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Ola Onabule

Ronnie Scott's, London
3 out of 5 3

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John L Walters
* The Guardian, Tuesday 4 September 2007 10.03 BST

To describe Ola Onabule as a sweet-voiced singer-songwriter from Lagos would be perfectly true, but it doesn't tell the whole story. It's like calling Ronnie Scott's a jazz club when in fact it is (and always has been) a Soho supper club, too. On the continuum between pure jazz and jazzy entertainment, Onabule veers more towards the latter.

His unique selling proposition is a golden voice, with a range and smoothness that recalls singers such as Luther Vandross and more recent pretenders to the soul-pop crown, such as Frank McComb and Van Hunt. Onabule could probably make a good living doing covers, but instead he has chosen to go his own way, with original material from albums such as In Emergency Brake Silence and The Devoured Man. He explains that the bossa-like How is about his "desperate struggle with existentialism", then deflates the introduction by saying, in his best crooner manner: "Hey baby, I know a whole lot more words like that!"

Despite the smooth-operator shtick, there is a gaucheness to his performance that is also quite charming. After reprimanding some diners for chatting during his soft soul ballad Back Home, there's an embarrassed pause that he breaks to say: "Sorry."

Onabule's five-piece backing group, though competent and well drilled, don't quite rise to the leader's ambitions. He has the potential to make his songs break free of funk, with a voice that is beautifully clear and appealingly textured, almost classical. There are moments when he lets fly with a kind of yodelling ululation, like a more radio-friendly Leon Thomas. Yet the elements - voice, songs, band, style - do not quite add up yet.

· At Swansea Grand Theatre tomorrow. Box office: 01792 475715. Then touring.
- The Guardian

Honey-voiced Ola Onabule performed a night of jazz-tinged blues and soul at the New Wolsey. Our reviewer Pete Brown was bowled over by the energy and passion...
Ola Onabule and his band, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, Ipswich, 25th April 2004
Ola Onabule
One of Britain's finest singer/songwriters
"If music be the food of love then play on, give me plentiful of it," words by William Shakespeare, and he knew what he was talking about, even in those days.

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These are the words that I would attribute to Ola Onabule in that I was taken-aback not only by the mixture of melodies and harmonies but also by the pure energy and passion that came from both him and individual members of the band
quote I was taken-aback not only by the mixture of melodies and harmonies but also by the pure energy and passion that come from both him and individual members of the band. quote
Pete Brown
Ola, the lead singer of the band, displayed so much passion and emotion in his songs as well as giving a captivating performance that had the audience sitting in silent wonder of what to expect next. This truly was a night to remember. And most of the songs were based on the theme of love, but not just carnal love. He was talking about brotherly love, and making this a better world.

Now, lets get down to the proceedings of the night and what happened. The show started with an announcement over the tannoy that the band would be on in two minutes. People hurried off to their seats and settled down. It was obvious that some had seen him before and were followers of the band. It was also obvious that a majority had not but had heard good things and wanted to experience him for themselves. I saw people stopping and chatting to acquaintances on their way to their seats and exchanging remarks about what was about to hit us!

The show

The band came on followed by Ola himself. Straight away the music hit us with full force, pinning each person down to their seat.
quote I don't say this very often, but I was struck speechless by what was on display. quote
Pete Brown

All you could do was sit, listen and absorb what was coming at you, sounds and showmanship in equal quantities. I don't say this very often, but I was struck speechless by what was on display. My ears were working in full mode while at the same time my eyes were being assaulted by images of captivating pleasure. My mind had to run in overload just to keep abreast with the proceedings. It was magic!

Within the first two or three songs I noticed that I was not the only one who had been hypnotised, mesmerised and completely taken in by the show. There were hands slapping tights, feet tapping away and even torso's swaying from side to side. It was evident throughout the crowd. I had to break my concentration from the band to look at the audience and notice all this movement. It was great to know that I wasn't alone in what I was feeling.

By the end of the first session, I was pretty sure that everyone was enjoying the night. Just to confirm my suspicions I asked around during the interval what people felt about the show so far. There was not a bad word to be heard from anyone! The worst freed back I got was "It's very different, isn't it? Not exactly what I was expecting, but it's interesting". I would take that as a positive comment.

Ola's "unique style"

Ola has a unique style and sound. His voice reminded me of Luther Vandross and George Benson, combined. Yes, it was that good, traversing the musical scale with such easiness and smoothness. At the same time he moved and grooved to the music with grace and passion.

The band

And the band, now that was something! The pianist/keyboardist, Pete Adams, was spectacular. I've never seen someone with such agile fingers and someone who put so much soul into his playing. Mind you we were warned at the beginning of the show by Ola to be careful of this captivating individual!

The drummer, Julian Mcffaden, I think was just as great. I really loved his style and his energy. I did find it hard to keep up with him at times, and I do know how to keep a beat.
quote I mean, if they were the only band to play at the Beckham's wedding reception, then they must be good, hey? quote
Pete Brown

What can I say about Don Chandler, the bassist? The sound was tight and real. It was funky, smooth and boy, it was just delicious. Finally I come to the guitarist, Neil Tomlikson, I think. He was wonderful. Yes, a group of professionals who know their instruments well, and how to use them and make them sound and behave in the manner they want them to.

All in all, this is a band you just have to see to understand what I'm talking about. You would not regret it, not a penny! I promise you that.

I could go on and on and on about this band, but I won't. I mean, if they were the only band to play at the Beckham's wedding reception, then they must be good, hey?

Now I see why they have played with and backed such groups as Gladys Knight, Diane Reeves and Natalie Cole to mention a few. If you ever get the chance to see them I recommend you do. - BBC News

DOWNSTAIRS, adults talked about the Nigerian Civil War, national independence, and living in the grip of a military dictatorship, but upstairs, a seven-year-old boy was transfixed by music.

"One of my fondest memories is lying in my bed on a Friday evening. . . and not being able to sleep for another four hours from that point because there'd be so many parties," says jazz/soul singer Ola Onabule.

Avenues in Lagos, Nigeria would close in the evening, leaving streets packed with revelers bathed in marquee lights as diverse bands carved their brands of funk and soul into the night.

Speaking from a U.K. recording studio after a day spent editing a music video, Onabule recalls the constant chugging sounds of drums and the screams of enjoyment that mingled with bass lines before drifting through his bedroom window.

