How DJ Tunez Unites Afrobeat’s Old and New Schools
It’s an overcast Friday evening in early May, and Davido, the hottest young pop artist in Nigeria, is on his way to the Dolce Lounge in Elizabeth, New Jersey, for a gig. On Tuesday, the self-proclaimed “Omo Baba Olowo” — Yoruba for “son of a rich man” — realized he would be in New York for Ghana’s 58th Independence Day, so he messaged the only DJ in the region he trusted to throw a last-minute party, fill it with people and make sure those people dance until the club closed: Brooklyn’s 26-year-old DJ Tunez.
The doors open in less than an hour, and fans of both Davido and Tunez are currently driving from as far as away D.C. and Rhode Island, but the DJ himself is finishing an early gig at the Nigerian consulate. After crossing state lines, he’ll begin to play West Africa’s hottest club hits of the last few years; right now he’s keeping the mood light with the French-Nigerian singer-songwriter Aṣa and South African house trio Mi Casa. The event celebrates the release of a local professor’s self-help book for young girls.
“I also DJ’d her wedding and bridal shower,” Tunez says as he closes his laptop and heads toward the car. “That’s how I spread the music.”
Tunez was born Michael Baba Tunde Adeyinka in Brooklyn’s Long Island Hospital. His early music education followed a pattern he recalls as “everything African at home, everything else outside.” He learned to speak the Nigerian language Yoruba by listening to his father’s King Sunny Ade records, and when his parents sent him to boarding school in Africa, he caught up with the new sound coming out of their home country. “That’s when the rebirth of Afrobeat started,” Tunez says. “The music sounded so natural. When you heard it, you had to move.”
“When you heard Afrobeat, you had to move.” —DJ Tunez
“Afrobeat” originally referred to Fela Kuti’s polyrhythmic, big-band jazz-funk, but in the late 2000s and early 2010s, a new generation of artists began to apply the term to fresh combinations of hip-hop, dancehall, soca, EDM and local styles including the juju popularized by Ade and the Afrobeat of old. At the time, the genre’s biggest artist was D’Banj, a Nigerian singer who signed a deal with Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music in 2011 and reached the U.K. Top 10 with 2012’s “Oliver Twist.”
Back in the U.S., Tunez began DJ’ing in 2007 when his father asked for a hand selecting music at their church’s Christmas party. After he’d spent two years mixing African classics with teen hits like “Chicken Noodle Soup,” members of the congregation began to book him for outside events — everything from Sweet 16’s to 60th-birthday parties. “Older people were so shocked that I could play for them because I was a young guy,” says Tunez. “It was like, ‘How?'”
“That older community enjoys us just as much as the younger people,” says Thierry Lohier, Tunez’s friend and manager. “Some of these women will not go out unless DJ Tunez is playing, ’cause they want to hear their old music, they want to hear the new music and they want to hear some of it fused.”