Josephine Oniyama is a singer/songwriter from Manchester, UK, but since 2012 now goes by just ‘Josephine’. Her music is inspired by the musicians of the Manchester area coupled with the musical heritage of her West African family - with a Liberian mother and Jamaican father who came to the UK before her birth. In her youth, house parties invariably centered on her mother’s collection of vinyl: Hi-Life, Congolese music and Soul. Stacked in the front room was King Sunny Ade, The Isley Brothers, The Supremes, Ali Farka Toure & Johnny Cash.
Josephine releases her debut album, Portrait, on the 8th October 2012 through Rubyworks / Ark Recordings. which you can purchase here.
Every once in a while a work of art emerges which commands public attention, exceeding those already in existence, surpassing genres and boundaries. Oscar Wilde once stated: "We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars". This is an artist with so much lucent passion and inimitable talent it's sure to outshine all others.
Manchester's soulful chanteuse, Josephine, has created a self-reflective debut album which illustrates the many different sides of a fascinating character. Vocally, her prowess recalls The Queen of gospel‚ Mahalia Jackson's distinctive contralto, yet behind the powerful delivery is a husky undercurrent making every replaying seem like a personal performance. This compelling delivery commands attention completely, on a record replete with a vibrant array of musical genres. Whether accompanied by Ed Harcourt on stripped-back piano melody House Of Mirrors, or playing a fast-paced bossa-nova infused jaunt via Pepper Shaker, she's equally awe-inspiring.
Such an effervescent record is no surprise given Josephine's upbringing. Born to a Liberian mother and Jamaican father who came to the UK before her birth, she's enjoyed the advantages of a colourful West African culture as well as feeling intrinsically British. Born in the Manchester suburb of Hulme before soon moving to nearby Cheetham Hill, she soaked up the musical heritage of the city and that of the household, like a sponge. "I always knew I'd be musical" she admits. "In the house I'd hear lots of old records, such as Fela Kuti, and King Sunny Ade were played by my mum quite a lot. She's got really great music from all over the world".
Her mother proved to be the catalyst for a future career in music, buying the twelve year old Josephine a guitar. Clearly on the right path; the first gig was just three years later upon finishing high-school. During College the precocious performer developed further by avidly listening to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Marley. These early influences really impacted heavily and seeped into the song-writing. "I learned a lot from their story-telling techniques and the more complex rhythmical style they used", she remembers. "Reggae taught me to feel the music and that writing a song could be different to the way I imagined before".
Her tenacity and drive saw things build quickly during the nascent beginning. "When I was writing some of my first songs I was literally waking up, going to work, then to a gig, and getting back at midnight only to do it all again in the morning". It was this obsessive impulse to make music which soon saw her support big names including Jimmy Cliff while still in her teens. Last year she shared stages with both Scottish success story Paolo Nutini and BBC Sound Of 2012 winner, Michael Kiwanuka. Now however she's the one destined to step into the limelight.
Portrait sees Josephine's hard work pay off in abundance. Her transcendent voice has been captured sumptuously with the help of Leo Abrahams (long-time Brian Eno collaborator) and Jimmy Hogarth (Amy Winehouse, Estelle, Suzanne Vega) plus a host of renowned musicians including Polar Bear's drummer Seb Rochford, and the aforementioned Mercury Prize nominee Ed Harcourt.
The title-track concerns itself with post-modern multi-media ennui. "We get so many distractions. What would we be like if we didn't have the internet, phones, TV? We'd probably be more our true selves", she ponders. In fact the lack of time alone resulted in some of the album's finer moments being written in an incongruous setting; "I always carry a notepad around with me but it's hard to find time to write things down. The only place people leave you alone is on the loo", she laughs.
'A Freak' A sees Josephine address the duality at her core. Phonetically resembling Africa, it centres on double-sidedness and those playing a role in order to fit in. I Think It Was Love conjures images of smoke filled jazz outlets, its echoed vocals float effortlessly over a double-bass. Already Elbow's Guy Garvey has declared himself a fan of the track, describing her as "an old soul singer in a beautiful young girl" upon hearing it.
'When We Were' Trespassers is a nostalgic opener recalling an experience while walking into a derelict house as a child. "In one of the rooms was a mural of a skeleton on a motorbike and one day we went back to see someone had painted over it in grey", she remembers. The image of stifled creativity is complemented by lyrics about feeling stuck in a rut. "It's a reminder to take your own decisions. You forget there's a world out there to explore beyond your surroundings".
'This self-portrait' is a vivid interpretation of her formative years retold amid a colourful fusion of folk and soul. With such an accomplished debut soon to be released, it appears that the world is ready to embrace the wonderfully talented Josephine with open arms.