"You'd have the cacophony of these conflicting frequencies filling the air and invading your attempts to sleep, but a kind of happy cacophony because it was a good place to float your daydreams," he says, his mind returning to his homeland like a wayward son. "Whenever I think back to Lagos. . . the representation I have of it is as music."

Onabule is scheduled to bring his sound steeped in African rhythm and American soul to Centennial Theatre on Nov. 27 to promote Seven Shades Darker, his seventh studio album.

During a 40-minute interview, Onabule discusses spirituality, his brief time on a major recording label, and being baptized in soul by James Brown.

Onabule's father left Nigeria for England shortly after the African state received its independence from the British in 1960.

Once in the bosom of the empire, his father worked for a mortgage bank while a life insurance company hired his mother as a medical underwriter, but their eldest child was itchy.

Despite being born in London, Onabule had a difficult time adapting to England's climate and suffered acute eczema.

After doctors were unable to soothe Onabule's dry, chronically irritated skin, his parents wondered if a return to Nigeria's more tropical climate would help.

"That cured my eczema completely," he says, chuckling at being the cause of his family's migration from England's capital to Nigeria's financial centre.

His memories of Lagos and his hope for Nigeria eventually formed the lyrics for "Lagos Boy."

"We struggled, we fought, survived all as one, tho' beaten and wrought," he sings on the 2002 track.

While the song addresses violence and fear, Onabule's memories of the teeming city are joyful.

"Looking through the rose-tinted spectacles of a child's memory, it just seemed to me to be endless fun," he says of Lagos and his childhood home, which pulsed with the sounds of LPs.

"My mom is a very musical person, always singing and humming and dancing," Onabule says. "She loves big dramatic voices."

Onabule's mother favoured soul queen Aretha Franklin and lounge hero Tom Jones, while his father preferred the more sonorous sounds of Paul Robeson and the blues.

Onabule enjoyed his parent's music, but it wasn't until the eve of his tenth birthday that his father, then the head of Nigeria's housing ministry, took him to a stadium to see the Godfather of Soul.

Singing his signature style of guttural gospel and sporting one of the finest pompadours in popular music, James Brown captivated the crowd.

"The man came out and all my dreams, all my expectations were met in that moment," Onabule says. "I was already a James Brown obsessive, I'd do all the moves and I'd drop to my knees and get my sisters to throw a cloak around my shoulder as I went 'Please, please, please.'"

For Onabule, Brown personifies a musician committed to an honest, visceral communion with the audience.

"A lot of people claim to be soul singers these days," Onabule says. "And really what that means is they study a lot of the techniques. . . They warble in a technical way. But you got the impression that some of the founding members of soul music back then were very profoundly connected to their soul, to their memories of a tough life."

Onabule's appreciation for the pioneers who fused gospel music with rhythm and blues is expressed in his 2004 track, "Soul Town."

"Someday we'll build it all again, when we've had enough of this emptiness," he croons in the ode to soul music.

But as much as he was influenced by the records of his youth, he was equally inspired by the West-African language of Yoruba, which Onabule says is like speaking in music.

"It's a tonal language where many, many words share the same appearance on paper, they're spelled the same way, but by adjusting the tone, you change the meaning, sometimes to disastrous effect," he says, laughing. "I think all of that infused my sensibility, this notion of everything in life is music."

Despite his love of singing and earning the nickname Gramophone among friends ("Because I wouldn't shut up," he says). Onabule returned to the U.K. to attend law school as a teenager.

"That's what African first-born sons do, is they take the advice they're given with a mind to fulfilling duties that they're born into," Onabule says. "So I assumed I'd be a lawyer. . . and singing was just this obsession I had."

Listening to law school classmates analyzing the minutia of court procedures and precedents while envisioning his life at a law firm in Nigeria, Onabule realized he had to escape.

"It wasn't until my third year at law school that I suddenly realized that if I committed to this, it would be a terrible mistake," he says.

After dropping out of law school Onabule signed to Elektra Records, the label that adorns the sleeves of The Doors albums and Tracy Chapman records.

"I was cast as the loverman soul singer, kind of vaguely Teddy Pendergrass, and obviously it didn't fit," Onabule says. "It was always inevitable I would move on."

Onabule split from Elektra, determined to never work for a major label again.

Eager to record his own songs, Onabule recorded voiceovers, worked with novelty acts, and provided backing

vocals for singers like George Michael and Gladys Knight.

"I very slowly started to save up my money and built my first studio in a spare room in my flat and recorded my very first album, More Soul Than Sense," he says

Onabule recalls the making of the 1995 album as a happy time, even though the disc makes him cringe today.

"All I hear now are the millions of things I'd have done differently," he says, punctuating the thought with deep laughter as he discusses the frustrations of songwriting.

"I don't know if I'll ever match what I end up with on a CD to all those millions of components that make up an inspiration," he says.

"When you hear it, when it's still in the clouds, and you look up to it, you look heavenward to this amazing thing, and the angels are singing, and you reach into the clouds and pull it down to earth, and something's always lost in the process. . . So I'll never be happy," he adds, cheerful in his dissatisfaction.

Over the past 16 years, Onabule has reached into the clouds to record seven albums, featuring love songs, smooth piano, and growling guitars that sound like they've been imported from a Seattle garage band.

Inspired by artists ranging from politically astute Afro-beat master Fela Kuti to Nigerian writer Ben Okri, Onabule has explored many issues that are far removed from the tunes about lust, bravado and teenage confusion that dominate modern pop music.

The first single off his new album is "Be A Man" a rocker that opens with a blast of horns that would make Otis Redding proud. From there, the album uses jazz, soul, and African melodies to explore the personal and the global.

Despite the difficulty of delving into complex topics like closeted spirituality or the tug-of-war over the political identity of Africa, Onabule continues writing challenging lyrics.

"I know that they're impossible to put into songs that masquerade as popular music, but they're the only tools I have," he explains.

"I sit on the fence of nationality and culture and identity," Onabule says. "There are arguments and discussions that I want to have in my music that will necessarily create tensions. . . and they're usually about my culture, my colour, the way I speak."

While he may continue to explore those issues, the form of those explorations will soon change, according to Onabule.

"I want to give this album as much life as I can," he says. "And then I want to explore something, and I don't know what it is. . .

