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Preview: Josephine Oniyama at Newcastle O2 Academy

IF you’re going to see Paloma Faith at Newcastle O2 Academy tonight, make sure you allow time for support act Josephine.

Singer songwriter Josephine Oniyama
Singer songwriter Josephine Oniyama

IF you’re going to see Paloma Faith at Newcastle O2 Academy tonight, make sure you allow time for support act Josephine.

That’s Josephine Oniyama whose promising debut album Portrait has caused a stir among music lovers.

Since releasing an EP on Island Records last year, the Manchester- born singer – daughter of a Liberian mother and Jamaican father – has done various jobs to support her career, finally landing on her feet by signing a contract with Ark Recordings.

From there she went on to record the new album.

Despite the sinking feeling in the music industry, she still feels that an album is the most important part of a musician’s armoury.

“Physical albums have been degraded slightly. It’s still important, though,” she says, with just the slightest hint of the Mancunian accent which is nowhere to be found in her mesmerising singing voice.

“There isn’t anything to give to people until you have an album. You can say you’re a musician any day of the week but if there’s no evidence, what do you say? When you’ve got an album, you can say, ‘Here it is and here are the reviews’.”

The current over-use of the term soul singer to describe strong British female singers is not something that bothers Josephine, although her soulful voice has been alluded to in a number of reviews.

In fact, her roots are an interesting mix of two distinctly different genres.

“I’m a huge folk fan and that’s basically what I listen to ... Joni Mitchell. I love female folk writers. I am more a folk vocalist than soul vocalist. I think a lot of people read reviews and then listen to the album and say, ‘This is not what I’m expecting’. That can be a good thing.

“But there was also the whole Brit pop thing when I was a kid. I didn’t get into folk until I was a little bit older. The Smiths had exploded a few years previously and Oasis were getting big. Blur, too. It was guitar- heavy and that was what made me play guitars.”

During the Brit pop era Manchester churned out its fair share of musical heroes but Josephine admits that London often reels musicians in with the promise of work and gigs. “I love my city,” she says, “but I do have to go to London all the time, and I lived there for six months because I had a lot to do down there.

“But I think Manchester plays a huge part in my influences. I’ve always been subjected to bad weather! It must always be in there.

“I started playing live when I was 16. Actually, it was just before my 16th birthday. My first gig was in Manchester. It’s a great place to gig, there’s always a place to play.”

The folk influence on Josephine’s music shines through in her lyrics while her album has been described as a collection of introspective songs.

Curiously, though, the title track, Portrait, is far from being introspective. “It’s about the impact of technology on our lives,” she says.

“It’s basically about people maybe not being what they should be. There’s this barrier between you and other people.

“Years ago we couldn’t have done this interview on the phone. And now, on social media, everyone has this different personality.

“It got me thinking, and that’s where the first line of the song came from, ‘Our society ... we are what we saw on TV’.

“You’re in a bar, you’re talking to people, talking about films, talking about quotes, and the conversation is just about media, not about real life.

“I think socially these things are pulling us apart. You can do anything online, you can have friendships online and create a whole different personality online. It should be a social concern, I suppose. I think people are waking up and thinking this is not all good.

“People were hyped up about it at first. Slowly but surely, people are turning away from it.”

Josephine’s album, Portrait, is out now.

Richard Beech


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