Pushing Afrobeats Into the Stratosphere

DJ Tunez, Wizkid's DJ since 2015, is using his platform to push Afrobeats into the stratosphere. He breaks down his goals for Audiomack.
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This article previously appeared on Audiomack World.

When DJ Tunez grew up in Brooklyn, Afrobeats was still a burgeoning genre. Now, it’s become one of the biggest commodities in the music industry. Born Michael Babatunde Adeyinka in the borough’s Canarsie neighborhood, the DJ-producer grew up among two different worlds, resulting in his new fusion EP, All You Need, alongside Jamaican artist J. Anthoni.

Raised in a strict Nigerian household, Tunez listened to legends like Fela Kuti and King Sunny Adè. But once he stepped out of the house, he was surrounded by Caribbean friends who introduced him to Vybz Kartel and Bob Marley. Tunez began experimenting with music around age nine when he played the congas at his local church. At 16, he spun at their annual Christmas party.

“My dad used to bring his set and play songs for the adults. But then one Christmas, I got prepared, and I wanted to play songs for the youth,” Tunez tells Audiomack. “I just took over. I used to play stuff like ‘Chicken Noodle Soup’ that was popular back then.”

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Tunez quickly scored bookings at Sweet 16s and 60th birthday parties and began his Blackout Party franchise around 2012. “I wanted to use that avenue to spread the culture. I wanted people to wear all black in celebration, not just for funerals,” he says of the party, which brought nearly 1,700 people to Queens’ Amazura Concert Hall in 2014. “From there, my friends thought I conquered New York, and I needed to take this mission global. I was just thinking about Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Queens back then. But now I’m thinking about Paris, Australia, and Japan.”

Tunez has fulfilled his mission: he’s been Wizkid’s DJ since 2015, has played in international arenas, and started a new business. “My parents encouraged me to have a backup in case it didn’t work out. So I graduated from Brooklyn College with a Bachelor’s degree,” he says. “I always had a love for kids. Me and my guys in the BT Group (an NYC-based entertainment management company) were able to create after-school programs in Brooklyn teaching kids introduction to [DJing.] I’m just trying to use my platform in a different way.”

I didn’t realize you were one of the masterminds behind 2016’s “Iskaba.” Whenever I went to Everyday People parties in Brooklyn, that was the huge party-starter.

I wouldn’t say “one of” the masterminds. I would say the mastermind.

I'll put some more respect on your name. How did you link up with Wande Cole for that song?

There were a lot of people that played a role to make that happen, don’t get it twisted. I went to Nigeria and let Wande know about a show we had coming up for Penn State [University]. We brought him out to this show as a surprise guest, and we had him in New York for two weeks.

I believe around that time, I was already on tour with Wizkid. So people just wanted to hear music from me. I was developing my sound with producer Spellz, and he ran over this crazy beat. I said, “Wande, let’s make an anthem.”

I feel like DJs make anthems for people to remember the times. Touring with Wiz, he always had an anthem. The last song he would perform at every show was [2014’s] “Ojuelegba.” So Wande was pretty much the first guy I was able to develop that with. It became a global hit and a very strong song in the Afrobeats industry.

Can you take me back to that moment when Wizkid first reached out to you?

For a few shows he had back in New York, I was the opening DJ and one of the promoters. So we saw each other, but we never really greeted each other. But we used to talk a little bit on Instagram. When I went out to Nigeria one December, he hit me up: “Yo, come to my hotel. Let’s talk.” From there, we smoked a little bit and spoke a lot about a global takeover.

He wanted me to be his international DJ and help him take this African music to the next level. It was more like a calling, so much respect to Wizkid. He’s the shining star of Africa. So just to be called to be his DJ was an honor, and I’m grateful. We started doing tours, arenas, festivals. We ran over at least 50 cities just within the last five years. He’s a true pillar of Afrobeats.

DJs and artists usually have such a magical partnership where they understand each other’s language on stage. How would you describe what you have with Wizkid?

Man, it’s beautiful. From day one, it’s just been good chemistry. I’m highly understanding of him, how he moves onstage and how he wants his music to sound. He’s very big on keeping things uptempo and fast. I came from the clubs, so I know how he wants to party. Now when he’s with his live band, there’s more of a performance showcase. But when he’s with me, there’s more of that party feeling. Sometimes we go onstage, and we don’t even have a setlist. But just from the way we know how we move, we have everything running smoothly throughout the night. I think we have one of the best collaborations out there in terms of DJ and artists out of Africa. You can really see the chemistry.

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You’ve also witnessed the growth of Afrobeats and Afropop throughout the last decade firsthand.

It’s remarkable to see guys like Wizkid do collaborations with Beyoncé. Burna Boy just did a collaboration with Justin Bieber, and Davido [is] doing his thing with the radio play out in New York, and he was in the new Coming 2 America movie. We see it everywhere now.

It’s something I wish I had growing up because I feel like kids now have a sense of pride about where they come from. Back then, I was telling people I was Jamaican because being African wasn’t really the cool thing when I was growing up.

And now you guys are the cool kids.

And we’re all African. Now that we’re getting the information, we need to study our history. I feel like we all need to come together and understand we’re all one. We’re all cool kids, and we need to embrace it. We’re seeing it in movies, hearing it in music collaborations; that’s true unity.

We’ve been seeing the Caribbean and African diasporas mix a lot more with all these collaborations and support on social media.

I love to see it, and that’s why we develop our events. We have another event called Afro Carnival, and it caters to our Caribbean and Spanish families. Everyone just connected through this melanin, through this African vibe. I want more of that, and that’s why I’m trying to build my roots with J. Anthoni with the EP. He’s Jamaican. I’m Nigerian. For us to build that bridge, I think we’re helping the world see we can be connected.

There’s such a big Caribbean influence in Brooklyn. Would you say growing up there helped inspire the way you DJ?

Very much so, even just growing up with so many friends: Jamaicans, Haitians, Bajans, Trinidadians. Stepping into junior high school, that was all I was surrounded by. I used to go to so many bashments parties in the ‘00s. So just having that and then coming back home to playing the drums on Sundays and what my parents listened to.

It definitely influences my DJ set. I always like to play soca, a little reggae. I would say I’m now more on my Afrobeats vibes. But back then, I was just running everything that was around me.

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Aside from more unity, what else would you like to see change within music regarding Afrobeats?

Just for us to have more creative control. For our people to build our own establishments and Black business. If it’s Top 10 records, let it be from the Top 10 Black record labels. We just need to support our own a little bit more. I don’t want Afrobeats to be shaped by somebody that’s never even been to Africa.

More mainstream record labels are trying to sign African artists, but there are so many African record labels they can partner with instead. I don’t think they should try to take over.

Exactly. That’s what we were trying to create with the BT Group: a black-owned label that’s moving Afrobeats to a worldwide level with our people working together. That’s what I preach.

By Bianca Gracie for Audiomack

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