"One thing I realized with Seven Shades Darker is that I won't make an album of that kind, maybe, probably, ever again, because I think I've probably gotten as close as I can to my ideal soul/jazz album. I hear other voices calling to me now."

Read more: http://www.nsnews.com/entertainment/Lagos+calling/5730616/story.html#ixzz23WUDZSlP
- North Shore News

‘Magnetic’ stage presence returns to Surrey
Singer/songwriter Ola Onabule performs in Surrey Nov. 25.
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By Alex Browne - Peace Arch News
Published: November 23, 2011 10:00 AM
Updated: November 23, 2011 10:55 AM

Seeing – and hearing – is believing with soul and jazz artist Ola Onabule.

A White Rock audience that had only local sound tech/musician/impresario Phil Davey’s word for Onabule’s talent came away from his show last year at Coast Capital Playhouse with a smile on its collective face.

The British-born singer and songwriter had the crowd – young and old – laughing, clapping and singing along to tunes they’d scarcely heard and dancing in the aisles.

It wasn’t just his smooth-as-silk delivery and wide vocal range – or even his artistic projection of his own poetic lyrics – as impressive as these were.

The magnetism of his stage presence and his dry humour sealed the deal, marking the difference between a promising performer and one who has well and truly arrived.

Onabule is back in B.C. until Wednesday for a series of concerts presented by Davey, including a Nov. 25, 8 p.m. date at the Bell Centre for Performing Arts (6250 144 St.).

Raised in Britain by Nigerian parents, he’s paid plenty of dues; performing for years as a back-up artist with such greats as Gladys Knight, Diane Reeves, Patti LaBelle, Roberta Flack, Natalie Cole and Roy Hargrove, while marketing his own self-produced albums.

That experience is paying dividends at the world’s most prestigious jazz festivals and concert halls, while his debut at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 2009 has opened the door for more North American touring.

He has a relaxed attitude to the business, preferring to have his manager handle most of the strategy of cracking the North American market.

“That’s a difficult one,” he admitted in a phone interview from London. “I just kind of turn up and do the date. I’m very ill-equipped to set goals and meet targets.”

That doesn’t mean there isn’t a serious side to his music, or an awareness in his songs, however upbeat, about clear and obvious injustices in the world – such as racism, sexism and the gulf in living conditions between industrialized and Third World nations.

That side of Onabule was brought into focus in a recent documentary about his career, aired on CNN’s African Voices, which has inspired a new project, a PBS special to be filmed in the U.S. next spring.

“When the songs are being written, I try to plumb the depths to find the truth within,” he said.

“It’s a view of the world through my eyes. I try to present myself honestly, my flaws and faults and misconceptions, so that people are seeing something of themselves. I like to discover something people can identify with – a fully-rounded sort of song.

“The things that concern me are the same things that concern all of us. I have a voice and a platform.

“The role of a singer is to be a troubadour, to sing about the issues of the day. Maybe it’s the African in me.”

The concert, in which he will be joined by pianist Ugo Delmirani, guitarist Nial Tompkins, bassist Jonathan Harvey, drummer Louis Palmer and saxophonist Duncan Eagles, will feature material from his new album, Seven Shades Darker, which will be released internationally in early 2012.

Onabule chuckles when it’s remarked that he seems to be having as much fun on stage as his audience in the auditorium.

“I do enjoy doing it,” he said.

“I like casting my mind back five, 10, 15 years ago, thinking about how far I’ve come, how many places I’ve been and how many concert halls I’ve played. If I can keep on doing that, and doing more of it, it’ll be great.

“I look at Tony Bennett, who’s still out and about at the age of 84. That guy is living my life. That’s what I want to do when I’m his age and I’ll be happy doing it.”

For tickets to Friday’s show at the Bell Centre ($45), call 604-617-8453, 604-507-6355, or visit www.bellperformingartscentre.com
- Peach Arch News

Few people in Canada know about Ola Onabule, but that isn't stopping the acclaimed British singer from flying to B.C. for three gigs next week.

One concert on this tour is Friday, Nov. 25 at Surrey's Bell Performing Arts Centre - a venue some four times the size of White Rock's Coast Capital Playhouse, which Onabule filled to capacity for a performance in June 2010.

That gig, along with the jazz/soul singer's coming tour here, was planned by the production company of Phil Q. Davey, who is a big fan of Onabule's vocals. His other concert dates in B.C. are in North Vancouver (Nov. 27) and Victoria (Nov. 30). For the tour, Onabule is bringing a sixpiece band (two brass, drums, bass, guitar and keys).

"It's daunting, but in a positive way," Onabule said of his coming tour of B.C., in a phone interview from his home in Bedford, England, located about 30 miles north of London.

"Playing in front of new people, especially in such a geographically diverse location compared to England, it puts a bit of the old juice back in the machine, revved up for the challenge. It's a nervous excitement, instead of fearinducing."

Onabule has seven albums to his name, each self-produced and blessed with his unique and often powerful vocals - an intimate whisper one moment and an earthshaking eruption the next. He was a featured act at the 2009 edition of Montreal's big jazz fest, and has shared the stage with Gladys Knight, Diane Reeves, Patti LaBelle, Al Jarreau, Natalie Cole and others.

Some heartfelt ballads and flat-out funk numbers can be heard on Seven Shades Darker, Onabule's latest album.

With his three children now in their lateteens, the singer has more time to record his music at a garden-side studio at home.

"Essentially, I'm a touring guy - I'm a shy person anywhere but in front of an audience," Onabule said. "I like the studio, too - all those knobs and faders and sounds and dials.

That's intense, too. I'm part musician and part geek. I love finding the best place to have the mic and all that stuff, as well as songwriting and that aspect of music."

Early in adulthood, Onabule studied law until his third year, when he began to focus more on music. Vocally, he picked up on the many influences of his relatives - the jazz of his cousins and the Tom Jones sounds so loved by his mother, along with Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and more.

"I kind of pilfered bits that I like, from whatever genre they came from," Onabule explained. "I didn't have any formal training, and my approach kind of comes from that angle, because I came to (performing) music so late in my life."

In Britain, the size of Onabule's audiences runs from smallish clubs to large halls.

Whatever the stage, he trusts his band to play what has become a diverse collection of songs in his name. "A couple of the guys in the band have played with the Irish soul singer - what's his name?-. Yeah, Van Morrison.

