Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Michael Olatuja: Touching Bass

Michael Olatuja
Michael Olatuja Michael Olatuja Michael Olatuja Michael Olatuja

With his latest album “Lagos Pepper Soup”, premier musician, arranger and composer, Michael Olatuja combines all of the influences he has gathered throughout his lifetime. The album which Olatuja describes as cinematic Afrobeat is a tale of three cities encompassing inspirations from his familial roots and childhood in Nigeria, his work in the thriving London jazz scene as part of Soweto Kinch's band, and finally, his time in New York, performing in the orchestra on Broadway and as bassist in Angelique Kidjo's band. On “Lagos Pepper Soup”, the British/Nigerian musician, known for playing the bass guitar and upright bass, has created a collection of heartfelt, immaculately assembled complex soundscapes grounded by an undercurrent of organic Nigerian rhythms. For his third album as band-leader, the follow up to 2011's “The Promise” and “Speak” in 2009, Olatuja has drafted in the expertise of Hollywood luminaries like Disney Orchestrator, Dave Metzger and conductor Joseph Joubert for the project which began when Olatuja set out on a mission to fuse Afrobeat and jazz as if it were a Hollywood soundtrack.

Five years in the making and filled with sonically opulent orchestral style arrangements of live strings, woodwind, french horn and percussion sections, the project also features collaborations with violinist Regina Carter and vocalists Angelique Kidjo, Becca Stevens and the UK's own Laura Mvula. On the creative evolution of the album Olatuja begins "Yes, I did [feel differently about the project by the end of it] I feel like at the beginning in August of 2015 we went into the studio with a core team to lay down some tracks. Though it was wonderful, I feel like at that time [project was] let's just say, a child because the music hadn't necessarily developed. But over time as it grew in those five years, I met different people, it evolved, we added this and that, we added orchestra and before you knew it, [the music] became an adult so yes, my relationship did change with it but that was more based on my life's journey in those five years”.

"I would agree with [the] Lagos, London thing [being an inspiration for my album] because I joke around saying that my music and even the album is like a tale of three cities," Olatuja says "Lagos is important because my mother owned a restaurant in Lagos, that's where we grew up. She made jerk fries, moi moi.. she was a businesswoman, she owned two restaurants in Lagos. She made all these dishes including pepper soup. Why that's important is that's how I got into music. While [she was] in the restaurant, I would go to church with my brother and we were in the choir. I kind of learned those Nigerian styles from there. In London, I learned a lot of jazz. Then when I came to New York I started working on Broadway and started working with film composers. That's why those albums are a tale of three cities. If you look at “Speak”, it was the people that influenced me heavily around that time. Those were major UK figures, people like the late Lynden David Hall and the late Ty and so many others that had an impact on me. So I would agree, those albums reflect those cities in a sense".

A cathartic process for Olatuja, his writing process was also inspired by his internal dialogue and messages of hope he wished he could share with his younger self. On his journey of self-discovery Olatuja shares "In terms of the older self-talk to the younger self, that speaks to something that has motivated and inspired me for not only “Lagos Pepper Soup”, the album but also the album “Speak”. For some reason, it seems like these albums are born out of challenging, trying times in life. When we went into the studio to record “Lagos Pepper Soup” I was mourning the death of a relationship, which happens in life. So in a way, it was a new beginning.

The album "Lagos Pepper Soup" is out now on Whirlwind Recordings.

You can read more from Karen Lawler's exclusive interview with B&S cover star, bassist, Mchael Olatuja, including more on his tasty long player "Lagos Pepper Soup" and what inspired the album's name. Plus Olatuja talks about the contribution of late friend and fellow talent, Lynden David Hall, working on Broadway and meeting/playing with Motown icon, Stevie Wonder. All in the latest issue of Blues & Soul magazine - click the 'BUY NOW' link below to order straight from the B&S shop or read on for high street retailer details...

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TWITTER: MichaelOlatuja

INSTAGRAM michaelolatuja

FACEBOOK facebook/olatujaproject


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Words Karen Lawler

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