By finally leaning on a lesson learned as a little girl growing up in Berean Seven Day Adventist Church on Union Boulevard, Alicia Olatuja has blossomed into one of the rising star vocalists on the jazz scene.
“They would always say, ‘follow your calling,’” Olatuja said. “When you feel that pull to do what’s inside of you, you don’t want to turn away from it. When you feel that calling pulling on you – you have to answer the call.”
Three weeks after the release of her sophomore album “Intuition: From the Minds of Women,” Olatuja is still euphoric over the rave reviews of her project – which features a collection of songs composed by women from all walks of life.
She was praised by the New York Times for her cover of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work,” (made famous by Maxwell) for “honoring” Bush’s original intention of the song while making it her own.
“I screamed when I saw that,” Olatuja said. “That’s the whole purpose of ‘Intuition’ – to show what can be done with these incredible works by women with the voice of a new generation, a voice of my generation.”
Olatuja has a voice that is worthy of representing her generation. Anyone who hears her sultry tone and perfect pitch as it melts over Sade’s “No Ordinary Love” on “Intuition” will most certainly agree. She had the audacity to take on some classic tunes by master singers and songwriters that run the gamut of genre and stretches generations – Angela Bofill, Joni Mitchell and Imogean Heap are among them.
Ironically, Olatuja attempted to quell her call at first.
“The competitive nature of the music industry can be very discouraging for a young person,” Olatuja said. “even for somebody who is pursuing music as an adult.”
Olatuja was constantly encouraged to pursue a career in music from her family, her church and the musical community – and probably anyone who heard her sing – however, she decided to settle on becoming a veterinarian. While studying Veterinary Medicine Veterinary medicine at University of Missouri Columbia, Olatuja overheard a young woman singing in one of the performance halls and decided to live Berean’s recurring message.
“As she was singing, I said to myself, ‘You know what, I’m just going to give it a shot,” Olatuja said. “If it doesn’t work out, I can always go back to becoming a veterinarian.”
It worked out.
While pursuing her master’s degree in Classical Voice/Opera at the Manhattan School of Music, Olatuja was the featured soloist during the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” performance at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013. She became an overnight sensation.
“Brooklyn Gives Birth to New Musical Star,” The New York Daily News said of her performance with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir. Olatuja called the experience “surreal.”
The next year, her debut album “Timeless” was released. She toured jazz festivals and venues around the world – including The Ferring Jazz Bistro, thanks to Jazz St. Louis. Olatuja has been categorized as a jazz artist, but that’s not how she sees herself. And she is working to be a part of the continuum of the rich musical legacy of her hometown.
“There are jazz elements, but there’s also a bluesy sound as well as gospel and soul,” Olatuja said. “Music in St. Louis it hasn’t been about a particular genre – it’s about what was happening in the moment and what’s fresh. That’s something that I’ve always wanted to continue with my music, and I feel like the only way to do that is to not be boxed in to a particular genre.”
She blew the corners off of any possible box with “Intuition,” which also features selections composed by Tracy Chapman, Brenda Russell, Linda Creed and former Prince protégé Natalya Phillips.
“There’s the romantic element – which you’ll hear through Sade’s ‘No Ordinary Love,’” Olatuja said. “But you also hear about the abuse and racism through the Joni Mitchell tune, ‘Cherokee Louise.’”
Olatuja also pointed out one of the compositions tells the story of a little black girl who doesn’t feel pretty because she doesn’t have blonde hair or blue eyes.
“All of these different topics highlight the complexity of a woman’s experience,” Olatuja said. “You kind of get this beautiful rainbow of experiences that women have – and what we have to offer through our artistry.”
Soultracks.com designated “Intuition” as its album of the month. The fact that the album is hitting its stride during Women’s History Month is not lost on Olatuja.
“I want people to be inspired and to also celebrate and acknowledge the achievements and the impact that women have made in society,” Olatuja said. “Musically, artistically, politically or whatever avenue they feel they can connect to the most.”
She said the intention of “Intuition” is to illustrate the power of women in the world and to be inspired by their resilience, creativity and innovation in overcoming obstacles. She hopes her record will inspire people to find women to celebrate -and inspire women creatively.
“I have been inspired by so many women and I want to inspire people through this project,” Olatuja said. “In highlighting and celebrating women composers, I wanted to bring attention to the incredible wealth of creativity that we provide the music industry – and the arts in general.”
“Intuition: From the Minds of Women” is available for download and purchase on all platforms and outlets. For more information on Alicia Olatuja, visit www.aliciaolatuja.com.