Michael Olatuja ‘Lagos Pepper Soup’ 2LP/CD (Whirlwind Recordings) 5/5

I’ve always had this, perhaps overly idealistic, perspective that albums are very much like diary entries or snapshots of where that artist is in their lives, both musically and personally. For someone who has created a piece of art, to look back at it five or ten years later brings up all kinds of feelings and emotions to them, as the creator of said piece of art, that we as listeners or viewers or readers, etc wouldn’t be privy to. And that’s a sentiment that goes both ways – music we listened to years ago can quite often attach itself to nostalgia that forever influences what we hear however many years may pass.

Michael Olatuja’s debut album ‘Speak’ – released back in 2009 – could very much be seen as a reflection of his time in London, being an album supported by leading British musicians and vocalists including Lynden David Hall, Andrew Roachford, Terri Walker and rapper TY – even the incredible Heidi Vogel lends her talents to backing vocals for several tracks as well. But for bassist and producer, Michael Olatuja, his life has very much been divided between the three cities that raised him and shaped his musical foundation: his childhood was spent in Lagos, Nigeria, then he moved to London, UK, in his teens before moving to New York to study at the Manhattan School of Music. Olatuja’s new album, ‘Lagos Pepper Soup’, is very much an album that celebrates this wonderful culmination of cultures nodding to all of them through this stunning piece of work that bridges the gap between the continents he has called home at one time or another.

Released through the fantastic Whirlwind Records, home to stellar projects by Alice Zawadzki, Jure Pukl and Kate Nash, ‘Lagos Pepper Soup’ assembles a dream line-up of vocalists and musicians, many of which have served as past collaborators to Olatuja over the years: the inimitable magic of Brandee Younger’s harp blesses ‘Ma Foya’, the excellence of Laura Mvula’s vocal graces ‘Brighter Day’ and the legendary Dianne Reeves guests with guitarist Lionel Loueke on the album’s first single ‘Soki’. ‘The Hero’s Journey’ is probably the most apt title for any song in recent memory – over the course of its eight minutes the string-heavy – almost cinematic – aspect of the composition fully immerses you in its twisting narrative propelled by Regina Carter’s masterful violin and Thana Alexa’s lush backing throughout.

This *cinematic* aspect to the whole album, thanks in large part to the exquisite orchestration throughout, is what really turns ‘Lagos Pepper Soup’ into something truly special. The entire project comes off like an intricate sequence of events celebrating life, love, joy and hope – it’s the type of vision that forever emphasises the importance of a fully-realised album. As ‘Speak’ was in 2009, ‘Lagos Pepper Soup’ is now the snapshot of where Michael Olatuja is now – a world-renown artist taking his own hero’s journey.

Imran Mirza