One To Watch: Ofei

Early in January, London soul singer Ofei dropped a 39 second teaser for a track called Tomorrow. There was less than 39 seconds of music: a simple but addictive piano refrain and a brief snippet of his remarkable vocal was all that we got. It was enough though, enough to get excited for its eventual release and further proof of this man’s immense talent.

Ofei’s previous release, London, was a strange and beguiling treat. Again, a simple piano motif (think the soft-keyed yearning of The Heart of Saturday Night era Tom Waits) provided the backdrop. It also created sufficient space for Ofei’s unique vocal to explore the shifting urban landscape.

Ofei’s voice is no slick r ‘n’ b falsetto, it’s a vocal that crackles and stutters like old vinyl. It falters slightly, playfully, and then, in strange inflections finds strength and truth. London was a skewed re-imagining of soul music, like a Michael Jackson ballad dragged through some inner-city backstreet. It was one man’s attempt to make sense of being anonymous in the amorphous capital.

With disparate elements fused together, Ofei’s idiosyncratic sound is not always instantly successful. Take the chorus of London for example: heralded in by a drum roll, a flurry of big piano chords, and a sway of harmonies, it initially sounds tacky, like it might collapse under the weight of its own pastiche, but when Ofei sings, “You better get back to the plan, son” it is with such conviction, it rescues everything.

Words: Tom Spooner