Underground update: Local Afro-fusion artist Obi Original prepares for debut EP release

Minnesota artist and co-founder of local artist collective “Ozone Creations,” Obi Original prepares for the release of his debut project “Waves.”

Obi+Original+plays+guitar+to+layer+over+a+newly+created+computer+track+on+Sunday%2C+July+11+in+his+home+studio+in+Minneapolis%2C+Minn.

Audrey Rauth

Obi Original plays guitar to layer over a newly created computer track on Sunday, July 11 in his home studio in Minneapolis, Minn.

Frankie Carlson

Whether he’s recording, producing, directing or organizing, Obi Original can’t be put into one box.

Over the past three years, local artist and producer Obiora Obikwelu, aka Obi Original, has been paving his own way. Taking inspiration from a number of genres, Obikwelu has come into his own with a unique dancy, wavey, emotion-filled sound. Growing up inspired by the sounds of African Highlife music, it has been a dream of Obikwelu to help create a home for the Afro-fusion genre within the U.S. as well as in his home city of Minneapolis.

“I grew up in a space where a lot of contemporary music was your hip-hop, rap, indie music,” Obikwelu said. “And all those I like, but I was in a space where I wanted to really challenge myself to bring a new type of sound to the local arena.”

His upcoming EP, “Waves,” is set to drop July 23. Totaling five tracks, Obikwelu dives into themes of love and all of its complications, silver linings and idiosyncrasies. Taking inspiration from his time as a theater kid in school, Obikwelu created “Waves” with an emotional narrative in mind.

Obi Original poses for a portrait on Sunday, July 11 in his home studio in Minneapolis, Minn. (Audrey Rauth)

“I made the EP to listen like a musical, or a play,” Obikwelu said. “I really wanted to make something that was not too long, but every song was purposeful, every song had this emotion. I just wanted to show waves of life. Even with people that you love, you still have ups and downs because if it was just a straight line it’ll be stagnant and stale.”

In addition to his solo music, Obikwelu is a co-founder and creative director of artist collective Ozone Creations. Comprised of six artists, all of whom are first generation Americans of African descent, the group seeks to serve as a Midwestern hub for Afro-fusion.

The newest member to join Ozone, local artist Mack OC, has known Obikwelu since childhood. Mack champions Obikwelu’s unique artistic vision and his drive when it comes to ensuring that each artist in Ozone is at their best.

“Obi has really distinct ideas and he thinks so outside the box with the stuff he does, you can see it in his craft,” Mack said. “The kind of stuff that he does is so pre-planned and so premeditated. When we are coming to him with ideas, it’s so easy for him to just be like, ‘Okay this is how we can make this come to life.’”

Local artist Shy-I has also known Obikwelu since youth. He echoes the same sentiments as Mack OC and admires Obikwelu’s dedication when it comes to his work.

“I believe in Obi and his artistic ability to bring positive attention to the state of Minnesota, and to the continent of Africa,” Shy-I said. “He is a large reason for where I am as an artist today, and I know I’m not the only one who would say that.”

As live music continues to return to the Twin Cities, Obikwelu has been able to perform consistent shows in Minneapolis for the past two months. Obi Original is set to take the 7th St Entry stage on July 24, the day after his EP release.

Obikwelu hopes to continue to create and expand the reach of Ozone Creations. He hopes that the group can be a model for artists in the Twin Cities to demonstrate the power in collaboration.

“I really hope that, you know, at least with Ozone Creations that we’re able to kind of show an example to like artists in the city,” Obikwelu said. “You know you can have that talent, you can have that drive, but you can still be the captain of the ship, at least when it comes to how everything is run. Sometimes it’s like finding the right group of people that can give the same 100% that you give.”