An interview with Josephine Oniyama
By Helena Cantone
Singer songwriter Josephine Oniyama has just released her debut album Portrait. Her music is an interesting mix of folk, soul, indie and pop.
I ask her to give Musika readers a bit of background to how she came to music and singing. “I started writing songs and playing guitar when I was around 12. I played guitar in after school groups and in a couple of garages and got a gig in Manchester when I was 15”. Josephine has since then worked with Jimmy Cliff, Paolo Nutini and, more recently, Michael Kiwanuka, to mention a few.
Born and bred in Manchester, Josephine’s mother is originally from Liberia and her father from Jamaica. “I didn’t grow up with my dad so I don’t have a strong Jamaican connection, really. My mum’s West African roots/music I think gave me a good sense of polyrhythm and vocal harmony, which can be felt on the album”.
When asked to describe her sound, she replies simply, “ Hearty, warm. Folk infused pop/soul”. Her voice has indeed an impressive range from a deep soulful bass to a smooth, light pitch that recalls musical divas that span cross continents and styles. I ask Josephine to talk about which artists she grew up listening to and which artists inspire her now. “Growing up I listened to some old school pop/soul like the Isley Brothers and the Supremes. I listened to a lot of Bob Marley and King Sunny Adé. I loved rock bands too like Oasis, Nirvana and the Breeders”. She does not reveal her current tastes…
I wonder and ask, which collaborations she has been most proud of, “Working with Leo Abrahams, the producer on my album. This collaboration brought the album to conclusion”. Composer and producer Abrahams has worked with impressive artists such as Grace Jones and Nick Cave. Others who have worked on Portrait include, Polar Bear’s drummer Seb Rochford and Jimmy Hogarth, whose production and writing range from Amy Winehouse, Corinne Bailey Rae, Harvieu and Estelle.
To liven up the interview, I ask a cheeky question: “Manchester or London”? She laughs, and without hesitation replies, “Don’t be daft chuck… Manchester”.
Back to work. I ask Oniyama what gigs she has lined up for 2012-2013? “I can’t tell you yet, but there are around 25 shows on the horizon with a couple of different artists at the end of 2012 and early 2013”. Secrets are always worth the wait… So, what next? “Home town gig. Manchester, The Castle, October 22”. And just before I end the interview, I ask Josephine to give a personal message to Musika readers. And here it is, right from the heart: “Keep listening to good music. Never fear your own ears”.