On certain rare occasions in your life you can be lucky enough to experience one of those sublime goose bump infused moments when you bear witness to music that reaches into your very soul, delivered by a gifted singer and supported by musicians of real quality.
I have been blessed to have enjoyed such moments with Marvin Gaye, Stevie, Earth Wind and Fire and Al Green to name but a few.
On Thursday 24th November I was treated to another such special performance that ranked amongst the very best and leaves me bereft of sufficient superlatives to convey just how good Ola Onabule and his fellow musicians are. It’s not as if I haven’t seen Ola before, but in his nigh 2 year absence from Britain performing in substantial foreign venues, (aside from appearances at Royal Albert Hall at end of 2015 alongside Diana Krall), he has clearly honed his art to mesmerising levels. The quality and tone of his voice cannot be overstated as he delivered his unique blend of Jazz, Soul and world. There’s a soulful richness that oozes from Ola that draws you in and enraptures you with every note.
Ola performed material mainly drawn from the most recent of his 8 album catalogue, “It’s the Peace that Deafens”. In his latest album Ola has explored several world influences and those beautiful syncopated soulful rhythms are infused with a blend of Latin or African flavours, which yield a sound that defies the stereotypical genre pigeon holing. All I can tell you is that it sounds fantastic. What enhances Ola’s songs even further is the quality of the writing. Each song has an intelligent poetic strength and relevance, whether it reflects on the harsh realities of injustice, inner city strife or a heart wrenching love song.
Ola has a very affable style when engaging with his audience and there was something about the intimacy of the St James’s theatre which gave that engagement a really personal quality. Whether he was describing the horrors of a Lagos lynching in Jankoriko or the swooning heart melting love songs such as “Love Again” or “Let Love Alone” it is impossible not to then be drawn in, to listen to the words and be truly absorbed by the song. My personal favourite, if favourites are possible, has to be “Girl that She Was”. The realisation of a father that his daughter has grown into this beautiful independent woman, who doesn’t need to hold daddy’s hand anymore. As a father there is a kind is a kind of transition from mourning for the loss of those days when cuddles and attention defined the love in the relationship, to a more detached sense of pride but yet more powerful love. As a father the story resonated directly to me, but it also tugged at the heart of my female companion who remarked – “How incredible would any daughter feel if that song was written for her”. (I should lend her the album “More Soul than Sense” so she can enjoy the double whammy of “My Forever Girl”).
No man is an island and never more so than in the world of music, and Ola’s quality has drawn an incredible set of musicians who are so preciously talented in their own right and yet manage to blend as one unit like six vital organs beating in unison to the rhythm of the same heart. I’m sure the African vibe is the perfect marriage for percussionist Will Fry, who’s fascinating array of instruments drew in as much wonder from their enigmatic appearance as the incredible sound they produced.
In John Crawford, Piano and Guillermo Hill, Guitar, Ola is supported by musicians who are masters of their own craft and their frequent solo breaks were nothing short of breath taking. Add Phil Mulford on Bass and Double Bass, together with Chris Nickolls on Drums and you have an ensemble which is more than the sum of its parts.
There is a musical marriage that when each embarks on their solo journey the others look on, inspired and individually wrapped up in admiration of their fellow musician. And why shouldn’t they, they were bloody fantastic.
On reflection, I’m sorry if all this sounds gushy and sycophantic but I’m in such a buzz from the evening. It was so tight. So together. My face hurts from the euphoric smile that planted itself from the first beat, to the finish and beyond. I absolutely loved the night and can only pray that the gap between this and Ola’s next live British performance will not be so long.
To buy Ola’s latest album: iTunes
To find out more about Ola, go to his website: