Francis Onah: My Music is Inspired by the story of Survival



Francis Onah is a jazz musician, saxophonist, composer, arranger, and singer. He originally began playing the trumpet at age 16, then picked up the saxophone and learned the rudiments in only five days at the age of 24.

Onah’s new single, Iripia, leans more into his African roots. He was born in Lagos, Nigeria and the song was inspired by his cultural heritage with sounds that tells stories of the region.

Iripia is only the first single to be released from his new album, Ogoja City. The full album will be released on August 31.

“Influence” is a loaded, often misunderstood concept. An artist may sound similar to another but have no knowledge of them, or be a super-fan of someone whose output is completely different to their own. Who or what was the artist, album, song, era or scene that initially mapped out the road to you becoming a musician?

I grew up listening to Manu Dibango, Hugh Masekela, Angelique Kidjo and others, but Manu Dibango’s – the song Douala Serenade from the album Waka Juju, particularly – style of music gave me the road map to my musicianship, and I still love his music.

 Has that changed over the years? If so, how and why, and what are you currently exploring?

No, that hasn’t changed, and I don’t see it changing in the near future. But that has not stopped me from exploring other music genres, as always.

 Name one song you wish you’d written or one you’d like to be known as the definitive interpreter of. What makes that song so important?

One Day Someday by Femi Kuti. It resonates to me in a lot of senses, and it’s so important, not just because of its Afro-beat groove, but because of the message behind the song, talking about the struggle of Africa and the belief that Africa will “one day someday” unite and be the envy of the world.

 In production and arrangement terms, what are facets of your music and the music you love most by others that you feel are crucially important in terms of creating the mood you’re after or supporting the message of your song?

For me, I usually catch the mood of my music and music I like from the bass groove, backed up by some rhythmic chords from the keys. Then I start to think of the horn arrangement, percussion, guitar, and so on…         


Which aspects of your music do you prioritise? For you, would you rather have that your lyrics, your melodies, or your vocals or instrumental work are the are the most memorable parts of your songs?

I prioritise the instrumental aspect of my music. And I prefer for the melody to be the most memorable part of my song.  


What’s your favourite piece of gear?

My saxophone.

  What is the story behind Iripia – the genesis of the song, the people involved, the muse behind its creation?

The music was inspired by a survival story. I started writing this music at time in my life when I was faced with some adversities. I had just touched down at the Detroit airport on this day, on my way to Lansing, Michigan, and the thought of giving thanks struck me, even when there seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel. A few minutes later, the melody came, and I decided to record the sound on my phone.

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