The Promise (Album)

by Olatuja Project

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    The Olatuja Project’s “The Promise” Fulfills a Vision (or Two)

    Jazz, gospel, soul and traditional African sounds mix happily on husband-and-wife team’s uplifting debut collaboration

    The word promise holds many meanings, all of them profoundly important to our lives. We promise to do our best, we promise to pay our debts and to take care of one another. We promise to keep our promises and we take offense when others don’t. And then there’s the more intangible promise that looks to the future with hope and anticipation: a gifted student or athlete who holds so much promise. We even say an artist’s next work promises to be even better than the last one! Both definitions of promise are bound to faith and trust. Both are something that we hold dear.

    The Promise is the ideal title for the new release from the Olatuja Project, the first recorded collaboration between Michael Olatuja (acoustic/electric bassist and composer), his wife Alicia Olatuja (vocalist/composer) and their virtuoso band. It fulfills the promises suggested by Michael’s 2009 debut, Speak, named the R&B Album of the Year at the 9th Annual Independent Music Awards and given a rave review by the BBC’s music website, which called it “the expression of a singular creative voice that taps all the cultures from which it is born.”

    But even more than that, The Promise (World Tune Records) fulfills the couple’s collective vision to create music that fuses such traditional elements of African music as the Yoruba tongue, the talking drum and call-and-response vocals with the familiar Western languages of contemporary jazz, traditional gospel, R&B, neo-soul and a funky groove.

    The Promise, produced by Michael and Alicia, takes the musical stew, Speak, to the next level, expanding on the earlier album’s rich sonic and lyrical tapestry. Its 10 tracks are inspirational and stirring, imbued with multiple, diverse colors and ambiances, abounding with a vast variety of textures and tales. As Michael says, “The songs flow like a single story,” and that story defines the special, personal and artistic world inhabited by the Olatujas.

    As Alicia sings in the Yoruba-language chorus of the seductive title track, “A foretold promise has come to pass. It’s a miracle.” Indeed, both the music made together by these two gifted performers and the fact that they managed to find their way through this vast world to each other to make it, often feels miraculous. The roots of their relationship go back to their time together at the Manhattan School of Music, when Alicia called Michael to play bass on one of her sessions.

    By that time, Michael—whose personal journey had taken him from Lagos, Nigeria to London and New York—was working to establish himself as a go-to bassist on the New York scene. Throughout the course of his career, Michael’s work has enlivened the music of Terence Blanchard, Phil Collins, Shakira, Lisa Stansfield, Rod Stewart, Gretchen Parlato, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, Roy Ayers, Chrisette Michele and many others.

    Alicia, meanwhile, originally hails from St. Louis. During her collegiate years in New York she performed many musical theater and opera roles, served as a soloist in the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir and worked with Christian McBride, Chaka Khan and Bebe Winans. When they met and first played music together, Michael found Alicia to be “an amazing singer and a superb vocal arranger/producer.” Together they began writing for and producing recordings for other artists within several diverse genres.

    With the release of Speak, Michael and Alicia, who have now been married for three years, began working together, with Alicia directing the singers and Michael the instrumentalists. From this, the Olatuja Project was born. Rounding out the band on The Promise are guitarists Femi Temowo and Liberty Ellman, keyboardists Oli Rockberger, talking drummers Kofo Wonder and Anyan Doshu, percussionist Thomas Dyanni and drummer John Davis. Jason Michael Webb and Etienne Stadwijk (ATN) each play keyboards on one track.

    Not long after they began playing in public together, the Olatuja Project discovered that their music was having an emotional impact on audiences. An article in the Boston Globe last August detailed how one woman at an Olatuja Project concert was so overcome that she was driven to tears. Other fans have approached the couple to tell them how moving their music is.

    “Music is audible emotion,” Alicia told the Boston newspaper. “You can’t hear inspiration or hope as a feeling, but when you put it to music it can evoke these emotions and speak to the person.” To that Michael added, “It has less to do with where we are and more about speaking to people’s hearts and how it changes their life.’’

    The Promise is all about those interpersonal connections, the myriad of ways in which we each channel inspiration, emotion, hope, love and, yes, promise, into our daily interactions with one another.

    The title track opens the record, its imagery reflecting people rejoicing upon the receipt of good news: “The promise fulfilled/The veil removed/As it was written/The bond renewed/The One has come to heal the soul/Through every word of a story told.” An important feature of the song is the gan-gan (talking drum), the premier drum of Nigeria. It’s played with a hook-shaped, wooden drumstick held by the right hand and the fingers of the left. The lead-talking drum in Nigerian music is known for quoting moral proverbs that have been passed down from generation to generation.

