Few people in Canada know about Ola Onabule, but that isn't stopping the acclaimed British singer from flying to B.C. for three gigs next week.
One concert on this tour is Friday, Nov. 25 at Surrey's Bell Performing Arts Centre - a venue some four times the size of White Rock's Coast Capital Playhouse, which Onabule filled to capacity for a performance in June 2010.
That gig, along with the jazz/soul singer's coming tour here, was planned by the production company of Phil Q. Davey, who is a big fan of Onabule's vocals. His other concert dates in B.C. are in North Vancouver (Nov. 27) and Victoria (Nov. 30). For the tour, Onabule is bringing a sixpiece band (two brass, drums, bass, guitar and keys).
"It's daunting, but in a positive way," Onabule said of his coming tour of B.C., in a phone interview from his home in Bedford, England, located about 30 miles north of London.
"Playing in front of new people, especially in such a geographically diverse location compared to England, it puts a bit of the old juice back in the machine, revved up for the challenge. It's a nervous excitement, instead of fearinducing."
Onabule has seven albums to his name, each self-produced and blessed with his unique and often powerful vocals - an intimate whisper one moment and an earthshaking eruption the next. He was a featured act at the 2009 edition of Montreal's big jazz fest, and has shared the stage with Gladys Knight, Diane Reeves, Patti LaBelle, Al Jarreau, Natalie Cole and others.
Some heartfelt ballads and flat-out funk numbers can be heard on Seven Shades Darker, Onabule's latest album.
With his three children now in their lateteens, the singer has more time to record his music at a garden-side studio at home.
"Essentially, I'm a touring guy - I'm a shy person anywhere but in front of an audience," Onabule said. "I like the studio, too - all those knobs and faders and sounds and dials.
That's intense, too. I'm part musician and part geek. I love finding the best place to have the mic and all that stuff, as well as songwriting and that aspect of music."
Early in adulthood, Onabule studied law until his third year, when he began to focus more on music. Vocally, he picked up on the many influences of his relatives - the jazz of his cousins and the Tom Jones sounds so loved by his mother, along with Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and more.
"I kind of pilfered bits that I like, from whatever genre they came from," Onabule explained. "I didn't have any formal training, and my approach kind of comes from that angle, because I came to (performing) music so late in my life."
In Britain, the size of Onabule's audiences runs from smallish clubs to large halls.
Whatever the stage, he trusts his band to play what has become a diverse collection of songs in his name. "A couple of the guys in the band have played with the Irish soul singer - what's his name?-. Yeah, Van Morrison.
With him, the musicians are given something like 300 songs to play, and they're expected to pretty much learn them all, because you never know which one Van will call out next," Onabule said with a laugh, adding, "it's not quite like that with me, however."
Opening for Onabule at the Bell on Nov. 25 is local soul/blues band Star Captains.
Tickets for the 8 p.m. concert are $45 at the venue's box office, 604-507-6355 or www. bellperformingartscentre.com. To hear Onabule's music online, visit olasmusic.com.