Quiet Majesty: Celebrating Dave Okumu’s Ascent From The Shadows
The band The Invisible says they took their name from the book The Invisible World – a meditation on the presence of the spiritual by the Irish poet and philosopher John O'Donohue. But it may very well be a wry allusion to the fact that, though the three members Dave Okumu, Tom Herbert and Leo Taylor have worked with many of the biggest and hippest musicians in the world, and despite the band being nominated for the UK’s prestigious Mercury Prize in 2009, they themselves remain shadowy presences with a minimal public profile.
It might just be, though, that Okumu, the band’s founder and frontman, wants that to change. This year, he has taken a large step into the limelight with his first solo album, the abstract hip-hop instrumental set KNOPPERZ, an upcoming collaborative album with Joan As Police Woman and the late, great Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen, and a just-announced live album. Aside from a very low-key jazz-rock instrumental live album release with Herbert and drummer Tom Skinner from 2019, this is incredibly the first time his name has appeared on the front of a record sleeve – yet it already appears on the backs of hundreds.
As a session guitarist, Okumu has played with international icons from Jane Birkin to Adele to Nigerian jùjú legend King Sunny Adé. He was a friend and early collaborator of Amy Winehouse, too, and was a key part of Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien’s solo project. From the outset, though, he’s never prioritised banner names, being just as keen to work with underground electronic producers – Theo Parrish, Matthew Herbert, Mark de Clive-Lowe and 4 Hero – and the most interesting singers and players in jazz and soul too.
But perhaps just as important as any of that is how he’s quietly stamped his mark on the contemporary musical landscape as a writer and producer. With the likes of VV Brown, Nilüfer Yanya, Jessie Ware and Rosie Lowe, he’s helped create a subtle and sophisticated pop and soul language that takes influence from jazz, electronica, modern hip-hop and more, but above all, he lets his songs breathe and evolve over their short timeframe. Like everything Okumu does, there’s nothing ostentatious about his style – unlike, say, Timbaland or The Neptunes, it doesn’t shout that it’s an Okumu production. Once you spot one, though, you’ll recognise it instantly, while also beginning to pick out Okumu’s influence across modern pop.
That’s what we’ve chosen to celebrate in this mixtape. There are plenty of The Invisible’s songs, alongside a whole load of Okumu productions and a few that feature his unmistakeably restrained (if that’s not too much of an oxymoron) guitar. Over the course of almost four hours, you’ll hear indie rock, electro-disco, full-bore diva soul and jazz, as well as plenty of more experimental and uncategorisable sounds. We hope you’ll agree that, put together in this order, the connecting threads are obvious: you’ll hear the personality one of the most influential sound-makers in modern music permeating all of them.
Cover Credit: Morgan Sinclair
Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs.
November 18 2021
Great playlist. Dave is a legend. Don’t forget Jade Fox. This tune was brilliant. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIn8yv0va2M