    “Sumo Mi,” means “draw nearer,” is next. The song starts with an addictive vocal and bass ostinato, followed by piano and drums. “In this song we have a jealous creator calling out to His creation,” says Michael. “He is saying, ‘Come to Me, cling to Me and don’t look back.’ There are many voices calling us in life. Many draw on our focus and attention.”

    The following tune, “Soki” (“a little while”), is one of the album’s richest both in terms of arrangement and content. Its spiritual message is simple and universally understood: rejoice because peace is coming in a little while. “People from every nation will sing and dance,” explains Michael. “They can see that the time when all wars, fighting, strife and conflict is about to end globally. Peace is in sight and its coming will cause unity.” The song unites rhythmic elements and influences from different African countries. It’s a mix of 6/8 time from Zimbabwe, Mali, Cameroon and Nigeria, harmonic elements of American R&B and gospel and more. “The goal was to blend everything in a beautiful way.”

    “Odun De” means “a new year” or, more accurately, “celebration time.” The song is about forgiveness and the imagery of a relationship that was once sweet but has now gone sour due to resentment, a lack of forgiveness and bitterness. The chorus says, “It’s a new year, let’s forget about yesterday and enjoy today” with a clean slate.

    “Iye” (“life in abundance”) tells of a lost, unfulfilled soul looking for purpose in life. In this search this person remembers that a word from the Creator can change any situation, because He has all the answers. In short: purpose and meaning in life are not found through materialism. “Tell me who can guide/Tell me who can save/Who can give unspeakable joy/I know His name,” the Olatujas write.

    “Sunrise” says Alicia, signifies a new day. “We wanted to musically express the visual experience of the sun piercing over the horizon at dawn. It’s such a powerful yet silent moment that inspires the feeling of renewal. We portrayed this by the gradual layering of instruments in an unhurried fashion.”

    “Hold Me,” says Alicia, “has a folk feel to it. The steel-string acoustic guitar provides a descending riff that sets up the beautiful canvas and scenery. This is the first song that Michael and I wrote together. I heard him play the bass line at home in the back room and instantly started writing to it. Some lyrics take time to materialize. However, with this song, every phrase flowed quickly and with ease. It wrote itself.”

    “The Playground” is one of the album’s lighter, more playful moments. “It is about moving forward and leaving the past behind,” says Alicia. “It could be about someone who feels that his or her best days are behind, thus the person is stuck in the past. Holding on to past glories can sometimes be a hindrance.”

    “Boju Woke” (“lift up your eyes”), in contrast, is a Brazilian bossa nova influenced tune with inspirational Nigerian Yoruba lyrics. It focuses on a person who is going though the eye of a storm and is about to quit. The message is to “look up” and find something to be thankful for, because gratitude and depression cannot cohabitate.

    Finally, The Promise closes out with a vocalise (wordless number), “Holy.” Says Michael about the album’s finale, “Alicia and I found that there was something sacred and pure about having no lyrics. This is where the title came from. This is a short piece, which functions more as a closing interlude or a benediction.”

    As they wrote the songs on the album, says Michael, he and Alicia found that their process constantly changed. “Lyrics ignite melody, melody inspires lyrics, both lyrics and melody inspire harmony,” he says. Overall, creating the music for The Promise was “very satisfying. There is a level of complexity collaborating with a spouse: a bonding requiring faith, patience and trust. We came up with refreshing and new combinations, with different genres smoothly coexisting in a blend of our musical backgrounds and experiences. This album merges the best of both worlds: the rhythmic complexity of Nigerian styles and the harmony and production quality of contemporary American music.”

    “The music we are making together,” says Alicia, “is about divine inspiration, life inspiration and mutual inspiration between each other. The result is our united collaborative vision.”

    In other words, a promise delivered.
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      $10 USD




released April 5, 2011



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Track Name: Sumo Mi (Draw Nearer)
Written by Michael Olatuja © 2010 Olatuja music ASCAP

Sumo mi o, wa o (draw nearer, come)
Wa dimi mu (hold on to me)

Ma boju weyin (don’t look back)
Ayo re kosi nibe (your joy is not there)
Asan ni lati sare tele afefe aiye yi (it is in vain to chase the cares of this world)

Sa maabo ko tele mi (follow me)
Emi nikan ni ona otito (I am the way)
Sa ma bo ko tele mi (follow me)
Emi ni ore otito (I am a true friend)
Track Name: Soki (A Little While)
Written by Michael Olatuja © 2010 Olatuja music ASCAP

