what I did. I went to Nigeria. I met with my uncle 2Baba (a veteran Nigerian pop star who has seen mainstream success internationally with hits like “African Queen”), and he put me on to a young Wizkid and Davido before they had records out in the UK.

"Before African pop had really transitioned over there. Before P Square, D'banj, Don Jazzy was making noise. Wizkid wasn’t a name yet; he had music out, he had an album out that was doing well, but the scene had yet to make it out of the continent. Being there allowed me to see what was happening early, and firsthand." —Tunde "Tune Day" Ogundipe

Even when he wasn’t sure where life was taking him, Ogundipe always knew his life’s purpose. “My mission on this Earth is to help creators. I’m a creator myself; I come from that world. I know the knowledge and the privilege I was afforded,” he says while considering how 15 years of experiences brought him a wealth of knowledge, connections, and resources that will help him assist creatives. 

“Part of the hub’s goal is to not only educate people on the culture and the Diaspora culture of African music and African Diaspora music, but to also create opportunities for creatives to really, really understand the business they’re in. I want to interview people that are successful, people who are doing things right. I want to interview music lawyers. I want to interview supervisors at labels. I want to interview managers and A&Rs. I want to interview anyone and everyone that can help the African Diaspora evolve as far as entertainment. I’m not going to die with all this knowledge, bro. I have to share it. I don’t have all the answers, but I know the people I can tap who do.” —Tunde "Tune Day" Ogundipe

III. Afrobeat vs. Afrobeats

Janet Jackson released “Made for Now” in August. The Daddy Yankee-assisted single was covered in Rolling Stone alongside English pop rock band The 1975 and their single, “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME.” What the two songs have in common is a shared Nigerian pop influence. The Rolling Stone story was met with backlash on Twitter for its controversial headline: "Could Janet Jackson and the 1975 Help Break Afrobeats in the U.S.?"

When asked about the article’s headline, Ogundipe pointed out the subhead credits the music as Nigerian pop. “You know what it's called, so why are you allowing unpaid interns and hipsters who aren’t versed in African music history to apply Columbus syndrome to the variety of African music and re-categorize it as Afrobeats?” he asks before expounding on the ongoing issue with the labeling of African pop music as “Afrobeats”:

“First, the term Afrobeats is the most misrepresented term to describe Nigerian and Guyanese pop music. West African pop music is Afropop—pop music from Africa. Giving it the name ‘Afrobeats’ confuses  everyone in the industry for a few reasons. The main one: ‘Afrobeat’ is a genre that was created by Tony Allen and Fela Kuti in the '70s. It is still performed today by Fela’s son’s Femi and Seun, as well as non-Nigerian acts like Antibalas, Budos Band and Kumasi Afrobeat.

"It’s African traditional music and American jazz music fused into one. You wouldn’t have Afrobeat music without the social misjustice in Nigeria. You wouldn’t have Afrobeat music without Fela learning and performing certain genres in the UK and the United States with his jazz/highlife band Koola Lobitos, which gave the sound rhythmic foundation. You wouldn’t have Afrobeat without Fela dating a Sandra Smith, an activist and former Black Panther giving the music a social awareness element." —Tunde "Tune Day" Ogundipe

The labeling of African pop music as Afrobeats can be traced to the UK. On a global scale, the UK is responsible for many different imports and exports of urban music. Wizkid became world-renowned once his music popped in the United Kingdom. Mr Eazi, another star in the Afrobeats scene, was able to expand globally once teaming up with DJ Juls, a UK-based Ghanaian producer and DJ. In May 2018, Kemi Alemoru wrote about how African and Caribbean sounds have begun dominating British music for Dazed. He’s right, but the domination comes with a risk when music and artists aren’t being correctly categorized. 

“Sade makes beautiful R&B music, a legend in the R&B and soul lane. Imagine her coming out now and feeling that no one would know her sound or know how to find her if she didn’t label 'Sweetest Taboo' as Afrobeats? We wouldn’t know Sade today. It would erase her, very similarly to how the ‘urban’ tag swallows up many amazing artists who would flourish without it,” Ogundipe elaborates to display the overarching issue with the popularity of Afrobeats. 

Wale is another example of a diverse artist who dabbles in a range of genres, but according to Ogundipe, rap overshadows his diversity. Records like the Davido and Olamide-assisted “Fine Girl” and “My Love,” which features Major Lazer, Wizkid, and Dua Lipa, could’ve been huge international hits if they were correctly marketed. The same can be said for Burna Boy, one of the biggest Nigerian Afropop artists who is able to rap, sing R&B, and make dancehall records. 

“Every genre available in the United States is represented on the continent,” Ogundipe says. “My biggest task is how to show this world that all the world is represented.”

Structure can change how the world receives, interacts with, and shares a genre of music. Tunde Ogundipe noted how his former boss and mentor Rocio Guerrero’s back-end work (with her colleagues) helped to create the foundation for the modern Latino music industry. She was one of many tastemakers who made sure Latin music and Latin culture was able to be experienced globally and experienced the right way. The Afro Hub is just the beginning of what Ogundipe has in store to guarantee the flourishing future of African music, African artists, and African culture that correctly represents the continent and all its diverse glory. 

By Yoh, Yohtify, aka @Yoh31

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