Olatuja's Drops Self-Titled Cinematic Afrobeats Album

Olatuja—the acclaimed project from bassist, composer, and bandleader Michael Olatuja and renowned vocalist Alicia Olatuja—has shared their new album, a joyful blend of soul, jazz, gospel, and Afrobeats, via Whirlwind Recordings.


6/4/20242 min read

The latest single "Royalty" is a vibrant orchestral arrangement blended with grooving Afrobeats and blazing melodies. It uniquely combines Yoruba and English in a message of self-empowerment and inspiration, fusing West African popular music with the gospel and jazz traditions that celebrates Alicia’s musicality.

"'Royalty' merges musical ideals to create a new sound: Cinematic Afrobeats," says Alicia Olatuja. "It is an anthem of empowerment, celebration, dance, and remembering who you really are!" Michael adds, “Alicia is my longest and closest collaborator.” “This album comes from a place of knowing and growing.”

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Michael “Leye” Olatuja and Alicia “Lisa” Olatuja have been a presence on the New York City music scene for many years, spanning the worlds of jazz, Broadway, film, and more. Born in London and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Michael is one of the most inventive and in-demand bassists in contemporary music, currently serving as US Musical Director for 5x GRAMMY® Award-winner Angelique Kidjo having previously worked and recorded with the likes of Diana Ross, Terence Blanchard, and Shakira and released his second album as a leader, Lagos Pepper Soup, in 2020.

The two uniquely gifted musical talents first met as students at NYC’s prestigious Manhattan School Of Music. They soon married, and in 2011, joined forces as Olatuja Project to create The Promise, an innovative collection hailed by NPR for “combining Yoruba vocals and talking drums with familiar and funky Western music languages.”

“Working with some people, one plus one equals two,” says Alicia. “But working with Michael, it feels like a multiplication, so together we are more than the sum of our parts. Together we are a crowd.”

However, as time passed their relationship evolved. No longer husband and wife, but still close friends, each pursued their separate musical careers, and each succeeded in establishing themselves at the highest level of their respective professions. Now, after a more than decade, they have reunited creatively as Olatuja.

Vocalist/composer Alicia has put out two solo albums (Timeless and Intuition: Songs From the Minds of Women), appeared in operas and musical theater productions, and worked with such esteemed artists as Chris Botti, Gregory Porter, Billy Childs, and Christian McBride. Originally from St. Louis, Alicia found a global audience in 2013 when she stunned millions during the second inauguration ceremony for President Barack Obama with a soaring featured solo during the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s rendition of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” She currently tours the world with her own jazz band.

With an A-list supporting cast including drummers Obed Calvaire and Joshua Keitt, guitarists Femi Temowo and David Rosenthal, percussionist Magatte Sow and GRAMMY® Award-nominated pianist Christian Sands, Olatuja is at once cinematic in scope and intimate and personal in its message of trust, joy, and the power of honest communication. Michael’s Nigerian heritage deeply informs songs like the irresistibly joyous, talking drum-driven groove of “Ijo” and “Bright Side,” the latter sung in Yoruba and inspired by a visit the couple took to London to see Michael’s family. Indeed, all of the Olatujas’ many musical associations and adventures contribute to the ambition and growth revealed on the new album. Though born from a time of unprecedented alienation and disconnection, Olatuja stands as a tribute to the accumulated wisdom and maturity of two remarkable musicians, a way for friends and artists with a long history and wide range of experience to move themselves and their work forward.

Listen to the new self-titled album below.

Photos curtesy of Lalah Hathaway