Eli Fola on "Last Day in Yoruba Land" And Art as an Immigrant
Lately, we’ve been ultra-focused on immigration: the refugee crisis abroad, what Trump’s travel ban means for immigrants, and how we can continue to foster a welcoming spirit amidst the political chaos. But fighting fire with fire isn’t necessarily our M.O.; this time, we’re here to fight fire with art. Meet Eli Fola: DJ, producer, musician, and all-around artist of many mediums, this Nigerian-born creative is taking NYC by storm, one project at a time. His latest venture? “Last Day in Yoruba Land”, which seeks to pinpoint and showcase the intersection of Fola’s Nigerian roots with his passion for American house and techno music.
We caught up with the artist on the last day of his exhibition to talk about the meaning behind his movement, Tech Afrique (through which he put on the show and recorded his first-ever EP, The Platform), his experience as an immigrant, and where he lands in the intersection of Nigerian and American culture.
Not one to half-ass a project, Fola also delivered the accompanying mix, which you can peep below. Take a listen, then keep scrolling for the full interview—plus, get the dish on his aforementioned debut EP.
Can you talk about the inspiration and idea behind “Last Day in Yoruba Land”?
It’s basically my story—this past year, I released an EP, and I’ve been influenced by a lot of electronic and techno music, so I just want to showcase the work and talk about how my background, being from Nigeria, influences the work I’m doing right now.
I’ve incorporated the culture and the experiences I’ve had into the music and even the way I dress—having traditional elements of beads or different stuff. With fashion or music or technology—it kind of all relates together, and I’m showing my experience as an immigrant and as an African, living in New York, living in the modern world, and having all these experiences with different people.
So you moved here eight years ago from Nigeria. What was that transition like? How did you start incorporating the techno sounds into your music?
Before I started DJing and producing, I used to be in a band. I’ve always been into music, ever since I was a kid, so I started music playing the drums, and then moved to playing the saxophone. When I came to the United States I started a band with a couple of friends. We played world fusion-style music, like reggae music and funk music, and I was singing in the band and playing saxophone at the same time. But as time went on, my taste for music changed. I didn’t want to make that kind of music anymore. I fell in love with electronic music, especially house music, so I started listening to a lot of that instead. I was really influenced by DJ Osunlade and decided I would start playing that kind of music.
As time went on I began to evolve my style from house, to techno, which is different because it has a faster rhythm. I started playing techno music, from there got into production, and eventually made an EP.
Dope—tell us about your EP, The Platform.
The EP is all electronic and techno with a fusion of jazz, because I play the saxophone for most of the tracks. I’m at the point now where I’m evolving in my sound from that EP, and creating a new style of music, which I call Tech Afrique. It’s a fusion of electronic rhythms from Africa, and electronic rhythm from the US. So it’s a merge of those elements of music. It’s not only in music—it also has to do with style, with culture, with the way I see the world, and also with my spirituality. I want my music to be able to speak to people, and when they listen I want them to be able to see culture in my music and see my art, my spirituality, my beliefs—that’s it.
Can you talk a little more about your style and how you merge Nigerian and American influences in the way you dress?
It’s something that’s just natural to me—I like to dress good! [laughs] I’m always conscious of my culture because I’m really proud of my culture and I believe my culture is very rich in history. I always incorporate that into what I do. It’s also part of Tech Afrique—Africa, and the modern world.
So I know “The Communion” is an event that Tech Afrique also hosts, once a month—tell us about that.
Yeah, so “The Communion” is a visual arts and music event. The goal is to collaborate with up-and-coming and established visual artists and DJs to showcase their work. There’s a lot of talent in New York that nobody knows about, so we want to showcase it. So we’ve worked with Laolu—he worked with Beyonce on Lemonade—and others, like Dominican artist Wamoo. He does a lot of spacey, experimental art. The next “Communion” will be in March.
What’s your long-term vision for Tech Afrique?
It’s a music collective, a record label, and an event company, so Tech Afrique will always be a platform for me to put out my projects. “Last Day in Yoruba Land” and “The Communion” are both initiatives of Tech Afrique, and all of my music is also released under the Tech Afrique label. It’s the whole movement.
What’s in the pipeline for you for the rest of 2017?
I’m working on new music! I don’t want to call it an album or an EP but…let’s say a mixtape, that I’m working on, of my next songs that I’m creating. It’s going to include a lot of drums and techno, house, and dance music.
Featured image courtesy of Joshua Kissi
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