Born in London to Jamaican parents, raised in New York City and now living in the North Bay, pianist and songwriter Eki Shola brings a multicultural wealth to her original compositions.
Working primarily on her keyboard, and backed by digital effects, the multiple Norbay Award–winner for electronica is adept at crafting jazzy, ambient tones with ethereal melodies that often carry dreamlike messages of hope and a sense of gratitude for life.
In 2016, Shola first displayed that relaxing blend of jazz and ambient piano on her debut album, Final Beginning. A year later, the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa destroyed her home. Shola turned to music after that tragedy, opening the floodgates of her creativity with a torrent of songwriting that led to a trilogy of albums.
That trilogy debuted in the spring of 2019 with the album Possible, followed by the release of Drift in late 2019. Now, Shola concludes the musical journey with the release of Essential.
“I didn’t intentionally set out to create a trilogy, but I was just writing and writing for expression and healing,” Shola says.
Looking back through the compositions that she wrote in the immediate aftermath of the Tubbs Fire, Shola dedicates each album to a particular aspect of her healing process.
Possible represents Shola’s raw, in-the-moment emotions in the months after the fires.
“In the beginning, you’re in survival mode,” Shola says. “You just have to get things done.”
After months of survival, Shola says the fatigue set in. The trilogy’s second album, Drift, is a meditative and musical search for comfort.
“I was craving what I had known, I remember missing home, and I mean home from when I was a child in London,” Shola says. “This intense nostalgia felt safe and warm and soothing. When I look at the songs I wrote in that time period, they’re more like a cocoon.”
Once Shola was done cocooning, a new restlessness emerged, and Essential is an album packed with songs about searching for meaning, taking risks, embracing newness and finding power in her voice.
“Most of my songs have been instrumental,” she says. “But I’ve been encouraged to use my voice more.”
Shola was in the process of mixing and mastering Essential at the beginning of this year when the Covid-19 pandemic shut down the economy.
“The extra time afforded me the time to reflect on our current events, the coronavirus, health care advocacy and Black Lives Matter,” she says. “The album was extended to incorporate some of those events. The message was broadened.”
Shola is donating a portion of proceeds from sales of the album to the Freedom Community Clinic, which offers holistic healing practices for underserved Bay Area people of color.
Shola is also embracing the online platforms many musicians and artists are flocking to until social gatherings can begin again.
“I know live performances are on hold for a bit, but that pushes you to think a little more out of the box,” Shola says. “I’m excited to be doing different things; I’m looking at doing animation with my music and some online shows. I would have never thought I’d be doing that, but this has opened my eyes to other options.”