An exploratory sense saturates Ibukun Sunday’s music. The Nigerian artist crafts each sonic pattern to capture hidden meanings and investigate the spirit underlying the outer world. Sunday puts his life on display using expressive synth timbres and notable field recordings.
On his newest album, Mantra, these introspective stories take on drifting aural shapes. This music is gentle but not without power. Narratives wind together in forming the architecture beneath the swirling ambient layers, adding considerable depth to the already powerful music. Sunday’s use of field recordings further fills the spectrum, permeating a muted chaos into the liminal calm.
Mantra is out now on Phantom Limb. The rest of Ibukun Sunday’s music can be found at his Bandcamp.
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I always like to start at the beginning, so what are some of your earliest memories or experiences related to music or sound?
Some of my earliest memories and experiences related to music and sound happened years ago. Music was my dad’s thing, and I remember the sound from when I went to a dance company (in 2014) called QDANCECENTER, playing for dancers, poetry readings, drama performances, etc.
I knew I needed to do more of an experiment and focus more on sound because this was the only way I could express myself.
If you want to know more about me, you just have to listen to my music.
What are some of the real formative things from when you were young that have stuck with you?
My dad was always playing music, country music and blues, mainly in the morning. He had this small tape recorder player he used back then. That also stuck with me because I have so many tapes and a tape recorder of my own, and it just made me love those tapes more because of the sound texture.
Growing up, did you always want to be a musician?
At what point did you start playing an instrument and creating your own works?
I started with the recorder in 2002 in the church playing some little classical music pieces. Then I moved over to violin in 2005, playing classical and church music from a “hymns book.” Finally, in 2011, I moved over to viola, playing full classical pieces like Mozart, Handel’s “Messiah,” Beethoven, Bach, Tchaikovsky, Antonio Vivaldi, and so on. I also started playing some improvised music as well. I think I started creating my own works in 2016 when I returned from being in South Africa in 2015.
Was there a particular spark that pushed you to start?
Yeah, my dad and mum. Many years ago, my dad was a DJ. Back home, he played a lot of music, like high life, blues, jazz, and country, so I think that stuck with me and has become a part of my own music.
When did your interest in ambient and electronic music and synthesizers first begin?
It started back in 2014 in a dance company (QDANCECENTER), working with one of the best musicians Keziah Jones. He is known for his distinctive style of guitar playing, including his percussive right-hand technique, which is similar to a bass guitarist. Also, his Nigerian roots in Yoruba music and soul music can be considered a major influence on his sound.
Let’s talk a little about your new album, Mantra. I’ve enjoyed your previous work a lot – Orion in particular, which I wrote about – but this new record has hit me the hardest. Can you talk a bit about your approach to this record and maybe how it differed from previous works?
I have a lot of love and interest in Native American languages and, in India, the culture and the way of life. I found this book called His Divine Grace, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and reading the book gave me the idea for this process to create new works like Mantra. And I have always loved the word culture.
I know the liner notes mention that Mantra is based on early Sanskrit writings about Hinduism, which I found quite interesting. I do think there’s a timeless spirit to this music, something almost sacred in the way it is arranged and how each piece fits together to tell a story. What about those writings grabbed you and inspired your path for this album?
As I said before, it is the culture for me to learn about and to understand, but, again, not fully understand it because of the spiritual part of it. Like the word, ‘compulsory’ is used – a bona fide spiritual master, a guru [is necessary to understand fully]. And what is the qualification of a spiritual master? He is one who has rightly heard the Vedic message from the right source.
Lastly, I want to ask about the field recordings in your work. On Mantra especially, I think the use of street sounds and distant conversations, along with the sounds from the natural world, is so powerful. It adds so much dimension and life to the music and is often a fantastic contrast to the timbre of the synthesizers. What is your mindset like when using these recordings in your work?
When using the field recordings, I always go through the music and the notebooks, and I will say to myself, “What is going on in the passage? What is the feeling in the music, or what am I feeling?
And secondly, more generally, what draws you to field recordings and makes you want to capture something?
Field recordings have random movements, mistakes, and glitches that would be hard or even impossible to achieve with a synth – also, the way it has been recorded.
Do you have something you’ve recorded in mind when you’re out making these field recordings, or is it a more natural, organic process?
Yes, I always have something in mind when recording or finishing a piece of music that needs a field recording on it. There’s always something in my mind.
What were some of the biggest challenges you faced not only with making Mantra but in creating your work in general?
“Light” and “space.” In my place where I stay in Lagos, Nigeria, there are often power outages for like two-to-three weeks. And when the electricity comes, it lasts for like 2 hours which is not good for me [or making music]. Sometimes it messes with my head. The problem is always the government and the people in charge.
To close, what are you looking forward to in 2023?
I hope to do more performances and make more music – new albums, traveling, etc.
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