The story of Osunlade will forever entertain me. He began his career scoring movies under the guidance of Toni Basil (yes, the “Mickey, Mickey, you’re so fine” Toni Basil). After a gig with Sesame Street, Osunlade went on — at age twenty-one — to produce a little tune by the name of “Rico Suave” for some guy named Gerardo. It was like the most awesomely bad song ever created or something. It also went multi-platinum or whatever. His success in crafting a number one led to his recruitment by the likes of Eric Benet and Patti Labelle.
However, like all artists who sell their soul to make something like “Rico Suave,” the guilt eventually caught up with him and he did some soul searching. For Osunlade, this manifested itself in the form of discovering African roots. In 2001, he reappeared on the scene fresh with a new nose bone, ready to spearhead the afro-house movement. Since then, he has produced some of the more captivating house of the decade, including a solo album on Soul Jazz and a handful of remixes and singles.
How someone completes such a remarkable transition is beyond my own capacity to understand, but it helps explain how with Aquarian Moon, Osunlade can continue to push the boundaries of not just his own music, but also the boundaries of house music as well. An instrumental concept album of sorts, Aquarian Moon is supposed to represent Osunlade’s experience on the Greek isle of Santorini. Blending live and electronic instrumentation and spanning multiple genres, Osunlade takes on an ambitious concept with the album.
Some can fault him for having too much ambition, but Aquarian Moon for the most part succeeds admirably. The album progresses in a circular manner, beginning with “Thira” and “Aquarian Moon.” These tracks feature lush, layered, orchestrated African rhythms, blended with Indian and Latin instrumentation. After that, the album moves into funk and jazz (“Circles” and “Ola in Winter”). This is where his experience in scoring films and television shines through: The production becomes atmospheric and incorporates nature sounds into the song. Osunlade then progresses into his house roots with “SokinSikartep.” Its heavier emphasis in synthesized sounds, sparse production and experimental structure (abrupt fade-ins and fade-outs) makes for more than background music. Aquarian Moon ends with “Inspiration In Flight,” which brings the album full circle and incorporates all the different aesthetics he played with during it. An appropriate closer, its mellow vibe serves as an encompassing reflection of Osunlade’s time in Santorini and of the album.
Although Osunlade manages to tie together so many styles, the frantic nature of the album detracts from it. Moving from layered to minimalist and from acoustic to electronic gives the album a disjointed feeling despite its rhythmic cohesion. Had he focused on either the house or the jazz structure for his songs, Osunlade would have had a special work on his hands. As is, Aquarian Moon is an enjoyable album deserving of a listen.
Still, if Osunlade is any indicator, maybe there is some value in selling out — if you can manage to take back your creative independence later. Osunlade has silently been at the forefront of progressive music since 2000, and if he continues at this pace, he will influence the direction of music in the years to come.