Winnipegger blends O Canada with afrobeats to celebrate ‘what Canada stands for’

More than two years ago, while taking the oath of Canadian citizenship and listening to the lyrics of O Canada, Winnipeg’s Ayodele Odeyemi says he felt very patriotic. But as he listened, he thought maybe he could jazz up the anthem.

“You know, Africans love their music. We love to groove. We love to dance. We love our drums. I’m like, ‘I can infuse something in here,'” said Odeyemi, smiling.

That was the inspiration for O Canada (Celebration Song) — a collaboration between Odeyemi and Nigerian artist Opeyemi Olatunji, who performs under the name YemyTPX. The reworked version of the anthem was released online on May 8.

Odeyemi had the idea to infuse the alternative anthem with elements of afrobeats — a music style that combines West African musical elements — along with vocal work by Winnipeg’s Africanad community choir and a range of different drumming styles. 

The new song features the Nigerian pronunciation of “Canada” — sounding similar to the Huron-Iroquois word “kanata,” which is believed to be where the name “Canada came from.

WATCH | O Canada (Celebration Song):

Odeyemi shared his idea with artist YemyTPX who then became the lead singer, writer, and song composer. 

“As an artist and a songwriter, it was an opportunity for me to express, and stretch, and explore the gift of music-making,” said YemyTPX.

They’ve been collaborating overseas since last year. Due to Manitoba’s public health orders, the mostly Winnipeg-based Africanad choir singers had to send digital files separately to be mixed together. 

Nigerian artist YemyTPX (Opeyemi Olatunji) is the writer, lead singer and composer of O Canada (Celebration Song). (Lypix Photography)

Odeyemi says he saw Canadians, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, also battling racial injustice, coping with mental health struggles and dealing with the fallout of an ongoing opioid crisis. He thought now was the time to release the song to bring people together.

“This song was meant for this time and to reassure all Canadians irrespective of their race, irrespective of the skin colour …. that the essential thing we need is to celebrate each other and to love each other and support each other, and that’s what Canada stands for,” said Odeyemi, who came to Canada from Nigeria in 2015.

He’s also the founder of Africanad — a Winnipeg-based business community he started in 2019 that, according to its website, works to “develop and celebrate Africans and Caribbeans in Canada and globally.”

Now that the song has been released, there’s been great positive responses from many different communities, says Odeyemi. He said he’s been asked why he didn’t choose a local performer as the lead artist, and says he originally asked several local artists, but they didn’t see his vision for the song and turned the opportunity down.

“You can have a dream and you can live around great people that have great voices that could do [a] more perfect job than this — but they might not believe in your dream,” said Odeyemi. 

“And I [was] like, ‘No. I’m not gonna let anyone put this dream down. I wanna do something.'” 

When asked about his aspirations for the song, he said he hopes that all Canadians will embrace the song as a second version of the anthem.

O Canada (Celebration Song) is to be used, is to be sang, is to be owned by all Canadians,” said Odeyemi.

“I want it to become a household lyric. A household song that [when] you wake up in the morning, that students in schools sing from kindergarten to Grade 12. They sing in the morning as they’re singing O Canada.” 

Up next, a music video for O Canada (Celebration Song) will be released on May 27.