Bassist Michael Olatuja opens “Lagos Pepper Soup”, the title track of his upcoming album, with a flurry of plucked, playful notes, scattered over the track’s polyrhythmic backbone. It isn’t long before they settle into an upbeat melody, bright and driving: a celebration of life, culture, family, and the many things still worth staying positive about.
“My late mother, Comfort Bola Olatuja, owned two Nigerian restaurants in Lagos. She often cooked famous Nigerian dishes like pepper soup, jollof rice, moi moi, and more,” Olatuja explains, noting that his family sometimes even lived where his mother worked. “This was home.”
The track is as powerful a tribute to his mother as it is a demonstration of his creativity and knack for collaboration. Olatuja’s mentor, Angélique Kidjo, whom he calls both “the queen and legend” and “like my big sister”, takes on lead vocals, as strong a powerhouse as ever as she sings and grooves side by side with Olatuja. The track’s Afrofuturist-inspired video was directed by Azzie Scott and features an ensemble of energetic dancers choreographed by Laurie Michelle Taylor. “They were both brilliant,” gushes Olatuja. “Definitely a dream team.”
Photo: Laurent Serroussi / Courtesy of Michael Olatuja
Such glorious visuals are equaled, at least, by the song itself. The drums are pure Afrobeat; subtle synths add a specifically contemporary touch, while organ-style keys hearken back to 1970s funk. Olatuja himself is a versatile jazz bassist, bold and soulful with a flair for experimentation. Add Kidjo, the most accomplished and well-known West African diva still singing and a four-time Grammy winner, and the result is brilliant.
Olatuja traces his musical career back to the African drums he played in church at the age of five. “Lagos Pepper Soup” shows how those roots have helped him grow into a master musician, still connected to his roots, and thriving as he makes music for today. This is a song that “tells everyone to celebrate life through dance,” says Olatuja, “a call for everyone to give thanks and rejoice with us.” It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting it any other way.
Lagos Pepper Soup releases on 12 June via Whirlwind Recordings.