ÌFÉ's latest, '0000+0000,' is a mesmerizing, future-forward experiment

Nov 7, 2021
Originally published on November 8, 2021 2:48 pm

The music of ÌFÉ is like nothing else — blending Afro-Caribbean rhythms and instruments with a mesmerizing blend of electronic beats and percussion, the group creates a tapestry of spiritually resonant lyrics from across the African diaspora.

Group founder Otura Mun joined NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben to speak about ÌFÉ's latest album, 0000+0000, and of creating art that draws together the personal and the political.

"We'll divine signs," Mun says of the group's artistic and spiritual practice, "and we'll tell you the truth about your situation."

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DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, HOST:

The music of IFE is a hypnotic blend - electronic beats and percussion, Afro-Caribbean rhythms and spiritually resonant lyrics. Its influences map the African diaspora across the Western hemisphere and tackle new frontiers on a new album titled "0000+0000."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIREFLIES")

OTURA MUN: (Singing) Fireflies, catch me just to let me go. (Unintelligible).

KURTZLEBEN: Otura Mun is the artist who records and performs behind the project known as IFE. He joins us now. Welcome to the program, Otura.

MUN: Hey, Danielle. thanks for having me.

KURTZLEBEN: Of course, yeah. The name of this album is "0000+0000," like I said, but listeners looking for it will find that the title, in fact, doesn't look like that. It looks kind of like four zeroes plus four zeroes. I understand that that's a sign from a Yoruba religious practice called Ifa. Can you tell me what that represents? What does that mean?

MUN: Sure. So I'm a priest of that cult called Ifa, and it's - the sort of priesthood title is Babalawo or Awo Orunmila. So we are the diviners in chief of a religious practice colloquially known as Santeria. And so our job is to basically divine signs that people are living or manifesting. So the first sign is called Ejiogbe, and it's written normally vertically - all of these signs are written vertically. But in order to get it in there in computer land, I had to do it horizontally. And so Ejiogbe looks like 1111+1111 if it's written horizontally. And then the second sign would be Oyekun Meyi, and it's that sign's opposite. So it's written open, as in 0000+0000. So this record is actually the ying to the yang of the first record, both combining to sort of make day and night or light and darkness.

KURTZLEBEN: Right. I'm really excited to get to the music here. Let's get to one of the songs from this album. It's called "Fake Blood."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FAKE BLOOD")

MUN: (Singing) Fake blood, fake live, fake ends. Fake innocence, fake drama, fake friends. Fake fives, fake tens. Fake Founding Fathers. Fake now, fake then. Fake bills, fake change, fake sense. Fake politicians, fake pounds, fake pense. As the country stares, fake conversation, fake table, fake chairs.

KURTZLEBEN: Now, we talked about darkness. Now, I know there is darkness in this song. I read that this was in part a response to the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas. So tell me more about what the message is behind this song, "Fake Blood."

MUN: We were all sort of witness to what happened in Las Vegas during this mass shooting and, you know, through many of the mass shootings here in the United States. And so I guess a little bit what I'm playing with is the idea that we sort of know how to solve the problem, you know, whether it's, you know, gun legislation or whether it's actually banning firearms or whatever it may be. Like, we know the solutions. The problem is that the discourse about it is ingenuine in the sense that you have politicians that say that they want to move towards those things, but we know that they have been bought and paid for by the gun lobby. But they won't admit that, and neither will the media that covers it. And so the conversation becomes ingenuine about something that everyone knows the truth of. And one of the things about the Ifa practice, again, being a diviner is we'll divine signs, and we'll tell you the truth about your situation.

KURTZLEBEN: Right, yeah. I want to talk a little bit about geography now. You - I know that you relocated from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to New Orleans last year. What inspired that move?

MUN: It was a political move. I spent the last 21 years in Puerto Rico. I'm African American. And when I felt that there was perhaps cracks in American myth, I felt that it was time for me to return home. My experience with the United States has been one of, you know, racial apartheid, basically, and not a positive one. But I am interested in destroying American myth. I wanted to come to perhaps the Blackest city in the United States and a city that I felt would understand me religiously.

KURTZLEBEN: I'm wondering about, you know, this move that you made to New Orleans. Does this record in general sound more musically like New Orleans?

MUN: When I moved out here, it was - you know, we're still kind of in the middle of the pandemic, and I certainly was when I got here. So I was vaccinated in March, and then I started to sort of, like, creep out and meet people. And one of the people that I met - sort of the first person that I met was a guy named Bill Summers, who was the percussionist for Herbie Hancock and the Head Hunters during, like, the seminal Headhunters years. And he's an African American who is also a religious practitioner in my same practice. And he has a consecrated set of bata drums and plays the religious ceremonies for our community here in New Orleans and sort of in the South in general.

And we kept in touch. I started playing ceremonies with him and, little by little, began meeting sort of people in the folkloric drumming community here in New Orleans. And I just started drumming for these people without them really knowing anything about Ife, which was nice because then I just became, like, a good drummer, you know? And all of a sudden, like, the people that I wanted to play with and were the right people to sit down for the project were there in front of me.

KURTZLEBEN: Right. Well, I'm excited to get back to the music. Let's listen to one more song here. It's called "Prayer For Shango."

MUN: Hey.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRAYER FOR SHANGO")

MUN: (Singing in non-English language).

KURTZLEBEN: Tell me about this song.

MUN: So Shango, the deity, is the owner of music and dance in the Yoruba pantheon. But Shango is also sort of the deification or the personification of justice, because when Shango descends to the Earth, he destroys his enemies with fire and lightning. And so I wanted there to be that sort of energy on the record, something that you could sort of feel the power of this deity in the music.

And so what I did in this instance was to basically take a traditional ceremonial song in "Prayer For Shango" and sing it exactly like it would be sung, basically, in ceremony and play the drums exactly like they would be played in ceremony so people that aren't normally in these sorts of ceremonies can experience it.

Now, what I did here was innovative in the sense that, like, these are acoustic instruments that cannot play melodically. But with my setup, I've triggered the drums electronically and allowed them to communicate melodically and harmonically in a way that it would be impossible to do acoustically.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRAYER FOR SHANGO")

MUN: (Singing in non-English language).

KURTZLEBEN: You've talked quite a bit about your religion and your religious practices intersecting with your music. Would you say that making music for you has always been a religious experience?

MUN: I would say it's been a religious experience for everyone. What do we demand from our singers? Feeling, right? So who's maybe the best soul singer ever? Aretha Franklin. Where did she learn to sing? The church, you know? And what is a curse? I mean, we think about it like a Halloween or maybe you need, like, a voodoo priest or - no, no, a curse is someone getting really mad, focusing their anger, putting it into words and pushing it out towards you. And what is a prayer? It's focusing your attention on something that you want or your intention on something you want, vocalizing it and pushing it out there and believing that that will have an effect in the universe. That's what singing is, you know? And when a great singer does that, you can feel it.

KURTZLEBEN: Right.

MUN: Now, we don't know how to measure that, you know, like, mathematically, you know what I mean?

KURTZLEBEN: Right. It's an art, not a science. Yeah.

MUN: Yeah. That - you know, that's what prayer is. That's a very African view of the world. There would be no song without prayer.

KURTZLEBEN: Well, that is Otura Mun, who records and performs as Ife. His new album is "0000+0000." Otura, this was great. Thank you so much.

MUN: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CLOSING PRAYER")

THE LONDON LUCUMI CHOIR: (Singing in non-English language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.