The Brooklyn-based, out of this world artist shares her music, moves and moods with Nataal
Bathed in hot pink light, and circled by an enthralled audience, Oyinda dips, twists and unfurls, her graceful flow of slow movements a natural accompaniment to the futuristic soul music that reverberates from the tape machine in her hand, and her brooding, hypnotic voice that seeps out into the night. We are at the launch party for Nataal’s New African Photography III exhibition at Red Hook Labs in Brooklyn and this sonic sorceress has just blessed us with one of her sought-after and spellbinding performances.
Such a sighting is relatively rare because Oyinda is currently busy recording the follow up to her 2016 EP, Restless Minds, but a few days later she takes a break from the studio to meet me at a downtown café. “I’m so tediously slow and meticulous when recording, which is the most frustrating combination,” she confesses, sipping on an orange juice and looking at me over the top of her slim, triangular shades. “I have a particular mood that I want to convey and I don’t want to make ear candy. I want each song to resonate throughout, to be something you come back to.”
“Kerry James Marshall’s work is very much engrained in blackness. It has guided me in terms of knowing myself better”
Born in Washington DC to Nigerian parents, her family lived between DC, Chicago, Lagos, London and the leafy town of High Wickham while she grew up. “I started singing at three years old and was always in my own sonic bubble. I also loved animation and soundtracks and wanted to transport myself into these different moods I was envisaging,” she recalls. “I loved Grace Jones and all the divas - Diana Ross, Mariah Carey, Missy Elliot, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, and especially Aaliyah. They were on a wave and trying to do something bigger.”
Oyinda started out making soundscapes and relocated to NYC in 2013, shortly after playing Lollapalooza (“That was my first show and I didn’t have enough songs for a set!”) and releasing her debut material, including the break out track Never Enough. She’s garnered growing interest ever since with 2018 shaping up rather nicely. In February she performed alongside Dev Hynes, Ian Isiah, Kelela, Kelsey Lu and 070Shake at Telfar’s AW18 NYFW show. Since then she’s supported Shabazz Palaces, been booked by Young Paris, and collaborated with Edun and Dolce & Gabbana.
Right now her attentions are focussed on finishing a mixtape inspired by the paintings of Kerry James Marshall. “I saw an exhibition of his work at LACMA in LA last year and something clicked,” she recalls. “I’d always thought how nice it would be to be represented as a woman of colour and in general, how there’s usually only one way we’re shown rather than the multi faceted beings that we are. Never being able to see myself, I had given up on the idea of a variety of representation. So I didn’t realise how much it would change my psyche once I saw Kerry James Marshall’s work in a gallery, amongst all of this other fine art. I didn’t realise what it would mean to me, until I felt it.”
And so she began writing responses to the paintings that spoke to her most, a conversation from one artwork to another, building a new narrative in turn. “His work is very much engrained in blackness. It has guided me in terms of knowing myself better,” she adds. “I’ve always had a personality that wanted to be a central figure in a narration but at the same time been too uncomfortable in my own skin to pull it off. So now I’m forcing myself to approach it that way, create a linear story, and be my own true self.”
“Part of what I like about creating in any medium is in the most raw and honest way that I can”
Oyinda is similarly uncompromising with the visual world that she creates around and through her music. From the pared back aesthetic of her black & white videos, which include fully realised experiments with virtual reality self portraiture, to the glorious mountain of rings that always bedeck her fingers – made by a friend with stones and designs that speak to the energies she hopes to harness and renew. And for Nataal, she recently headed into the wilds of the Hamptons with friend and photographer Tyler Mitchell to create the beautifully natural series of images featured here. “Tyler has an amazing eye, so we just like to vibe and blend,” she says, modestly. “Part of what I like about creating in any medium is connecting in that moment in the most raw and honest way that I can.”
Her next ambition though is to build a visual project back in Lagos. “My sound isn’t necessarily Nigerian but with my aesthetic I can go home and do something. I love Ruth Ossai’s photography, and appreciate what A Nasty Boy is doing. I want to delve into the new leftfield scenes going on now in Nigeria that I didn’t experience when I was growing up… I’m sure there’s some oddballs there, like me.”