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The Pulse: Bassist Michael Olatuja on His New Album, and Its "Cinematic Afrobeat" Flavors

Michael Olatuja

Michael Olatuja might as well be called “The Great Connector.”

His entire life story has comprised a series of connections, which converge on his latest work, Lagos Pepper Soup. The London-born, Lagos-raised bassist describes this album’s sound as “Cinematic Afrobeat,” and it’s a sonic experience of epic proportions.

Five years in the making, the project is a tale of three cities — from London to Lagos to New York — with Olatuja blending the sounds of all three. With Afrobeat and jazz set against a tapestry of orchestral arrangements by Broadway ace Joseph Joubert, Tony Award-winner Jason Michael Webb, and Disney film orchestrator David Metzger, Lagos Pepper Soup could easily be used as a soundtrack.

Olatuja has managed to collide his professional worlds — as a pit musician for Broadway’s Frozen, as a touring musician, and as a bandleader — bringing more than a few musical heavyweights into the mix. His core band on the album includes drummer Terreon Gully, pianist Aaron Parks, and keyboardist Etienne Stadwijk. As a testament to his reach, he’s also recruited an impressive guest roster, including Angélique Kidjo, Dianne Reeves, Regina Carter, Joe Lovano, Laura Mvula, Lionel Loueke, Grégoire Maret and Becca Stevens.

And as if all of that weren’t enough, Olatuja has also been keeping busy during quarantine, keeping the spirit of Broadway alive as theaters remain dark for the unforeseeable future. On this lively virtual edition of The Pulse (which even includes a short solo performance), we talk about all of this and more. 

Lagos Pepper Soup releases Friday on Whirlwind Recordings; preorder here.

Keanna Faircloth is a Washington, DC native and comes to WBGO getting her start on-air at WPFW 89.3 FM in 2003, most recently as the host of Late Night Jazz: The Continuum Experience. She is a graduate of Howard University having majored in Music History with a minor in Classical Piano. Keanna has written for NPR Music, and worked for Radio One as an on-air personality, producer and voice-over talent. She is also the creator and host of Artimacy Podcast, where she has interviewed artists like Wynton Marsalis, Matthew Whitaker, Jonathan Butler, and Dionne Warwick. As a result, she was recognized by Radio Ink Magazine as a 2019 African American leader in radio.