American mezzo-soprano and a versatile jazz and soul singer Alicia Olatuja performed recently at Pizza Express in Soho. Although my schedule was already rather busy, I wanted to make time to go and watch her perform. A corner seat near the bar gave me a full view of Olatuja and her band on the second night they performed in London.
Dressed with a stupendous shimmery golden dress, Alicia Olatuja stepped graciously on stage and started singing pieces from her recently released album “Intuition – Songs from the Minds of Women” (Resilience Music Alliance). Starting the show with a track like “So good so right” (Brenda Russell), Olatuja told the audience how good it was to be on stage and thanked everyone for coming along.
A very welcoming and mixed audience watched Olatuja as she sang her renditions of songs by Joni Mitchell, Sade’s “No Ordinary Love” just to name a couple. This was the first set and yet heads were nodding, eyes closed in concentration. Alicia Olatuja’s style and beautiful tones had captured the audience.
I knew it was going to be a night to remember when we were all treated by the first of many solos by supreme pianist Robert Mitchell, my distance from the stage was an added bonus as it allowed me to enjoy even more the dexterity with which Mitchell’s playing made his hands navigate along the keyboard at what was at times a remarkably fast pace. It was breathtaking to watch.
Sometimes it is lucky to be able to witness a performance of a song that all of a sudden becomes better than the actual original. This is what transpired more and more during the show. Alicia Olatuja’s choice of songs and female artists had no boundaries, showed a diverse and brave touch and, more importantly, demonstrated what a complete artist she is.
The interpretation of Sade’s song, for example, started with some bass lines and Olatuja’s voice deep and sensuous. Both Mitchell and Olatuja were in unison, their performances were so good together, they complemented each other. American R&B singer-songwriter Angela Bofill’s “Under the Moon”, a song about how to make sure we all grasp happiness (a bit like seeking our carpe diem), concluded the first set.
Alicia Olatuja quickly disappeared backstage returning to start the second set, looking more energised and showing off her infectious smile.
Singing in Spanish her cover of Mercedes Sosa’s “Gracias a la Vida”, Olatuja offered some great scatting on this slight samba-esque version and a solo by bass player Kevin Glasgow added a touch of beauty to an already moving song.
But it was a surprise guest appearance by guitarist Femi Temowo’s at the end of the show that brought even more praise and joy to the show!
With an arrangement of Tracy Chapman’s “Give me one reason”, a fantastic mix of talent in the shapes of solos and improvisation by Mitchell, Temowo and Olatuja accompanied by Asif Sirkis on drums and Kevin Glasgow on bass concluded the show.
Alicia Olatuja’s voice went from high to low tones with such ease, I found myself smiling and humming along, it was one of those performances where it proved so difficult to sit still!
Artists Website: Alicia Olatuja
Senior writer: Erminia Yardley
Photo credit: Carl Hyde
Last modified: April 4, 2019