With him, the musicians are given something like 300 songs to play, and they're expected to pretty much learn them all, because you never know which one Van will call out next," Onabule said with a laugh, adding, "it's not quite like that with me, however."

Opening for Onabule at the Bell on Nov. 25 is local soul/blues band Star Captains.

Tickets for the 8 p.m. concert are $45 at the venue's box office, 604-507-6355 or www. bellperformingartscentre.com. To hear Onabule's music online, visit olasmusic.com.

Read more: http://www.vancourier.com/entertainment/Tour+puts+juice+machine+Brit+singer/5723794/story.html#ixzz23WS3gnHT
- Vancouver Sun

The English legal system lost a major talent when Ola Onabule decided that he’d rather be a musician than a barrister. Fans of elegant, jazz-inflected soul singing should rejoice in his career choice, however; the U.K.–born, Nigerian–raised Onabule may well be the best vocalist you’ve never heard.

On the line from the London studio where he’s cutting demos for a forthcoming CD, he explains the circumstances behind his revelation. “It was a few months before my final exams,” he recalls. “I could see the future laid out ahead, and I knew that if I didn’t put a stop to the whole madness, that was going to be it. Once I’d signed on the dotted line—you know, to being a lawyer—there was a whole future mapped out there. There were firms that belonged to members of the family.”¦So I just realized that it was now or never.”

Traces of his legal training remain: although many of his songs concern that age-old soul staple, love, Onabule often concerns himself with the unspoken contracts lovers make.

“I suppose I do,” he says. “I tend to shy away from ”˜I love you/You love me’ love songs, and go for the ”˜Do we really have to drag this out into the open tonight? I don’t want to have to deal with it, but if I have to I’m ready to go there, and these are the points that I’ve got in mind, and I’ll delineate them,’ and all that. It’s like he-said-she-said, and ”˜Who gets to keep the Bon Jovi CDs?’ ”

He’s laughing, but that Onabule is a serious thinker is obvious from the title track of his most recent CD, The Devoured Man. “It’s about the misfortune Africa has suffered in the leadership department,” he explains. “The allegorical figure at the centre of the song is fighting temptation—fighting the temptation of being in the position to embezzle or to be corrupt in some way. I was reflecting on the death of an African gentleman in a situation specific to the southern coast of Nigeria—where my origins are—who tried desperately to change the thinking of the oil companies and tried to get them to be less exploitative and more community-based, and failed, and lost his life in the process.”

Onabule reveals that the track was inspired by Ken Saro-Wiwa, the author and environmental activist executed by Nigeria’s military government in 1995. The singer may have left his law studies behind, but it’s clear that his commitment to justice remains strong. - Vancouver Straight - Alex Varty

Law school creates more than a few challenges. There are hours upon hours of studying, grueling hours interning at law firms, and financial bills that need to find a way to get paid. For many law students the adversity is just too much to overcome and that can lead to despair. For Ola Onabule, it determined his life's journey.

Onabule turned his back on law school to enter the field of soul and jazz as a singer/songwriter. "In my third year of law school", he said "it became perfectly clear that my real passion was being a musician."

There is an immediate sense, when watching Onabule perform, that he is all music. His voice is similar to Michael McDonald and Stevie Wonder. The rhythm flows through him. A move, a gyration, or punctuation with his hand accentuates every beat. There is a synergy with the music and an awareness of the deep connections with his heritage. Like Wonder, he uses his music in some instances to awaken the African American male spirit. That spirit is never more evident than when he is performing. It is James Brown on steroids. There is so much energy in every performance and a distinct conclusion that, against Onabule, any opposing attorney would not stand a chance.

As he prepares to make a run at performing stateside Onabule already has some big supporters. He has dates for his third visit to Canada where he will be performing November 25 at the Belle Performing Arts Center in British Columbia, November 27 at Centennial Theatre in North Vancouver and November 30 at Alix Goolden Performance Hall in Victoria. Phillip Davey, Publicity and Promotions Director for MYQ Productions, the production company that set up dates for Onabule to perform in Canada, believes it is just a matter of time before the United States goes all in on Onabule. "I heard about four bars of a song and after hearing his voice I immediately booked a showing and we sold it out. It was pretty remarkable and I remember his approach was so compelling. He's probably the quintessential live artist," Davey commented, "because he is able to give you everything in that hour and fifteen minute performance. When you walk away from it you know you've seen something remarkable."

While touring in the United States is a goal, as Onabule prepares for the release of his new album, 'Seven Shades Darker', there is no doubt he sees similarities between himself and some of the earliest jazz pioneers whose records his father gave him and to which he began listening when he was six years old. "I fancy myself somewhat as a member of the jazz group that started it all," Onabule told me, "somewhere between the influences of traditional jazz I experienced as a boy and the time I spent in West Africa, , "kind of where the very roots of the genre began."

Onabule looks calm. A button or two of his shirt is open, and he is explaining his new album which drops in the UK and Europe within the next two months. He is a man who appears to be content with his career choice. This is his first studio album since 2007's 'Devoured Man' which, for him, was a bit of a soul search. He explains how some of the writing for that album came during the Iraqi war and during an election in Nigeria where he spent much of his childhood. He is animated throughout the interview. He uses his hands to emphasize a point. You get the distinct impression that Onabule is a man of action, someone who cannot sit still and wait for events to unfold around him.

Onabule puts as much effort into his writing and recording as he does in his live performance. "I like taking my songs to the people and interpreting and reinterpreting them night after night and making connections with my audience" he said. "That's where I really enjoy my craft."

Davey has also witnessed that same connection. "We had a ninety-two year old woman sitting in the front row of his concert" Davey told me "and by the end of the show everyone including that ninety-two year old woman were standing on their feet and clapping and dancing and they just couldn't get enough of him."

'Desperate Ones', from the new album, is a message to black youths during urban upheaval. Think jazz with a social conscience. "I saw a news report that suggested that an increasing number of black boys in Britain were leaving school without any qualifications" Onabule observed "but, even worse still, they didn't have the ability to read or write. After so many years and so many struggles these kinds of stories should have been put to rest yet we are still debating and arguing the same issues in a not particularly sophisticated way."

