Michael Odokara-Okigbo ’12, a former member of the Dartmouth Aires and a frequent lead singer for the group on NBC’s “The Sing-Off” competition last year, will release his first EP “In the Beginning” on Aug. 13. The six-song EP will be available on iTunes for $2.99, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to The Mugadi Foundation, a charity Odokara-Okigbo founded with his mother after a trip to Nigeria. The foundation helps pay for children’s school fees, books and clothes in Lagos, Nigeria.
I chatted with Odokara-Okigbo about recording the EP, his musical influences and life in Los Angeles. The interview has been edited for clarity.
Can you tell me a little about the inspiration for your EP?
I wanted to create something that I could be really proud of and something that really told my story. Every single song on there was written by me and co-produced by me. The EP is about my experience as a 23-year-old guy who is learning about being an adult, which is not easy, you know? There have been a lot of ups, but there have also been a lot of downs, and I’ve really had to learn who I am and what my values are. The EP is really triumphant, because I’ve discovered that I was born to do music and born to sing.
What’s the significance of the title, “In the Beginning”?
I feel like I’m in the beginning, as an adult and as a musician. It will be interesting to look back on this EP and see where I was at 23.
What has the feedback been like for your single, “Champion Love”?
People really like it. I wrote that song in particular about what happened in Boston, after the bombings. I grew up around that area, so I wanted to pay tribute. Yahoo Music rated it five out of five, which was cool.
Looking at the EP as a whole, what are some of your musical influences?
I listen to everything from James Brown to Michael Jackson to Otis Redding. That’s where my music always draws from, no matter what I sing, what I write, it’s all soul. But there are tons of influences on this EP. I’ve also been listening to Loreen, Haim, Sam Smith, Kanye West and Jay-Z. You’ll hear some minimalist music on my track “Invincible,” and that’s kind of referencing Kanye West. You’ll hear trill music on my track “Take You Home” with a hip-hop base. It’s very soulful. I experimented with a lot of sounds on “Ooooooh Baby,” and you’ll hear my a cappella background where I kind of break it down. “Start With Tonight” is a real funky throwback. You’ll hear soul in a track called “Breakdown.” It’s a real personal song that I wrote on the floor of my bedroom after a difficult time in Los Angeles. It’s a bare-minimum song with vocals and piano. “Champion Love” is a quintessential pop song with drives and a message of not letting anything stop you.
How did recording this EP compare to more collaborative work, such as singing with the Aires, that you participated in at Dartmouth?
Working with the Aires and recording music are both collaborative processes. I think I’m a better musician because of recording and also because of the Aires. A lot of my musicianship comes from working with the Aires, working as a team, writing, producing, building songs of bare minimum into something. I think the main difference is that it’s not a cappella music on this EP, so it’s a different vibe.
Any final words about the EP?
I’ll be interested to see what people think about it. It’s track-based, and it was an interesting kind of switch, because I’m so used to doing a cappella music. But I’m really proud of it. I know I did a good job with the transition.