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Music Review: Michael Olatuja — Speak

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As someone who mostly writes about jazz, country music, and oldies (with the occasional foray into oddities like zydeco), I sometimes enjoy taking a look at something completely different. Speak, a new album on the Backdrop/ObliqSound label from Nigerian bassist and composer Michael Olatuja, is certainly just that.

Although Olatuja is only 28 and this album is his debut recording as a leader, he's been a part of the modern music scene for a number of years. Working in both London and New York, he's appeared with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Chaka Khan. He's also worked extensively with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, and has enlisted that group's aid on his new album, along with several other musical friends. Among the latter are Terri Walker, Eska Mtungwazi, Andrew Roachford and several others. His wife Alicia also lends support.

For Speak, he envisioned a fusion of the musical influences that have filled his life, and has combined the sounds of Africa with jazz, gospel, and a few other good things. Acting as leader, producer, composer, and arranger, he also supports the effort with his outstanding bass play while, at the same time, allowing his friends to take much of the spotlight.

The result is a variety of tracks that cover a lot of territory, ranging from the gospel-influenced "Walk with Me," featuring his wife's sweet and soulful vocal, to the pure African groove of "Ma Foya," which spotlights late vocalist Lynden David Hall. For a song with an injection of pure soul, he offers us "Le Jardin," which features Onaje Jefferson crooning one of the best tracks on the album. And Mrs. Olatuja is again a delight on "Unconditional," a ballad which is probably my favorite here.

Many other good listens here. A solid effort from Michael Olatuja, his lady, and his friends. Well worth a look and a listen for fans of eclectic world music, jazz, and gospel.

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