His eyes light up when we discuss the thematic similarities of 'Desperate Ones' to Stevie Wonder's 'Pastime Paradise'. "Songs in the Key of Light was absolutely the very first album I purchased with my own money" Onabule said. "I played that album over and over again."

Recording his music is just one piece of his love for jazz. For Onabule, it is being out on the road, performing live, that fuels his passion. "I think the reason why it takes a while for me to produce an album," Onabule said, "is that it really is just an excuse for me to get out on the road and do gigs. We are in a world where there are increasingly more filters being layered between the artist and the audience. I become very protective of the more traditional route of an artist connecting with an audience through live performance. I like to make a personal connection. I want to see the whites of their eyes."

Onabule doesn't know when his album will drop in the United States but with the evolution of digital music, that doesn't really matter. Simply type 'Ola Onabule' in iTunes and much of his discography is there and ready to download. As a result, some of the traditional pitfalls of being a contemporary jazz artist are removed. "You can be bit more existential in your musical musings," he confirmed.

Moreover, not many performing artists can claim David Beckham and the Spice Girls as fans. Beckham and his wife enjoy the underground contemporary jazz scene in the UK. Beckham tabbed Onabule to perform at their wedding. As he fondly remembers that night Onabule laughs and there is an obvious twinkle in his eye. "It was an incredibly surreal feeling to be playing in front of the entire English national soccer team, the Spice Girls and Sir Elton John," he said. "Performing at the wedding is just one more highlight being a jazz musician has over being a lawyer."
- USA Jazz Review

Grooves undoubtedly rooted in the Soul and Blues of the late sixties and early Seventies make an unlikely but easy peace with mournful, complex African melodic lines. On other tracks, wailing distorted guitars cling to the helter-skelter ride of poly-rhythmic time signatures that seem to unsettle and soothe the ear in equal measures. Seemingly conventional 4/4 grooves beguile with inviting familiarity whilst slipping potent lyrical nuggets under the radar of our assumptions.

Ballads are new requiems, odes to the passing of loved ones, funky jaunts document the ebbing away of precious time, and deal with jealousy, cowardice, loss of identity and the world through the eyes of an unwanted visitor is set to the galloping gait of an African church hymn. Ola, in very fine voice, twists and turns at every step, eluding definition.

Ola is a frequent performer at international jazz festivals, including The Montreal Jazz Festival, Vancouver Coastal Jazz Festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Silda Jazz Festival in Norway, Blueballs Music Festival Switzerland, as well as many international jazz venues and concert halls.

We asked Ola Onabue to give Society of Sound members some background to the recording of the album:

Recording for my new album started in the spring of 2010 after a lengthy period of preparation. I'd moved house a couple of years prior and consequentially had had to leave my trusty double-garage bound studio, in which I'd recorded my previous three albums, behind. A difficulty of the separation that was only tempered by the possibility of building a new facility from the ground up and equipping it with the means with which to fulfill my highest audiophile ambitions.

I love the sound of music, that is to say beyond the music itself (the artful arrangement of notes), I love the opportunity to influence the quality of music's sonic components. It's the main reason why I elected to be a singer that runs his own recording facility as opposed to one that concentrates exclusively on singing.

The process of influencing the fabric of sound starts with the musician or singer. His/her playing/singing technique, the instrument and the space in which it's played all the way through to the quality of the tools that capture the performance: microphones, amps, preamps, effects and cabling. If my new studio was going to achieve my lofty aims in these regards, I would have to be patiently meticulous in putting together a setup where I could create works that I'd feel were both artistically and sonically complete. I would also have to try to achieve this while facing the budgetary limitations of an independent artist. As they say, 'May you live in interesting times.’

After a year of high financial drama (for all) the new studio (affectionately christened 'Casa Del Phunk III' by my children) was structurally completed in the autumn of 2009. I wrote a whole bunch of angsty songs about soldering leads and wiring patch-bays, scrapped them and wrote new ones.

Then I sought out my main instruments for the album. I restored a 1930's Bluthner grand and a 1970's Yamaha 5000 drum kit. Ebay yielded a nicely re-conditioned Fender Twin Guitar Amp and I overhauled my Wurlitzer and Rhodes sounds. With all this lovely classic instrumentation assembled, I directed my attention to the other side of the equation, designing the best possible signal paths down which to capture the performances of some of the UK's finest musicians.

Legendary microphone company, Neumann stepped in last minute stylie and generously provided a number of deliciously high caliber mics to supplement my collection of solid states, vintage tubes and ribbons. I used high-end Mytek AD DA converters to handle the transition from the world of analogue electrical pulses to the rapid burst of digital noughts and ones, taking care to maintain the finest audio fidelity I could afford.

We spent the early summer of 2010 laying down instrumental tracks and I recorded my vocals at the height of summer. By the beginning of September the album had been mixed down to 24bit @ 48khz by Teo Miller and mastered by Metropolis' Hippie Baldwin in their world class mastering suites in London. Teo and I took the increasingly unconventional decision in 'all-digital-times' to mix the album in the analogue domain through my Midas desk so we could have easier access to the wide variety of yummy vintage transformer and tube based processors. We returned the mixed tracks back to the digital gods via the Mytek converters.

I am really pleased with the results of my self-imposed quality control on this album. I've made fewer compromises on my sonic ideals than ever before. The environment in which the project was conceived, produced and recorded was designed from the ground up with one specific purpose in mind: To make art of the creation of the sounds as well as the creation of the music.

For all these reasons I sincerely hope that Seven Shades, Lighter is listened to with as much of the detail and clarity of the original recordings intact. - Bowers & Wilkins

Every week CNN International's African Voices highlights Africa's most engaging personalities, exploring the lives and passions of people who rarely open themselves up to the camera.

London (CNN) -- Armed with a silky-smooth voice and an uncompromising spirit, Nigerian singer/songwriter Ola Onabulé has won admirers around the world.

With a career spanning nearly two decades, the Nigerian singer has often been described as one of music's best-kept secrets. Onabulé says that although he can hear "the hidden compliment" in that phrase, he works hard to do even better.

"It's not right that I should be a secret, I mean this isn't a profession in which to be kept a secret," he says. "You stand on a stage and put it out there because you want as many people as possible to hear your song or your idea or your message."

