Michael Olatuja
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Michael Olatuja

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE

New York City, New York, United States | INDIE
Band World Soul


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What a curious cocktail of African music, jazz, soul, and gospel Michael Olatuja has cooked up on Speak. Although the bass player takes a back seat, underpinning the tunes on the disc, his writing skills are very sharp indeed, with some excellent musicians and vocalists to help him out. It all kicks off with a West African groove on "Ma Foya," but those roots are just one facet of Olatuja's talent. He's often more about soul, as he shows on "Le Jardin" (which could have been lifted from the Stevie Wonder songbook), "Hold On," or the ballad "Unconditional." But there's also gospel with "Walk with Me" (a traditional piece and the only non-original) and "Altar Call," while hip-hop appears on the title cut. And what about the jazz? Its inflections suffuse the whole album, but are strongest on the closer, "Mama Ola," which turns into a subtle, melodic jam. Put it all together and it shows Olatuja to be an excellent composing talent with a great future. - Chris Nickson - Allmusic.com

"Michael Olatuja, “Speak”"

Reviewed by Cheryl Thompson

Olatuja is the kind of artist that pours his heart into everything he does. And on Speak, you feel his intensity in every track. While the album gets off to a slow start, on “Hold On (featuring Lynden David Hall & Andrew Roachford),” you’re drawn into the soulful vibe and sultry vocals of the disc. But as a bassist, you can tell that Olatuja simply loves music, because the album contains a variety and diversity of sounds ranging from jazz to downtempo groove to R&B and folk. Part of the album’s eclecticism could be a result of Olatuja’s background, which is British and Nigerian. Tracks like “Little Sister (featuring Terri Walker),” “Le Jardin (featuring Onaje Jefferson)” and “Yi Yipada (featuring Alicia Olatuja)” could be featured on completely different albums, but that is what you’ll love about Speak, it truly does speak to that part of your soul that hungers for something different, non-scripted, and intensely personal. The title track, featuring TY, contains a funky beat that is paired to a fresh rap, and then finally, it all comes to a mellow end with “Mama Ola (featuring Jason Rebello & Jean Toussaint)” a traditional jazz tune that epitomizes that freestyle nature of this disc. Speak is a stunning debut from a talented artist. 5/5 - soul Matters

"Michael Olatuja, “Speak” 2009"

According to Nigerian born/British based bassist Michael Olatuja, "The language of music is one that we all speak. It unites diverse cultures." These words clearly speak the truth, as his solo debut Speak seamlessly weaves the best of urban music with the musical influences of his home country. On this self-produced Backdrop/ObliqSound Records release, Olatuja incorporates portions of Yoruba music, an extremely popular tradition in West Africa that emphasizes different layers of drumming, and effectively combines it with elements of neo-soul, gospel, jazz, and hip-hop..

Olatuja's musicality reflects his performing experience with urban artists from both sides of the Atlantic including British soul singers Lisa Stansfield and the late Lynden David Hall, and jazz trumpeter Terrance Blanchard. Some of the notable tracks include the motivating and witty title track, featuring British rapper Ty; a moving modern jazz-like reading of the gospel standard "Walk With Me" performed by Olatuja's wife Alicia Olatuja to a ¾ meter; "Ma Foya," featuring vocals by Hall, where classic Philly Soul meets West African high-life beats; and "Le Jardin," blossoming with shades of Stevie and Donny, thanks to lead vocalist Onaje Jefferson.

As a whole, Speak unquestionably speaks the potent language of music on a soulful level and is highly recommended listening.

By Peggy Oliver - soul tracks


As a solo artist:
Michael Olatuja
Backdrop/ObliqSound, 2009

As a sideman:

Soweto Kinch
Conversations With the Unseen

At Her Very Best

Soweto Kinch
The Jazz Planet

Miss Dynamite
Later....with Jools Holland (Hip Hop Soul)

Lisa Stansfield
Live at Ronnie Scotts

Soweto Kinch
A Day in the Life of B19: Tales of the Tower Block, 2005

Jamie Scott

Rockhill Music
Acoustic Gospel

Troy Miller
40 Days

Kevin Mark Trail
Just Living

Paige Strackman
Who Can Compare to You

If the Rains Come First
ObliqSound, 2009

Brooklyn Tabernacle
I�ll Say Yes

Zebu Nation

The Abyssinian Baptist Church
One Look at Jesus



Speak, the title of bassist Michael Olatuja's debut album, holds deep personal meaning for its creator, exemplifying in a single word the album's underlying themes of hope, encouragement, inspiration and positivity. The album, which was released July 28 on Backdrop, ObliqSound's sub-label focusing on modern electronic and groove-based music, tells the story of the British/Nigerian artist's musical and personal journey. "The language of music is one that we all speak," Olatuja explains. "It unites diverse cultures."

