A report by April Peavey for PRI.
Otura Mun was born Mark Underwood, the son of a Mennonite family in the small town of Goshen, Indiana.
He’s also black, which he says made it hard to feel like part of the community there when he was growing up in the 1980s. “There were eight black students in the high school including my sister. So, it was just a really rough place to grow up. I was used to being an outsider for sure,” he says.
But when he moved to Puerto Rico in 1999, he found his place.
There, he got deep into a religion called Yoruba, a traditional belief system passed down through slaves from Nigeria.
Underwood decided to quit the Mennonite faith and become an ordained Yoruba priest. He started praying to the orishas, multiple deities. And then he changed his name to Otura Mun.
It represented a major transformation. But from Indiana to Puerto Rico, one thing has always remained constant in Otura Mun’s life. That’s music.
Today, he creates with his electronic ensemble ÌFÉ. The music is both sacred and secular, traditional and modern. He says, “I didn’t necessarily want to make a dance album, but the idea of singing and dance in adoration to the orishas, or any kind of spiritual practice when it deals with music on an African end, are sort of inseparable. You wouldn’t have prayer without song and without dance.”
It’s praise on the dance floor, electronic style.