His musical style blends his African roots with elements of jazz and soul, while his passionate singing moves between the heights and depths of emotion.
Ola Onabule's unique musical style

In tune with his wide-ranging vocal skills, Onabulé's songs encompass a wide range of topics, from personal experiences to social-minded commentary.

"I write songs about why in my dear continent we spend as much time as we do harking back to the things that were done to us in the past when, although they are incredibly valid these sentiments, there is also the argument for as much time to be put into finding our way out of this difficult situation," says Onabulé.

Born in London to Nigerian parents, the velvet-voiced singer moved to Nigeria at an early age. The vivid memories of pounding African drums and spicy Nigerian food followed him back to the United Kingdom where he returned just before he turned 17.

That transition wasn't without its challenges, says Onabulé, as he spent the first couple of years trying to figure out his place in the world while bridging his different cultures.

"I spent a very long time working out where I fitted in the whole scheme of things," he says.

"Subconsciously I think I very much wanted to be a Nigerian, wanted very much to be an African and I had to work out a way of negotiating how I could do that whilst knowing that for survival purposes also I had to assimilate as much as possible into where I found myself in amongst here."
I'm very keen for Africa to change its course, to find its way.
--Ola Onabule

* Music
* Nigeria
* Africa

Initially set for a career in law, Onabulé abandoned his studies to follow his passion for music and pursue a rather more uncertain career as a singer.

His talents didn't go unnoticed and in the early 1990s he was signed by record label Elektra. However, his encounter with the system of big record companies didn't last long.

"I learned through bitter experience what I definitely, absolutely wanted and what I didn't," he says. "(There was) a lot of kind pre-described, focus group-type artist development where you'd bring a song in and people take their metaphorical scalpels out and shave bits -- 'the kids won't love that, the kids won't love that' -- take bits off."

When the deal fell apart little more than a year later, Onabulé says he knew "without a shadow of a doubt that I wanted as much autonomy as possible and that would mean walking my own path independently."

Onabulé's perseverance saw him eventually building his own studio and setting up his own label. He has seven albums under his belt so far, and his latest offering, "Seven Shades Darker," was released earlier in 2011.

As in his previous works, Onabulé's African roots are evident in his latest album and influence the message he is trying to convey.

He says: "I'm very keen for Africa to change its course, to find its way and really find a way of standing shoulder to shoulder with the league of nations.

"If I switch on the news and I see another sad story about Africa, I wonder, I want to write a song that says how come we haven't managed to get across the fact that repeatedly on the United Nations' happiest countries lists the top 10 counties are almost always African? I mean how come we don't get that story across? How come it's always the representations of poverty and corruption, brutality?" - CNN

In other words, of a physique du rôle: because the British singer/songwriter (with Nigerian roots) Ola Onabule seems to be made to dominate an audience from the height of a stage. Impressive physical presence, tangible charisma, typically British elegance (Tony Q’Aja makes his clothes, the same designer who supplies other celebrities, Samuel L. Jackson and Morgan Freeman, as well as the British Olympic Team and the England rugby squad). More importantly, all this is dominated by a commanding, sensational voice of pure, concentrated African vocalism: from an intimate whisper to an earth-shaking explosion, ivory timbre, a vocal extension that easily reaches the most emotional extremes of both high and low notes.

His technique allows him to produce subtle intonation and rhythmic phrasing, not forgetting his emotional engagement in interpreting the lyrics: a veritable vocal theater. Despite an international career spanning twenty years during which he has sung with Diane Reeves, Al Jarreau, Roberta Flack, Joe Zawinul, Natalie Cole and Roy Hargrove, amongst others, he has rarely been heard in Italy until now. His first live performance was only in March of this year but we hope (both for him and ourselves) to have many more opportunities to listen to him in the future. Meanwhile, we await his seventh album, which he has already finished recording and is due to be released in the nest few months: Seven Shades Darker (Rugged Ram Records). Ola’s miraculous voice gets to grips with the expressive power of blues and soul, ultra-rhythmic funky and captivating ballads.

Photo by Federico Modica

Daniele Cecchini
- Vogue Italy

Key moments in a soulful life – Afro, soul, jazz, funk singer and songwriter Ola Onabulé tells us about his musical inspirations.

“I rolled into existence in the seventh decade of the 20th century. A 14-pound baby, born in a London bedsit to two young Nigerian part-time worker/part-time students. They were fresh from the colonies. Misty-eyed and mystified, focused on realising the highest achievements from the humblest of social beginnings. Their aspirations exceeded their own lives and with nigh torrential intensity, spilled into lofty hopes for their new-born. The mantle of living up to mythologised generations past was placed squarely on miniature but sturdy shoulders. I was named Olatunji Olugbenga Adetokunbo Abdul Majeed Omotayo Olanrewaju Onabule to remind me of the epic legacy of fearless forebears to be emulated and then surpassed in my life.

“Our little home in London’s Islington, shimmered with the light of white teeth smiles, it bustled with spicy sweetmeats, black-eyed beans and rice-laden trays at busy get-togethers, frequently called to ward off the alien chill and the frequent reminders of disorientating alien otherness. Perky 60s’ pop tunes stung the fragile air, clung to the tablecloth-turned-temporary-curtain, and sent tiny vibrations through the yard-square strip of expensive deep shag off-cut. My Boy Lollipop became my theme tune, distinct from the other fascinations that formed my mother’s daily humming routine – The Beatles, Tom Jones, Motown and Shirley Bassey. My father would defiantly claim his Dansette Bermuda time by first coveting and then playing his Ray Charles, Oscar Peterson and Paul Robeson 78s until a musical accord was struck and a negotiated playlist consisting entirely of ‘Songs From Home’ would commandeer possession of the uneasy impasse.

Ola Onabulé - Montreal Jazz Festival 2009 (photo © David J. Simchock) “I would ascend to a new level of daydreaming as the European-styled formica and vinyl-clad box emanated rich, sonorous African tones. Voices that seemed unfeasibly joyful and impossibly expressive. Choruses that yielded boundless variety in their repetitious abandon (Didn’t they know how cold it was in Islington?). It is told that I would bop uncontrollably when this music filled the room as though it were resonating with some unfinished song in my precognition.

“When my parents were done with their toiling and had claimed the fruits of 10 years of stooping and studying, adversity conquered, they returned to Nigeria to lend their hearts and hands to nation building. There was much to be done in the wake of independence from colonial rule and an infamously devastating civil war. I remember that readjustment seemed surprisingly easy. I found cousins, community, language, rhythms, an ecstatic raucous cacophony called Lagos and ‘the funk’.