Awa wa lati korin tuntun soluwa
(We have come to sing a new song to the Lord)
Awawa lati korin tuntun si Eleda wa
(We have come to sing a new song to The Creator)
Eyin ara ile gbogbo e ba wa yo
(Rejoice with us all nations)
Alafia mbo wa (nigba) soki, soki, soki
(Peace is coming soon)

Ibere koni dabi opin (The beginning will not be like the end)
Nigba ikenyin awa yo bori (In the end we will overcome)
Ko ma lo o jeje o jeje o (Just keep on going calmly)

Lati sisin yi lo duro pelu okan ireti (From now on wait with a heart of expectation)
Lati sisin yi lo okan igbago ni tire (From now on a heart of faith is yours)
Track Name: Odun De (A New Year {Celebtation time})
Written by Michael Olatuja © 2010 Olatuja music ASCAP

Kilode ti a nsoro odi (why are we arguing)
Kilode ta nsukun (why are we crying)
A o bere bi eleyi (we didn’t begin like this)
A bere pelu ife (we began in love)

Odun de o (it’s a new year)
Jeka gba gbe ano (let’s leave yesterday behind)
Odun de o (it’s a new year)
Jeka gbadun oni (let’s enjoy today)

Ironupiwada lo ye wa (let’s make amends )
Okan idariji lo ye wa o (let’s have a forgiving heart)
Ona ife nikan lo ye wa (let’s walk in love)
Oye kawa nife ara wa (We should love one another)
Track Name: Iye (Life In Abundance)
Written by Michael & Alicia Olatuja © 2010 Olatuja music ASCAP

Tell me who can guide
Tell me who can save
Who can give unspeakable joy
I know his name
I have a friend who never fails
The giver of life abundantly
Who says the word and it will be

Pa ṣe o baba (say the word Father)
Eyin lorisun iye (you are the source of life)
Pa ṣe o baba (say the word Father)
Ranti ileri re (remember your promise)

Ta lo le sa mona (who can guide)
Ta lo le gbani (who can save)
Ta lo le fun wa layo ninu ile aiye (who can give us joy in this world)
Mo lore kan soso ti ki ndoju tini (I have a friend who never fails)
Oun ni kan lorisun iye (the source of abundant life)
Oba alaṣe (a sovereign king)

Iye ode o Iye (life in abundance has come)
Track Name: Sunrise
Written by Michael & Alicia Olatuja © 2010 Olatuja music ASCAP

Right before your eyes
Dreaming in waking life
Time is passing by
A new day in the sunrise

Wanting more than you can see
Longing for what is to be
Reaching for a destiny that holds a new reality
Track Name: Hold Me
Written by Michael & Alicia Olatuja © 2010 Olatuja music ASCAP

Softly you whisper visions
Renewing life, reviving spirit, restoring dreams
Slowly, shadows become reality
Never mind what he said
Never mind what she did
Now it’s just you and me

So hold me, hold me, hold me, hold me
Ile ya o wa o (come, it’s home time)

I never knew self-promises in secret
Were untold, unspoken and unpredictable
Fairy tales and rhyming riddles never held the words of
Never heard before us the story of you and me

I would have never believed
I‘d wake up every morning next to a dream
Spent so many years afraid to breath
My eyes were always open but now I see
Come closer don’t shy away
Your eyes cry a mystery your lips will only whisper
And heaven know how long we’ve waited
For destiny to dance hand in hand with life’s melody

Ile ya, ile ya o, wa o (it’s home time, come it’s home time)
Track Name: The Playground
Written by Michael & Alicia Olatuja © 2010 Olatuja music ASCAP

You live your life in memories
Standing still in your mind
Keep your eyes straight ahead
Looking on not behind

Sa re wa sibi apata (run to the rock)
Ibe lemi wa (that’s where I am)

As long you press to the end you will finish strong
Keep holding on
And if ever you feel it’s too long
I’ll carry you on

Moving forward

You lie awake in a sea of dreams
Your glory days so long gone
Your destiny was not yesterday
So keep your feet moving up

One in front of the other you’ll see
All is possible so run to me
For now and forever I’ll be
So let it go and just believe
Track Name: Boju Woke (Lift Up Your Eyes)
Written by Michael & Alicia Olatuja © 2010 Olatuja music ASCAP

Boju woke (lift up your eyes)
Kilori (what do you see)
Lapa mi ni ire ayo (in my arms is abundant joy)
Wa sodo mi (come to me)

Imisi wa ni be (inspiration is there)
Agbara wa ni be (power is there)
Ibukun wa nibe (blessing is there)
Igbega wa nibe (increase is there)
Track Name: Holy
Written by Michael Olatuja © 2010 Olatuja music ASCAP
(no lyrics)