Monday 27 June 2016

"Lost and Found": Shola Adisa-Farrar [Interview]

Already boasting an incredible line-up of funk and soul artists including Setenta and DjeuhDjoah & Lieutenant Nicholson, the "afro soul & tropical funk label", Hot Casa Records, can now boast the brilliant debut album by jazz vocalist, Shola Adisa-Farrar.

US-raised with Jamaican heritage and now residing in Paris, Shola studied at The American Conservatory Theatre and Black Repertory Theatre of Berkeley before achieving her Bachelors Arts degree in Music from New York’s Fordham University.  Currently residing in Paris, the passion for her craft has taken her to stages in America, France, Mauritius and Jamaica and now to the release of her debut album which sees her paired with the Parisian Florian Pellissier Quintet, helmed by pianist Florian Pellissier.

As a collective, the Quintet have three albums already to their name since 2012 (‘Le Diable Et Son Train’, ‘Biches Blues’ and ‘Cap De Bonne Esperance’) and now their style of hard-bop and spiritual jazz is taken to exciting new territory with this incredible new release for 2016.

A project that’s been two years in the making, the music on ‘Lost Myself’ is punctuated by an understated elegance born really of the chemistry between Shola and Pellissier’s Quintet.  Shola is hugely adept at conveying her warmth, charm and personable nature through her writing and particularly through her vocals, leaving Florian Pellissier & Co the task of providing an exquisite musical backdrop.  While the majority of the album features original compositions, it seems only fitting that this “exploration into jazz” feature sprinkles of outside inspiration: an impressive bossa-esque re-imagining of Nina Simone’s ‘Feeling Good’ is included, along with an interpretation of Herbie Hancock’s ‘I Have A Dream’, but the most exciting cover comes courtesy of a seminal Jay Dee (Dilla) production for his one-time hip-hop group, Slum Village… ‘Fall in Love’.

It really is our great pleasure to have secured time with Shola Adisa-Farrar as she sits on the cusp of ever-increasing success.

Congratulations on 'Lost Myself': you must be thrilled with the response to the album so early in its release?
I am!  It was nerve racking at the time of the release.  My biggest fear was that no one would say anything, but once the first review came in, raving about it, I felt relief.  I receive messages almost daily as people from around the World discover the music.  I am happy and excited about the future of this album.

Who were some of your musical inspirations growing up?
Patti Labelle!  Her version of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ was on repeat and I would sing as loud as I could trying to belt out those notes.  Mariah Carey was huge for me; I owned video tapes about her life, her music, her voice. What I liked was that I always had to practice to be what I felt was anywhere close to what Mariah was during the ‘Vision of Love’ era.  She gave me something to reach for; to aspire to – that vocal control, those dramatic pauses and high notes.  Anita Baker... According to my mom, ‘Your Bring Me Joy’ was the first song I ever sang publicly at the age of three at a concert in UC Berkeley.  There were so many others: Toni Braxton, even Shirley Temple as she was able to act and sing and I watched her collections of films every summer when I visited my aunt in Southern California. Then around the time that I was in middle school I learned about Josephine Baker and Lena Horne.  I loved Josephine's journey to Paris and how she reinvented herself, being not only a performer but a champion for human rights.  Lena Horne was a singer and actress – absolutely beautiful and graceful – and she was a pioneer being the first black woman performer to break many racial barriers.

How did you connect with the Florian Pellissier Quintet?
I had a year-long residency performing at a Parisian music venue, Le Resevoir for their Sunday Jazz brunches.  Hot Casa Records DJ Duo who organizes the talent for the brunches heard me and eventually decided that they wanted to do a project with me. At this point they introduced me to Florian Pellissier sensing that we would musically complement each other.  Out of this connection, in July 2013, our musical collaboration began.

How would you describe the creative process between the two of you?
When Florian and I started working together we began by pure improvisation in his studio and exploring the sound we created together.  We would block out a couple of hours at a time to just jam/freestyle together to see if we came up with anything interesting that could later be developed.  For the majority of the original music, that’s how it was created.  We had a very easy-going approach to creating music: let it flow and if it doesn't, move on.

What was the inspiration behind the covers selected for the album?
Florian is hugely influenced by Herbie Hancock so he brought the idea to me to write lyrics to this famous melody, ‘I Have A Dream’, as it hadn't been done before and he felt that I could connect with the intention of the song.
‘Feeling Good’ is a song that has long been a part of my repertoire and one that I’ve always enjoyed singing.
‘Sorrow Tears and Blood’ as well as ‘Fall in Love’ were both suggestions by the producer, Julien Lebrun [DJ and Hot Casa Records Founder].
Both of these songs he presented to us for different reasons: one linked some of my personal history and convictions (recent trips to Africa and my political activism) and ‘Fall in Love’ fit into the vibe of the album, while using the composition of a beloved Producer/Rapper and continuing to mix genres, as we have done in this album with Afrobeat, Reggae and with this track Hip Hop.

How does the music from the album transfer to a live stage? 
There are six musicians on the album, seven including the guitarist on ‘Blue Chords’.  We just had our first show since the album release and we were six on stage: piano and Rhodes, bass, drums, sax and trumpet who both also play the flute, and myself.  You can get the full album sound with this formation, but we are also working on a smaller formation to increase international touring opportunities.

Who would be a dream collaborator for you to record or perform with? 
This question is quite difficult because I have very eclectic musical tastes and there are many people whose sound I love.  But right now I would love to work with Kamasi Washington, I absolutely love the full layered sound of his music and his West Coast flavor. Robert Glasper, ?uestLove… always admired them and enjoyed their musical collaborations.  Vocalist Buika, Lianne la Havas... Major Lazer to get a cool Reggae or ReggaeDancehall track. Little Dragon, love their sound – the mix of Yukimi's soulful voice with the electronic instrumentation and effects is perfect!

'Lost Myself' is available to purchase from Hot Casa Records now, and for more info on Shola Adisa-Farrar, please visit:

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