“In a nation of almost 100 million black Africans in the early seventies, no statement could have seemed more appropriate than the proclamation that one was “…Black and Proud”. James Brown and his music claimed me for an apostle, an emissary for the structure of tight rhythm and disciplined showmanship. I had older cousins and friends who, having been smitten by the Godfather’s music long before, were now attending to the work of spreading the word about ‘the funk’ with commensurate missionary zeal. They would play the tracks one groove (pun intended) at a time, lift the needle from the record and test my understanding of what I’d just heard. I was a good student!

“Sometimes, if you love something enough the universe conspires to procure it for you. On the eve of my eighth birthday and the end of my first year as an acolyte of the funk, my father took me to the main racecourse in Lagos; it often doubled up as an open-air concert arena. The air was heavy with the sickly sweet pungency of an unknown aroma and the typically open ebullience of the African countenance seemed to have stepped up a notch to a heightened level of all-inclusive camaraderie and positive reciprocity. We positioned ourselves between two enormous assemblies of loud speakers and in front of a large raised area; I was mesmerised by a beautiful array of constantly evolving, powerful incandescent lights. I searched my father’s face for a clue as to our purpose in this most irregular place and punished his inscrutability with a hundred ‘but whys?’. - Proper Music Distribution

UK soul singer Ola Onabule is an artist who has done it ‘his way’, releasing seven albums on his own Rugged Ram imprint during his career to date.

The latest collection, entitled Seven Shades Darker, reveals a talented songwriter who is at ease dealing with the experiences of individuals in songs such as He’s Gone as well as the bigger issues facing society, which are addressed in compositions such as Fast and A Name.

A tireless touring artist, Ola gives M a few insights into his current strategy to reach his ever-growing fanbase both in the UK and globally. He also has a few words for artists taking the DIY route, a path Ola has followed for almost two decades. - PRS Magazine

Ola Onabule is a British soul singer and songwriter who is now on his seventh studio album – Seven Shades Darker. Seven albums is an amazing feat in itself, made all the more remarkable by the fact that Ola has done it all himself – releasing his music on his own Rugged Ram label.

Seven Shades Darker showcases Ola’s lyrical sensibility which is attuned to the issues that concern us today – whether personal or wider social concerns. Ola describes his music by saying: ‘Though my music is of a different idiom, I write with the heart of a folk songwriter and the desire for my lyrics to be heard and read.’.

Watch the first part of M’s interview with Ola before witnessing a jaw-dropping performance of his song Sanctuary, which is not to be missed. - PRS Magazine

You’ve heard the conversation; where were you when Elvis died? When Kennedy was shot? When Princess Diana “the Queen of hearts” was killed? Most people always have a clear memory of where they were and what they were doing on those momentous occasions. Well, this artist brings all that to my mind. Why? The answer is simple: If you have ever seen Ola Onabule live on stage anywhere in the world, you will NEVER ever forget it. You will have that event indelibly etched on your grey matter’s main frame in perpetuity. Me? Fairfield Halls, Croydon late 90s when he opened for Tower of Power. I drove there from Northampton, a fair old schlep and involving the stress of the 10 mph M25, arriving just as the support act went on. I always make a point of catching support acts and watching all of their set. In 35 years, there has been a fair few times when today’s support band is tomorrow’s big thing. So glad I made the effort this night. Sat there throughout Ola’s set, spellbound, jaw on the floor, shivers running down my spine faster than Usain Bolt. This man’s stupendous voice was awe inspiring, his vocals some of the best I had ever heard in my life, and trust me I’ve heard a few in my time (…and I remember this when it was all fields!) I thought he must be from the US. Had a chat with him afterwards and found out where he is based. New York? LA? Nah………….Bedford! I bought his albums and wore them out. Fast forward about 15 years to 2012, piles of CDs sat on my shelf ready to listen to and decide which to review. I spot Ola’s new one, “Seven Shades Darker,” and within a few seconds of hearing his world class voice, I flash back to Croydon. A smile a mile wide across my boat race, staying there for the whole 14 glorious tracks. If anything, his vocal has got better. His writing certainly has. His production and the ensemble performances by Ola and the players, faultless. Geoff Dunn is in the pocket on drums; he really nails it throughout. The whole line-up is top drawer, and the horn section - The Atlantic Horns - trombonist Mike Kearsey, tenor sax player Mark Brown and trumpeter Joe Auckland, play out of their skins. The horn arrangements perfect. Ola sings backing vocals himself, with help from Jacqui Hicks on three of the tracks. Sometimes the multi-tracking gives us a rich Take Six flavour on the harmonies.But that voice of his. If ever there was a gift from God, he has been given it. He squeezes every last drop of emotion from his songs. An almost spiritual event listening to Ola, equal to when I sat with just 500 people in the USA watching Aretha. Or when I saw Stevie, Al Green and Gladys here in the UK. As strong as the writing and material is here; Ola could probably (brace yourself for reviewer’s cliché number 241): sing the flipping ‘phone book and still get rave reviews. His phrasing is incredible. Ola’s voice is something that every last one of us needs to hear before we die. It’ll cheer you up. It’ll move you. It’ll stay with you for ever.He has been likened to a fair few singers, including current hot ticket, Gregory Porter. I had the pleasure of interviewing Gregory last year before his current album “Be Good” was released. I’d had an advance copy for a while, and told Gregory that it was, in my humble opinion, a masterpiece. I can echo that about Ola’s CD “Seven Shades Darker.” We get stunningly heartfelt ballads, we get funk, we get sizzling soul, we get jazz and we get soulful blues. The whole thing is marinated in a sound unashamedly from the late sixties and early seventies, but still relevant to today’s RnB. The opener “Every Prey,” is hooky, horn drenched and sparkly. A dose of summer sunshine on a silver plastic disc. Great start and a strong song. On first and second listens, I thought the first single, the reggae-tinged “Be A Man” (with a bass line straight from “The Bed’s Too Big Without You,” by The Police,) was not as strong as the first track, and perhaps the wrong choice. But on subsequent listens, it is a grower. I think it is a good fit for mainstream national radio, with a Michael McDonald vibe on the vocal. Track four is an absolute killer. “Great Expectations (Sans Frontier)” featuring emotionally stirring vocals. Breathtaking. “Cheap Cologne,” is old skool soul and funk, ripe and juicy for the second single methinks. When you open the jewel case, aptly called a "jewel" case; it is like digging up a long lost chest and prizing open the rusty catch to find hidden treasure inside.Treasure which sparkles, glows and entices. “Seven Shades Darker,” delivers 14 priceless little gems. Ola places huge emphasis on his lyrical content and “selling” the songs vocally, lifting those words right off the page. Effortlessly. He is not scared to tackle controversial topics in his writing. Tuned in to the issues of the day; and will tell you he writes with the heart of a folk songwriter. Topics include loss of a loved one (“He's Gone”), “Fast” highlights our leaders’ empty words. “A Name” focuses on differences that cause division. If you dig Porter, Marvin, Stevie, Otis, Luther, Jeffrey Osborne, Michael McDonald and even Nat King Cole; this guy’s seventh studio album, is most definitely for you. Ola turned his back on a law career, to focus on his music. He shunned the constraints of record labels and management to tread his own path, very successfully for almost two decades now. He has his own label, his own studio, his own band and tours globally, playing large venues to packed houses. His music is loved all over the world. He has some high profile fans, singing at David and Victoria Beckham’s wedding, in front of such VIP guests as Sir Elton John.There is more soul in this man’s eyelashes than a year’s worth of the Top 40 singles or albums chart. He has a massive vocal range, from deep in his boots to soaring sweet and high, like the most beautiful bird you ever did hear at sun rise. Quite remarkable in fact. He uses it sparingly though, and knows when to shove his vehicle into fifth gear or stay in first. (But we never get neutral or “park” though!)This has got to be the very best work Ola Onabule has put out so far. Music like this makes me feel so good to be alive. So, next time anyone asks you what the difference is between a singer and an artist, hand them this CD and they sure do have their answer. - Blues and Soul