The ten songs on Speak find Olatuja stepping out of his role as sideman and finally presenting his personal vision as producer and composer. With musical influences and guests from around the world, the album touches on each spot Olatuja has hit around the globe, including his childhood in London and Lagos, Nigeria, and his professional years in London and New York. Speak is clearly the album Olatuja has been working toward his entire career and points to a strong future.

Chances are you've already heard Olatuja's extraordinarily creative musicianship. His work has enlivened the performances of Terence Blanchard, Patti Austin, Lisa Stansfield, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Gretchen Parlato and many others.

Olatuja, 28, began crafting the music that would become Speak as long ago as 2003. From the genesis of the project he knew what he wanted to accomplish. From there, the music took shape organically as the pieces fell into place, Olatuja calling upon a large cast of musicians to assist him in realizing the self-produced project, including several singers who alternate on lead vocals: Eska Mtungwazi, Andrew Roachford, Terri Walker, Onaje Jefferson, Michael's wife Alicia Olatuja and the late neo-soul artist Lynden David Hall.

On Speak, Olatuja finds commonalities among the various genres that have shaped his artistry, beginning with the indigenous, traditional sounds that formed his roots during his youth in Nigeria. "I grew up in a church that sang Yoruba Christian songs and played Yoruba style music," he recalls. "I honed my skills playing in many Yoruba music bands. So when it came to songwriting this influence came out naturally."

At age 11, Olatuja picked up a bass guitar for the first time, and within five years, he was playing professionally, absorbing everything he heard along the way, including soul, jazz, R&B, gospel and more. Influences such as guitarist George Benson and jazz bassists John Patitucci and Richard Bona, who Olatuja calls his "teacher and mentor," helped shape his musical world. Additional schooling in both the U.K. at Middlesex University and in the U.S. at Manhattan School of Music sharpened Olatuja's chops and allowed him to mix it up with world-class artists who quickly came to appreciate his gifts.

His 2004 move to New York gave him the impetus he needed to put it all together. "As a writer, New York encouraged me to be original, because there are so many artists out there," he says. "Jazz encouraged the freedom to improvise, soul encouraged me to do it from the heart, R&B encouraged an undeniable deep groove and world music encouraged me not to forget my roots. Gospel gives it all a sense of purpose; it inspires and uplifts."

All of those musical characteristics are well represented and interwoven ingeniously on Speak. Olatuja incorporates such hallmarks of traditional African music as the talking drum and hand drums (conga and djembe), call-and-response vocals and the Yoruba language, while working comfortably with musical vocabularies more familiar to Western ears: neo-soul balladry, hip-hop, modern jazz and deep groove.

The opening track, "Ma Foya" (Yoruba for "don't fear"), is built upon a propulsive West African hi-life rhythmic pattern and classic Philly soul vocals. It features a lead vocal by Lynden David Hall, who intones, "Don't be afraid in times of trouble/it's all in the way you rise above," over a battery of grooving hand drums, massed background vocals and guitar. "Ma Foya" will be released later in 2009 as a single with remixes.

On the silky ballad "Unconditional," Olatuja boldly plucks his bass strings in tandem with smooth guitar licks and evocative keyboard lines as wife Alicia (who co-wrote the song) pays tribute to the value of a lover who remains true and steadfast. "Yi Yipada," Olatuja says, reminds us that "change is the only permanent thing in life." One of the most exhilarating tracks on the album, "Yi Yipada" is highlighted by a deep, odd-metered bassline, intricate keyboard work and precision drumming all in tight interplay with Mtungwazi's scatted vocal improvisation.

Lyrically, the music on Speak is also infused with Olatuja's strong Christian roots. On the lightly funky "Hold On," over a soulful organ, Hall sings Olatuja's words: "If you're one of those who think there's nowhere left to fall, perhaps you should remember to get up and walk tall." The ballad "Altar Call" speaks abo