The Story

British-Nigerian singer-songwriter Ola Onabulé has been hailed for his powerful voice of enormous range and emotional clout. A charismatic, socially-conscious performer and poignant storyteller, Onabulé has gained an international following, winning over audiences at jazz festivals in Montreal, Vancouver, Victoriaville, Istanbul, London, Edmonton, Umbria as well as concert halls and jazz clubs worldwide. Onabulé’s debut performance at the Exit Zero Jazz Festival coincides with the recent release of Point Less, an activist’s call reminiscent in spirit of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 classic, What’s Going On. At once a celebration of life and a cautionary tale on the social forces that threaten it, his 10th album addresses such themes as the pointlessness of violence, immigration marred by expressions of xenophobia and scapegoating, the tragedy of loss and betrayal and the possibility of peace of mind and social tranquility. Onabulé’s takeaway is rueful yet optimistic throughout this powerful manifesto..

Born in Islington, London, Ola relocated with his parents at the age of seven to Lagos, Nigeria, where he spent the next ten years in school. At 17, he returned to the UK to study at Millfield School. From there he attended law school, almost completing a three-year degree before deciding to enroll at Middlesex Polytechnic for an arts degree. While studying, he began to sing in London clubs and venues, writing and performing his own material. Over the years, Onabulé performed with the WDR Big Band in Köln in 2013 and in 2009 co-headlined a series of dates around the UK with South African jazz singer, Sibongile Khumalo entitled “Soul Noel.” He has also headlined concerts in Frankfurt, Vienna, Bremen and Berlin as well as in Scotland, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Stuttgart, Italy, Finland, Switzerland, Sweden, Norway and Mexico. In December 2014, he appeared for the first time in Nigeria at the Lagos Jazz Series. His acclaimed 2015 album, It’s the Peace that Deafens, contained songs about identity, reconciliation and nostalgia with Ola exploring universal themes of what it is to be human in the 21st Century. His eagerly awaited followup album, Point Less, has already been acclaimed as a giant leap forward in his artistic canon.

The Sound

The influences of old school soul music, jazz and the West African music of his childhood come together in subtle and sophisticated fashion through Ola’s music. Often compared to such ‘70s soul singers as Frankie Beverley and Donny Hathaway or ‘90s icon Seal, Onabulé’s melodies are memorable and his lyrics are layered with metaphor and allegory, documenting the issues of the day with the universal subjects of love and loss. His sweet voice and smooth delivery will soothe on tunes like “Soul Town,” “Be a Man,” “Truce Baby” and other tunes from It’s the Peace that Deafens while more recent tunes like “What the Heck,” “Ballad of the Star Crossed,” “Dignity,” “Throwaway Notion” and others from Point Less will provide plenty of food for thought.

Where & When: Cape May Brewing Company Hops Pass Club Series, Friday + Saturday

Michael Kline