The last Friday in May saw the third part of the "Digital Workflow" seminar take place in Berlin. This workshop is the result of cooperation between Sennheiser/Neumann and Lawo/ Innovason. Whereas the first two sessions were held at Sennheiser and Lawo HQ respectively, (Wedemark and Rastatt, Germany) part three stepped out of pure theory and brought the equipment to a live stage with the British-Nigerian soul, jazz and funk singer-songwriter, Ola Onabule. The aim was to highlight the benefits of working with digital microphones and state-of-the-art digital consoles on a live stage.
The 35 participants were able to follow each step of the planning, setup, sound check and performance phase in a hands-on environment. In the morning they received a general introduction into the technology of digital microphones by Martin Liermann (SVS) and an explanation of the features and benefits of Eclipse GT by Marcel Babazadeh (Lawo AG). Onstage they were guided by sound engineers Carsten Kümmel (FoH) and Thomas Kellner (Monitors) who openly described how they work from the technical rider towards their choice of technical equipment and finally the layout of the system. The customized desk layout for this event was explained in detail on both consoles. The versatility of Eclipse GT in combination with the M.A.R.S onboard recording and the full control of all parameters of digital microphones was much appreciated by the two well-known engineers.
Once the backline was set up the party went on stage to find the right positions for the microphones in front of the instruments as well as placing the instruments, amps and wedges in order to optimize the overall quality of sound on stage.
"It is extremely exciting to listen to the changes of the sound of the kick drum while changing the polar pattern," said Carsten Kümmel, who was able to do this without having to leave the FOH position. "The D-01 from Neumann comes with a double membrane that allows all conceivable variants of polar patterns. The Eclipse GT gives the operator access to these parameters during runtime. Of course these settings are then stored and recalled within the showfile."
Monitor engineer Thomas "Kelly" Kellner did a fabulous job of mixing Ola’s in-ears and handling the monitor sound on stage for the other artists. "This was my first time mixing on an Eclipse and working with Ola," said Kelly. "I did not have to use any layering and the internal FX were right at my fingertips. The way Eclipse handles the Auxes is extremely helpful for a monitor engineer. I could focus on the musicians and the stage right away."
Once the soundcheck was completed and the band had left the stage, the seminar participants were treated to a little extra time with Ola where he explained his way of singing in combination with the KMD 105. "He was quite incredible," reported Innovason’s Marcel Babazadeh. "He moved his voice through all facets of tonality and pitch and demonstrated the most extreme situations and positions that would defeat most other artists or equipment. An amazing concert in the evening rounded up the whole day leaving no doubt that this combination of technology is adding real value to today´s live stages."
- Entertainment Technology News

Review of SEVEN SHADES DARKER - Soul Tracks

Ola Onabule interview with Pete Lewis - Blues and Soul


1996 More Soul Than Sense Rugged Ram Records
1997 From Meaning, Beyond Definition Rugged Ram
1999 Precious Libations for Silent Gods Rugged Ram
2001 Ambitions for Deeper Breath Rugged Ram Records
2004 In Emergency, Brake Silence Rugged Ram Records
2007 The Devoured Man Rugged Ram Records
2011 Seven Shades Darker Rugged Ram Records
2013 New album to be released on Rugged Ram Records Feb 2014



Ola is working on his eight album due for release in Feb 2014.

Ola's last album, SEVEN SHADES DARKER is a modern classic. Grooves undoubtedly rooted in the Soul and Blues of the late sixties and early Seventies make an unlikely but easy peace with mournful, complex African melodic lines. Seemingly conventional 4/4 grooves beguile with inviting familiarity whilst slipping potent lyrical nuggets under the radar of our assumptions. Ballads are new requiems, odes to the passing of loved ones, Funky jaunts document the ebbing away of precious time, and deal with jealousy, cowardice, loss of identity and the world through the eyes of an unwanted visitor is set to the galloping gait of an african church hymn.
Ola’s lyrical sensibility, on SEVEN SHADES DARKER, was poetic in tone and attuned to the issues of the day; as Ola put it himself, “Though my music is of a different idiom, I write with the heart of a folk songwriter and the desire for my lyrics to be heard and read.”

Ola has shared stages with some of the world's finest soul and jazz artistes; Al Jarreau, Dianne Reeves, Joe Zawinul, Roberta Flack, Natalie Cole, Roy Hargrove, Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle. Ola seems set to become a name that will last as long.