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Michael Olatuja's 'Speak' on Backdrop/Obliqsound

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Speak, the title of bassist Michael Olatuja's debut album, holds deep personal meaning for its creator, exemplifying in a single word the album's underlying themes of hope, encouragement, inspiration and positivity. The album, which will be released on July 28 on Backdrop, ObliqSound's sub-label focusing on modern electronic and groove-based music, tells the story of the British/Nigerian artist's musical and personal journey. “The language of music is one that we all speak," Olatuja explains. “It unites diverse cultures." The ten songs on Speak find Olatuja stepping out of his role as sideman and finally presenting his personal vision as producer and composer. With musical influences and guests from around the world, the album touches on each spot Olatuja has hit around the globe, including his childhood in London and Lagos, Nigeria, and his professional years in London and New York. Speak is clearly the album Olatuja has been working toward his entire career and points to a strong future.

Chances are you've already heard Olatuja's extraordinarily creative musicianship. His work has enlivened the performances of Terence Blanchard, Patti Austin, Lisa Stansfield, Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Gretchen Parlato and many others. Olatuja, 28, began crafting the music that would become Speak as long ago as 2003. From the genesis of the project he knew what he wanted to accomplish. From there, the music took shape organically as the pieces fell into place, Olatuja calling upon a large cast of musicians to assist him in realizing the self-produced project, including several singers who alternate on lead vocals: Eska Mtungwazi, Andrew Roachford, Terri Walker, Onaje Jefferson, Michael's wife Alicia Olatuja and the late neo-soul artist Lynden David Hall.

On Speak, Olatuja finds commonalities among the various genres that have shaped his artistry, beginning with the indigenous, traditional sounds that formed his roots during his youth in Nigeria. “I grew up in a church that sang Yoruba Christian songs and played Yoruba style music," he recalls. “I honed my skills playing in many Yoruba music bands. So when it came to songwriting this influence came out naturally." Olatuja incorporates such hallmarks of traditional African music as the talking drum and hand drums (conga and djembe), call-and-response vocals and the Yoruba language, while working comfortably with musical vocabularies more familiar to Western ears: neo-soul balladry, hip-hop, modern jazz and deep groove. Olatuja's deep spirituality and unshaken belief in the power of the positive lies at the heart of every track on Speak. It makes perfect sense that Michael Olatuja titled the album what he did: Speak speaks volumes, and it speaks to everyone.

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