If I Had A Record Label…by Tola Ositelu

Imagine if you had a record label. You had unlimited funds to spend on A&R and development. You didn’t have to worry about album sales or stock holders. Who would your dream lineup be?

This is a question that we posed to some of our new writers this past week, and we will be posting their responses throughout the next few weeks. First up is our new London-based contributor Tola Ositelu.

The first act that comes to mind is North-East Londoner Kersha Bailey. I stumbled across her on Myspace a few years ago and she later went on to play an event I used to host in 2008, with her wonderful band, Groove Control. A more self-assured young performer you will not find; Miss Bailey commands the stage presence of someone who’s been in the game longer than she has thus been alive. Kersha is so comfortable in her own skin and everything she does seems so natural that she establishes an instant intimacy with her audience. I have heard her being compared to Jill Scott regarding this aspect of her performance and the observation is not without merit (as it happens, Kersha counts Ms Scott as one of her inspirations). However without a doubt the most arresting thing about Miss Bailey is her voice. There are a lot of competent, even good, female vocalists out there but not all are special like Kersha. She effortlessly balances the raspy, seductive element of her voice, a respectable range and power with the sweetest of tones, embodying the best of the soul and jazz greats that have impacted her. Even that’s not enough to adequately convey why I’m such a fan; there are a few other singers who could fit that description. Kersha just possesses that ineffable quality which makes an artist unique but remains difficult to explain. She’s quite the songwriter too and excels in the slow-mid tempo acoustic soul jam. Also, on her cover of ‘Autumn Leaves’ one can discern a canny ear for a good interpretation. It’s certainly very different from the other versions I’ve heard. I predict Bailey’s career will be a slow burner and time will tell. In the years to come her name will be synonymous with a new generation of soul maestros. Longevity is sure to be her friend.

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Jana Tyrrell – So Many Things
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I was in the West London area recently to attend a friend’s showcase and was pleasantly surprised to ‘discover’ a young lady called Jana Tyrrell with whom said acquaintance was sharing the bill. Miss Tyrrell by her own admission is relatively new to the live scene but is definitely an example of an artist who is close to being the complete package early on in her career. She started her PA with ‘Imperfect Masterpiece’ and as the title suggests there was something appealingly unpolished yet undeniably impressive about it. Jana’s confidence grew as her set progressed, revealing hints of the epic but accessible quality to her compositions that made Kate Bush a household name. This same quality is missing from most mainstream music these days. Jana is the right kind of artist to bring it back and given a chance the consumer might find it scratches an itch they didn’t realise they had. As for Tyrrell’s voice, it has a soulful sensibility that doesn’t eschew the flavours of credible pop. Back in the day when major labels gave a damn, Jana is the type of act the A&R team would do well to nurture; with the right amount of promotion, it could yield dividends. A classic artist in the making.

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I often say that 24 year old Netherlands-based Soul man Airto Edmundo is my favourite find on YouTube. Whilst impressionable punters fall over themselves unnecessarily to give plaudits to YT alumnae Little Boots and Esmee Denters, I’m puzzled why this young man with the honey larynx and fantastic vocal control hasn’t yet garnered more notable attention. Not that he’s doing badly; his videos attract viewers in their tens if not hundreds of thousands. Still, I’m expecting bigger things for him. I was hooked once I cynically clicked on a link to his version of Adele’s ‘Chasing Pavements’, expecting an aural train wreck of a great song only to be totally amazed by the sensitivity and pure beauty of Airto’s version. When he isn’t doing soulful covers of Indie, Pop, Jazz, Hip-Hop and R&B songs better than the original artist he at least makes you appreciate the tune in a new way. At his best when he’s singing unplugged, with his keyboard oozing lush chords, Edmundo is testament to the fact inspired interpretations take as much skill and are as praiseworthy as composing a decent song from scratch. I’ve lost count of the times he has taken a dull/dire/forgettable track and put his indelible stamp on it making you want to listen again and again; he really does have that gift. And his voice! Rich and warm in tone, like the ideal soul vocal it mixes enough of the rugged with the smooth. Influenced –of course-by Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway, if we had to make contemporary comparisons think of a less nasal, more controlled Donnell Jones. Yet there’s enough of Airto’s own signature sound to ensure he’s not a carbon copy. He also writes his own material so if he was on my fantasy record label, I’d get him away from the current incarnation of R&B to which he seems to gravitate-devoid of imagination as it is- and encourage him to focus on the jazz-inflected soul he was born to sing.

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