Intuition: Songs From The Minds of Women
Alicia Olatuja is a classically trained singer who shot to fame as the soloist in a gospel choir that served at Barack Obama’s second inauguration ceremony. Such backstories are the stuff of fantasy, and the can come close to triviliasing the talents – suggesting it was luck and whim, as if the 10,000 hours weren’t done just to get the person to that level, let alone beyond. But, still, it warrants mentioning. Let’s focus on it for the amazing feat of it, there’s no such thing as pure luck.
Here she charts a path towards jazz – without ever quite sounding like a jazz artist, more a singer still evolving. Her voice is perfect, clear as a bell, the playing is wonderful – but it’s about the concept, the song selection, the arrangements, the sequencing decisions too.
For, as the title tells us, Olatuja takes us to various places that exist in the concerns of songs written by (or for) female artists – and this runs the gamut across rock and pop and soul and features songs by Linda Creed, Violeta Parra, Natalya Phillips and Justine Bradley among others.
But it’s as much about what Olatuja (who includes her own tune, Just Wait) does with the songs – sometimes it’s a nearly strait reading, as on the scene-setting Sade classic, No Ordinary Love. Other times the lens is widened, the song is completely recognisable, just updated, sas added (Tracy Chapman’s Give Me One Reason). But as we move through the album the surprises (Imogen Heap) and deep dives (Joni Mitchell’s Cherokee Louise in place of Both Sides Now or Free Man In Paris or…you know…) start to arrive.
The songs also start to tell stories within and around each other – the placement so crucial People Make The World Go Round is an album centrepiece – for example. And by the time of the closing multi-layered, a capella reading of Kate Bush’s This Woman’s Work we’re still making connections, seeing ties between the work, the original women that wrote and put these words and tunes in place and what Olatuja sees in them – and then wants us to hear in them.
So though there’s room for her to still grow, dazzle and maybe even find the right space for her voice to sit this is a remarkable set of ideas and a brilliant recontextualisation from an artist so young into their career.
She’s playing at Wellington’s Jazz Festival in June of 2019; sure to be among the highlights.