Thana Alexa ‘ONA’ CD (Self-released) 5/5

Thana Alexa delivers her long-awaited sophomore album ‘ONA’ which follows up on her 2014 debut record, ‘Ode to Heroes’, which featured Donny McCaslin and Antonio Sanchez amongst others.

As evident through the album’s title itself, ‘ONA’ (a nod to her Croatian heritage with the word translating to ‘She’), the album seeks to celebrate what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. Thinking about it, there really is an incredibly thin line between celebration and protest, and while there are certainly elements within this album, most notably on the project’s title track and ‘The Resistance’, that fall into the latter’s territory, ‘ONA’ very much serves as a celebration to Thana’s experiences and to the experiences of those that came before her.

The album sees an incredible display of talent on display with the opening track alone featuring contributions from ROSA Vocal Group, Claudia Acuña, Sofia Rei, Nicole Zuraitis and Sarah Charles as they deliver through a stunning statement of intent. Spoken word poet Staceyann Chin guests on ‘The Resistance’ which is a masterful pairing when you take into the account the strength of Alexa’s message for this project and Chin’s ability to deliver that message. Following her standout appearance on Robert Glasper’s ‘F–k Yo Feelings’ album last year (on the song ‘Endangered Black Woman’), Chin features on ‘The Resistance’ with a megaphone in hand as she cries “Pull down that racist f###ing flag”.

Much like trumpeter Yazz Ahmed’s wonderful Ropeadope album release, ‘Polyhymnia’, of last year, which sought its inspiration from Greek mythology’s muse of poetry and dance (Polyhymnia), Alexa draws from Inca mythology for ‘Pachamama’ often referred to as the earth/time mother. Revered violinist Regina Carter typically excels with a luxurious solo which is given ample time to breathe over the course of the track’s eleven minutes. While ‘Pachamama’ clocks in as the longest track on the album, many of the songs here do hover over that eight-minute mark and there’s plenty of room given for her guests and band members throughout – there’s something about that as a technique within ‘ONA’ that contributes to the story being bigger than Alexa herself allowing a range of musicians to chime in with their own form of expression.

Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ is beautifully revisited as what starts out with just Alexa’s voice harmonising by itself slowly builds into a cacophony of crashing drums, electric guitar and Alexa’s vocals marking a genuine album highlight.

Perhaps the single most inspirational quality to Thana Alexa is her understanding that one’s voice is not something to be wasted. Whether it be with the music on ‘ONA’ or through her contributions to Antonio Sanchez’s Migration band – whose latest offering ‘Lines in the Sand’ (CAM Jazz Records, 2018) seeks to speak on the plight of immigrants – she continues to fearlessly and boldly deliver her message. ‘ONA’ is an incredible project. It’s bold, it’s confident, it successfully achieves all that it sets out to and, most of all, it’s needed.

Imran Mirza