Tunde Olaniran – Stranger (Big Wheel)
I won’t name names, but there is a Toronto R&B singer who came out of nowhere about eight years ago to become a Grammy- and Oscar-nominated superstar, with a voice that drew comparisons to Michael Jackson. Sadly, his vocal talent and musical innovation came with an unhealthy dose of drug-induced misogyny and general creepiness. (Not that that impeded his popularity.)
Then there’s Tunde Olaniran, from Flint, Michigan, a gospel-tinged R&B singer with a multi-octave range, who’s been toiling in relative obscurity ever since his phenomenal 2015 album Transgressor. Obsessed with science fiction, his synths convey either a dystopian Detroit or a vessel for liberation of norms: gender, colour, sexual orientation, body size, everything. "I took my strange ways of being ... and made a universe," he sings. He’s not wrong.
Olaniran never falls into formulas: his songs evolve and mutate, rarely sticking to a solid groove the whole way through—and they’re far stronger because of it. In that sense, at times he also seems to draw from Broadway, in his willingness to bend arrangements to the lyrics and experimentation in form. His approach to electronic textures and arrangements sets him far apart from almost everyone else working in the fertile field of modern R&B. Even when he’s playing it (ahem) straight, like on the uplift of “Miracle”—a song that, in an alternate universe, is a Disney-esque smash hit sung by schoolchildren around the world—he flips back and forth between stripped-down piano ballad and disco club banger, like he can’t decide. And why should he?
This man is massively talented, and is overdue for a breakthrough, mainstream or otherwise—this world needs more artists like him. In the meantime, someone should hook him up with Toronto’s Zaki Ibrahim or Bonjay, who come from a similar, synth-driven sci-fi soul scene just down the 401. They could make magic together.
Stream: "I'm Here," "Miracle," "Forgiveness"