MICHAEL OLATUJA: Speak (Label: Back Drop)


Michael Olatuja is a Nigerian-born, British-based bassist who boasts an impressive musical CV. He’s played in the studio and on the road with people like Terence Blanchard, Patti Austin, Lisa Stansfield, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and many more. He’s long held the ambition to craft his own album – not specifically as a bassist, but more as a facilitator to bring his musical ideas to a wider audience. A committed Christian, he believes that music can truly unite diverse cultures and to that end he began recording the album way back in 2003. In the down time between his high profile gigs he went into the studio with people like Andrew Roachford, Eska Mtungwazi, Jason Rebello, Terri Walker, and Jean Toussaint to flesh out his ideas. He was also lucky enough to secure the services of Lynden David Hall just before the singer’s sad passing and it’s Lynden who provides vocals on two of the album’s best cuts. First there’s ‘Hold On’, a duet with Andrew Roachford. The cut is a light floater that reminds us of what we’ve lost in Lynden’s passing. More poignant, though, is his ‘Ma Foya’. Not a traditional soul cut – the rhythms are Nigerian Yoruba – it is nevertheless soulful and carries an optimistic message – “Don’t be afraid in times of trouble… it’s all in the way you rise above”. That metaphysic is extended in the more obvious Christian-based ‘Altar Call’. Here the vocalist is Eska Mtungwazi and she executes it perfectly … a gentle soul groove with subtle harmonies. She also takes lead on ‘Yi Yipada’ – the least obvious soul track. This one’s loose and jazzy. The underrated Terri Walker is vocalist on the lazy nu-soul groove that is ‘Little Sister’ while the vocal honours go to Onaje Jefferson on ‘Le Jardin’ – a cut ripe with the gentler flavours of Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway. Michael’s wife, Alice, is featured on two cuts – the traditional gospel song ‘Walk With Me’ and the honestly romantic ‘Unconditional’. The title cut offers variety with a rap from Ty – thoughtful and light – while the closer ‘Mama Ola’ is a lengthy instrumental on which Jason Rebello and Jean Toussaint get the chance to really shine. Michael Olatuja isn’t a conventional soul artist, nor is ‘Speak’ a conventional soul album… but there’s more real soul in here than in a lot of higher profile, so-called “soul” albums. The music isn’t clichéd and/or in your face… it has a subtlety that insinuates with its gentle sincerity
(BB) 4/5