In the world of dance music, Wunmi is a one-off, an artist that effortlessly joins the dots between Nigeria’s Afrobeat heritage, New York’s house pedigree and London’s jazz, broken beat and classic street soul sounds. After ten years of classic collaborations working with production heavyweights like Masters At Work, Osunlade, Seiji and Truby Trio; Wunmi is finally flying solo with her acclaimed debut album, entitled A.L.A and now her new album in the works.
Born in London, Wunmi aka Ibiwunmi Omotayo Olufunke Felicity Olaiya lived in Nigeria for 10 years, returning to the UK at age 14. "Moving back to England, the same feeling of not fitting in haunted me and it was at that point my identity started shifting, like ...who am i?" She retreated into a world of her imagination, finding expression in clothes, and in her later teens on the dance floors of London Clubs. "With time I became Wunmigirl!" I became comfortable with me." The enduring image from Wunmi’s early years in music was in summer 1986 as the dancer silhouetted in Soul II Soul’s ‘Back To Life’ video. As an integral dancer within the Soul II Soul set-up, Wunmi quickly established a bold, self-styled image with flowing braids and her own outrageous clothes which became an invaluable addition to the Funki Dred identity. She was subsequently chosen as an icon of London underground club culture when featured in Kiss FM London's first advertising campaign as a commercial station.
“I love dancing and love DJs because they can make me travel.“ And travel she did. In the late ‘90s, she teamed up with Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez and Louie Vega for Masters At Work’s classic 1998 re-work of Fela Kuti’s ‘Expensive Sh*t’, ‘M.A.W. Expensive (Tribute To Fela)’ and the equally strong follow-ups, ‘Ekabo’ and ‘Time Is Now’. The tracks paved the way for a slew of Nu Yorican Afro-house workouts from the likes of Dennis Ferrer, Jerome Sydenham and more, and stamped Wunmi’s unique vocal style on dancefloors worldwide. The collab continued on at the Miami Winter Conference and Masters At Work’s legendary Nu Yorican Soul parties in 2000 and 2001 where Wunmi performed through the Havana cigar smoke alongside Stephanie Mills, Jocelyn Brown, Jody Watley, Roy Ayers and more.
More acclaimed collaborations followed: her solo debut, ‘What A See’, brilliantly re-worked by A Guy Called Gerald, and Osunlade’s ‘Rader Du’ for Soul Jazz in 2001. Paper magazine promptly voted Wunmi as one of their ‘50 Beautiful People.’ Premier league producers continued to queue up – King Britt requested some Wunmi spice for his ‘Oba Funke’ album project as well as studio wizard Ras for Germany’s Sonar Kollektiv.
When the Red Hot organization commissioned an ambitious album paying tribute to Afrobeat Godfather Fela Kuti in 2004, Wunmi was at the top of their list. The result, a dynamite version of Fela’s ‘Zombie’ backed by Bugz In The Attic’s razor sharp beats, became the big club track from the project and was accompanied by some memorable live dates. Most memorable of the Red Hot and Riot live shows was at Europe’s largest multi arts venues The world famous Barbican in London. Wunmi shared the stage with Manu Dibago, Cheike lo, Les Nubians and Baaba Maal...to name a few.
On-stage, Wunmi is a revelation. The Wunmi stage show has become known for its explosive energy with her trademark outfits, hi-octane dance moves, a super-tight band and an infectious spirit that draws in crowds wherever she plays. Highlights? A memorable appearance at Out Of Africa’s London Summer street party in 2004, Jump ‘N’ Funk in New York, the legendary Body & Soul parties in NY and Sapporo Japan. In New York, Wunmi has played numerous shows at Joe’s Pub to much acclaim and her fans are notorious at Brooklyn’s BAM café for stampeding the venue every time she appears in front of a standing room only crowd.
651 Arts presents: Live at St Ann's Dumbo featuring Wunmi & Ameil Lareaux, is a concert still talked about by those fortunate to have been there.
Wunmi ended 2007 at the Setai Hotel in Miami where she was invited to perform as part of their New Year’s Eve celebration party along side Oscar award winner Jennifer Hudson.
2008 saw Wunmi involved in a number of high profile charity events, starting with a headlining performance at the Millennium Promise and Malaria No More Gala at Lincoln Center in New York. She was invited by White Ribbon Alliance, an international coalition, working at grassroots and government levels to save the lives of pregnant women and newborn children in 90 developing countries around the world, to participate in their 10 day musical convoy tour across South Africa. Her song ‘Talk Talk Talk’ was used as their theme music for their short documentary film. At the end of the tour, Wunmi was enlisted to perform at their New York event @ Bar 13.for the delegates who attended the UN Summit in New York. Other highlights of the year was performing at the Mazawine Festival, Rabat Morocco along side Tony Allen and touring Europe with Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley as part of the ‘Still Black, Still Proud” – an African artist tribute to James Brown.
Wunmi has been profiled in numerous media including UK’s Radio One, One Extra, BBC World Service, France’s Radio Nova, and in the US; National Public Radio, WCRW, BET J and the African Channel.
Alongside her music, Wunmi has become a vital link between today’s global dance music culture and the vast musical history of Nigeria. She narrated a potted history of Nigerian music for Strut Records’ ‘Nigeria 70’ anthology in 2001, and would later present a 3 part audio documentary on Fela Kuti for the BBC world service Radio in 2003. She was called back for two further programs in 2004. First, ‘Living the High Life’, on which she hosted live performances by some of the great High Life Musicians including her uncle Dr Victor Olaiya; and from 2007 to 2008, Wunmi’s Urban groove. This program was based on Wunmi's travels to 3 continents to meet and interview local Artists who were creating their own style and brand of music. For her debut album, Wunmi linked up with many of the top producers that have featured her vocals over the years from Seiji, Truby Trio and Fauna Flash to Pastaboys and Morten Varano. Her influences for the tracks are wide – she draws as much from Kate Bush and Sade as she does from U.S. funk and soul and, of course, the Yoruba styling of Nigerian Afrobeat, highlife and juju. The album entitled ‘A.L.A.’ stands for ‘Africans Living Abroad,’ and behind the trademark Wunmi grooves, she tackles some difficult issues. There are tracks exploring the alienation of living away from home, the stark choices faced by those who fall outside of “the system” and the continuing corruption of governments and fat cats worldwide. It is Wunmi talking from the heart and represents some of her best work, establishing her as one of dance music’s real enigmas. This is not African music, world music or any other genre dreamt up by the marketing men. This is Wunmi’s world and there is nothing else quite like it. Wunmi recently released a remix EP titled A.L.A Revisited in collaboration with Jellybean Soul records. This EP further solidifies Wunmi’s solid pedigree in the Dance music scene. She currently continues to work on her follow up album, to feature more live music and tracks reflecting her physical and spiritual pilgrimage back to Africa.