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Ola Onabule

‘Seven Shades, Lighter’ from Nigerian singer and songwriter, Ola Onabule is a special preview of Ola’s seventh studio album, Seven Shades Darker, coming later in 2011.

Grooves undoubtedly rooted in the Soul and Blues of the late sixties and early Seventies make an unlikely but easy peace with mournful, complex African melodic lines. On other tracks, wailing distorted guitars cling to the helter-skelter ride of poly-rhythmic time signatures that seem to unsettle and soothe the ear in equal measures. Seemingly conventional 4/4 grooves beguile with inviting familiarity whilst slipping potent lyrical nuggets under the radar of our assumptions. 

Ballads are new requiems, odes to the passing of loved ones, funky jaunts document the ebbing away of precious time, and deal with jealousy, cowardice, loss of identity and the world through the eyes of an unwanted visitor is set to the galloping gait of an African church hymn. Ola, in very fine voice, twists and turns at every step, eluding definition.

Ola is a frequent performer at international jazz festivals, including The Montreal Jazz Festival, Vancouver Coastal Jazz Festival, Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Silda Jazz Festival in Norway, Blueballs Music Festival Switzerland, as well as many international jazz venues and concert halls.

We asked Ola Onabue to give Society of Sound members some background to the recording of the album:

Recording for my new album started in the spring of 2010 after a lengthy period of preparation. I'd moved house a couple of years prior and consequentially had had to leave my trusty double-garage bound studio, in which I'd recorded my previous three albums, behind. A difficulty of the separation that was only tempered by the possibility of building a new facility from the ground up and equipping it with the means with which to fulfill my highest audiophile ambitions.

I love the sound of music, that is to say beyond the music itself (the artful arrangement of notes), I love the opportunity to influence the quality of music's sonic components. It's the main reason why I elected to be a singer that runs his own recording facility as opposed to one that concentrates exclusively on singing.

The process of influencing the fabric of sound starts with the musician or singer. His/her playing/singing technique, the instrument and the space in which it's played all the way through to the quality of the tools that capture the performance: microphones, amps, preamps, effects and cabling. If my new studio was going to achieve my lofty aims in these regards, I would have to be patiently meticulous in putting together a setup where I could create works that I'd feel were both artistically and sonically complete. I would also have to try to achieve this while facing the budgetary limitations of an independent artist. As they say, 'May you live in interesting times.’

After a year of high financial drama (for all) the new studio (affectionately christened 'Casa Del Phunk III' by my children) was structurally completed in the autumn of 2009. I wrote a whole bunch of angsty songs about soldering leads and wiring patch-bays, scrapped them and wrote new ones. 

Then I sought out my main instruments for the album. I restored a 1930's Bluthner grand and a 1970's Yamaha 5000 drum kit. Ebay yielded a nicely re-conditioned Fender Twin Guitar Amp and I overhauled my Wurlitzer and Rhodes sounds. With all this lovely classic instrumentation assembled, I directed my attention to the other side of the equation, designing the best possible signal paths down which to capture the performances of some of the UK's finest musicians. 

Legendary microphone company, Neumann stepped in last minute stylie and generously provided a number of deliciously high caliber mics to supplement my collection of solid states, vintage tubes and ribbons. I used high-end Mytek AD DA converters to handle the transition from the world of analogue electrical pulses to the rapid burst of digital noughts and ones, taking care to maintain the finest audio fidelity I could afford.

We spent the early summer of 2010 laying down instrumental tracks and I recorded my vocals at the height of summer. By the beginning of September the album had been mixed down to 24bit @ 48khz by Teo Miller and mastered by Metropolis' Hippie Baldwin in their world class mastering suites in London. Teo and I took the increasingly unconventional decision in 'all-digital-times' to mix the album in the analogue domain through my Midas desk so we could have easier access to the wide variety of yummy vintage transformer and tube based processors. We returned the mixed tracks back to the digital gods via the Mytek converters. 

I am really pleased with the results of my self-imposed quality control on this album. I've made fewer compromises on my sonic ideals than ever before.  The environment in which the project was conceived, produced and recorded was designed from the ground up with one specific purpose in mind: To make art of the creation of the sounds as well as the creation of the music.

For all these reasons I sincerely hope that Seven Shades, Lighter is listened to with as much of the detail and clarity of the original recordings intact.
Jan 2011

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