NYJO Presents… is back with its second show for the month of April! This Sunday, transmitted live from the legendary Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club straight into your home, it’s Roella Oloro!
Multi-instrumentalist, performer and composer, Roella Oloro will be joined by a quartet of incredibly talented musicians to explore repertoire composed of Roella’s original material as well as music from jazz legends such as Mulgrew Miller, Roy Hargrove and Esperanza Spalding.
To start, we always like to open by asking people how they are… How have you been Roella?
Life for me has been rather busy despite the national lockdown. I’ve been studying online from London at Berklee College of Music as well as doing a lot of virtual gigs and collaboration in the UK. Balancing the US/UK time zones can be incredibly challenging with some of my lessons taking place past midnight and then at times, rising early the next morning for engagements and commitments in the UK. I’m trying my best to juggle everything, but it has not been easy.
You’re back at Ronnie’s this Sunday! Are you looking forward to getting back out there?
I’m so excited to be back on the Ronnie’s stage! I’ve missed playing there so so much! The Ronnie’s hang back when The Late Late Show was running was one of my favourite places to be. I met so many incredible musicians of the London scene at the club, and it’s also where I first learnt to put myself out there! Big props to Alex Garnett for encouraging me to get up on the piano the first night I ever went back in 2017.
Shout out Alex! What was your last pre-corona live gig? Has your approach to music making changed since then?
My last pre-corona gig was actually at the Berklee Performance Centre in Boston (MA) as part of producer Rob Lewis’ ‘THE SHOW’. This was one of the biggest productions of the year for Berklee and I had the pleasure of sharing the first keyboard part with some absolutely incredible musicians. It was a phenomenal experience and my first big production with the College. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.
Since coming back to the UK and dealing with the lockdown, my focus has switched to staying connected to music and making music with others through virtual collaboration. Although the virtual world is a difficult sphere to navigate and will never replace performing in person, I have found real joy in collaborating with people intercontinentally through the use of technology. In doing so I’ve become a lot more familiar with DAW’s like Logic Pro X and the production side of music making.
A constant in jazz music is its ability to channel the mood of the time. Have you noticed different themes being addressed by your music now?
During the first lockdown we also experienced a global shift in racial awareness. History has been made through the huge protests that took place around the world in response to George Floyd’s death in the middle of a pandemic. His death also sparked conversations surrounding race and radical institutional change in addressing the lack of black representation in music, in the media and (in the corporate world) in positions of power that I didn’t think I would ever see in my lifetime. This global shift also caused a similar shift in me, one that has encouraged me not to be afraid to speak my mind through my music. In this day and age my life or someone else’s could literally depend on me doing so.
It’s certainly been a deeply profound moment in history. We’ll certainly be waiting to hear how these themes show themselves in your music, both on Sunday and in your future work.
Do you think having more free time on your hands is more, or less conductive for creativity (although it sounds like you haven’t really had much free time recently!)?
I think it really depends on the person. Personally, music and creativity has been one of my lifelines and an anchor for me during difficult times. I’d gone from being immersed by music 24/7 at Berklee to suddenly being catapulted back to the UK by the emergence of the Coronavirus. This was a huge shock to my system; one so significant that I knew if I stopped creating, I might not start back up again. So yes, I’d say to counter that, I hung on to creativity for dear life.
Tell us about your recent experience composing the soundtrack for ’20 Stories High’. How did you find the process, and where can people find out more about it?
Was this the soundtrack I recorded for Shunaji (Vanessa Sauls) with Zoe Pascal and Alley Lloyd? If so, it was a lot of fun! I’d love to do more TV and film scoring work like that. Really hoping that more opportunities like that come up in the future. To be honest I’m not actually sure where to find it just yet. I’ve been waiting on the news for when it comes out!
Would you like to talk a little bit about your recent baptism – the road to get there and how you’ve felt since? Do you think spirituality has had an influence in how you experience music?
My relationship with God is an integral part of who I am, which I want to be experienced in my music. One thing that the lockdown allowed me to do, was to really examine how my walk with God fits into my life and where it was heading. I’d always made the excuse before of never ”having the time” to address this properly.
However, with all the empty time, the world at a standstill and some incredibly difficult times at home with my family, I turned to God for guidance to be able to persevere through it all. I learnt things about myself and about my faith and knowledge of Him that needed improving. I started bible studying with some kind and very patient people from my best friend’s church. The more that I engaged in these studies and learnt the truth about who God really is and what he wants for me as a human being, the more my heart softened towards Him; allowing me to continue wanting to learn more and to be more committed to my relationship with Him.
There were many many difficult trials and setbacks that I went through in the months leading up to my decision to get baptised; and there were also some incredible miracles that took place that left me absolutely gobsmacked. These miracles were also so personal to me and what my specific needs as Roella Oloro are, that my heart couldn’t help being won over; God was showing me that when I put my trust in Him, no matter what he always comes through because he is a God of integrity. My Baptism is a public declaration of my deciding to trust God with every inch of my life.
Wasn’t that great!? Thank you to Roella for providing such thoughtful, personal answers. In between this interview and the publishing date, Roella had some really exciting news that we wanted to promote before we left you.
Last Friday Roella featured on Decca Records’ “Alone Together”, an eclectic collection of covers that looks back across the last 100 years of music.
It features a plethora of rising jazz stars including Joe Armon Jones, Ashley Henry, Sarah Tandy, Reuben James and Charlie Stacey – the project features interpretations of songs by the likes of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, The Stranglers and Whitney Houston, and Snoop Dog and Billie Eilish.