Before singer and producer Tunde Olaniran took the stage at his set during SXSW, large posters were hung at the back of the stage for the audience to read while they waited for the lights to go down. Over a relief drawing of Olaniran’s distinctive profile, the posters said (approximately; I didn’t get a picture before it went dark): THIS IS A SAFE SPACE. NO TRANSPHOBIA, NO HOMOPHOBIA, NO FEMMEPHOBIA, NO FATPHOBIA, NO SEXISM, NO RACISM, NO ABLEISM, NO BODY-SHAMING. Written in a series, the directives might look restrictive and centered around negativity. But in the room, it felt bold and vibrant. It felt like an embrace from a person none of us had met yet. Whoever this was about to be, he already knew and loved us as we were.
Support and love, of both the self- and other- variety, are key components in the music and performance of Flint, MI musician Tunde Olaniran. His songs often touch on the growing pains of building and embracing personal identity, particulary in the face of resistance. The lead single from his 2015 album Transgressor, “Namesake,” details the grappling Olaniran did as a young, brown, queer kid in Flint, Michigan, and the sweetness and victory inherent in becoming exactly who he is today. Before he performed this song in Austin, Olaniran spoke to the crowd directly, saying, “Let this be a place where you are free. If you don’t usually come to the front, come to the front. If you don’t usually dance, dance your ass off. Be present!” The audience was at capacity, with concertgoers peering in from other clubs and trying to see over the venue walls from the streets. Clearly everyone needed to hear some of what Olaniran is here to say.
Transgressor is available for streaming and purchase here.