How one worldly musician seeks to propel his career through collaboration
By Forrest Cook
Arlington-based SYLA Media is preparing to touch down on home soil like a space-aged planetary rover with a bag full of alien produce. SYLA is an acronym that stands for Support Your Local Artist, and—no otherworldly concept, rest assured.
The idea is to cast an all-encompassing net over DFW’s artistic community through collaboration and aid in purveying culture to the masses where artists frequently struggle to break ground on a single release. The mastermind behind its conception is Oladipo Oyediran, or Ladi (pronounced: Lah-dee) for short.
Ladi was raised in Nigeria, but in 2005 his parents decided to relocate to the DFW metroplex to benefit his education. He attended high school here and graduated UTA with a Bachelor’s in Mathematics in 2014.
“Nigeria used to have a solid education system,” he says, “but there’s a brain drain. People leave and don’t come back.”
He remembers having 24/7 electricity as a key development. In Nigeria it’s spotty, because the national power grid isn’t run well.
Once Oyediran achieved his parents’ dream of higher ed, he became an educator himself, teaching geometry in the DISD. In 2017 he accepted a job teaching at Lincoln School in Kathmandu, Nepal and relocated there with his then girlfriend Kayla Scales. It was there, the two formed the R&B duo, Igimèjí—one of many pieces to a larger SYLA puzzle. Those beginnings weren’t free of duress, however.
A little backstory: Kathmandu is one of the celebrated final destinations for freaked-out road-trippers of the 50’s and 60’s on the hippie trail.There, the Hindu Shivaratri Festival is held each year in which thousands of holy men and their devotees smoke weed to honor the god, Shiva. Despite this age-old tradition, pot is actually illegal in Nepal. It was banned in 1976 after years of pressure from you-know-who. Under Nixon, the U.S. had declared drug use “public enemy number one”.
“It’s definitely a weird contradiction they have developed in trying to keep up with the West but there is also a lot of corruption.” says Oyediran. “If you’ve never been to a country that doesn’t have a modernized government, there’s a weird balance to that corruption. Nigeria is like that too.”
Festival or not, Ladi was arrested in Nepal for possession of hash, and sentenced to a short prison stint—after already spending a month in jail while the investigation was underway. Ladi says it was during this time where his true artistic transformation took place.
“Between jail and prison I was on bail for a month and a half while they investigated. In that time I did as much damage as I could in the Nepal scene…Busking and performing,” he adds.
He was left on desperate terms without a job or place to stay. Dead in the water, if not for the kindness of the people he met there. Then there was inspiration from his musical partner, Kayla.
“She was with me through all of that. We made music through all of that,” he says.
He describes Nepal’s prison as a self-sufficient town run by older prisoners who have been there the longest.
“The ones who have long sentences basically run it,” he remembers. “You can go where you want within the prison, you just can’t go beyond the four walls. I met some Nigerians there. It was interesting to say the least.”
When Ladi returned to Texas in 2018, he joined up with the group Famous Exchange and dropped a single “Emocean” which currently has over 600,000 plays on Spotify. At present those members are prioritizing other projects.
So what’s this SYLA business about? Until it becomes an LLC, it remains an idea based in collaboration. It’s a figurative umbrella Oyediran is attempting to gather his artistic cronies under to showcase their body of work. This offers creative people a simplified means to build a music portfolio.
“It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s to get all those people’s art out there,” he iterates. “So we can say, ‘look what we created. This is our style’”
So far, this concept has manifested itself in The Syla Album Vol. 1, released last year. That album features Ladi playing his beautiful black Airline Eastwood through an Orange/Marshall half-stack. With Blakk Mambo on bass and Dallas rapper Justin King on drums. The collaboration is a soulful blend of smooth jazz, funk and african influences with spoken-word embellishments courtesy of Preach The Poet.
It’s made up of local musicians and is available through any of their independent Spotify channels. Part of Ladi’s plan is that all of these artists be cross-referenced with each other through the algorithms of each unique streaming service. This, to intermingle and boost fan-bases and ultimately get more people to listen to the music.
“I use it as a driving force to push other artists,” Oyediran says. “I manage the project, tag people’s BMI’s, and put everything together. Different poets. Different musicians.”
On February 14 a precursor to Syla Album Vol. 2 was released featuring spoken word artists Trang Quýnh Thị Vũ and Sin. The rest of that album is set to drop in March.
“I’m doing what I can to pay my artists,” says Ladi. “I welcome the success of everyone I collaborate with. I feel in that sense that I am welcoming my success as well.”