Mulit-instrumentalist, vocalist, and lyricist
"I found a way out of jazz to play music more connected to me and the earth.”
The music of Olu Dara, the multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and lyricist, is a harvest of his Mississippi blues roots mixed
with African rhythms and jazz that distinctly differentiates his sound from the jazz pack.
“I’ve been influenced by cultural sounds from around the world during my days in the Navy traveling to Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean,” stated Dara. “The South influenced me the most. That’s where the seeds come from—music from southern states has unlimited rhythms.”
As a youngster in Natchez, he heard the blues, one-man bands, acapella, and the music of Africa. Following his Navy tour, Dara moved to Brooklyn in 1963 and later to Harlem. The musician stated, “My goal was never to be a great trumpet player, I just want to be a great contributor to the mix.”
During the so-called “loft scene” in the 1970s, Dara was a welcomed sideman of David Murray, Sam Rivers, Henry Threadgill,
and Oliver Lake. After playing with a variety of bands including Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers, Dara says, “I found a way out of jazz to play music more connected to me and the earth.” The trumpeter began singing at age 40, when he formed his
interchangeable seven-piece outfit the Okra Orchestra and four-piece Natchezsippi Dance Band. “I had made my name playing coronet and trumpet,” reflects Dara. “But when I started singing in my band it brought everything into perspective as far as my music is concerned.”
Dara wrote the music for and performed in A Tale Of Madame Zora, which received an AUDELCO Award, and the PBS American Playhouse production Zora Is My Name, conceived by Ruby Dee. His musical, “From Natchez to New York,” aired on National Public Radio and was performed live with choreographer Diane McIntyre at the Smithsonian Institute. “Writing music for many of August Wilson’s plays were some of my proudest moments,” says Dara.
Dara and his son Nas on the hip hop circuit have performed on each others’ CDs and made a video entitled “Bridging the Gap,” a combination of hip hop and Dara’s special blend. On their recent tour, the hip hop and jazz worlds were united.
Dara has totally escaped the homogenization of today’s contemporary sound. “This is music that I’m proud to present to my
people back in Mississippi,” said Dara. “I had to add more of my culture to the music to make it right.”