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Singer Offiong Bassey paves her own path to music career

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Singer Offiong Bassey paves her own path to music career
Offiong Bassey, photo by Lauren Kallen. (Photo: Lauren Kallen)

Author: Lauren KallenOffiong Bassey

Hailing from Cambridge, Mass., Offiong Bassey is a young singer, songwriter, and poet who has established herself in the city’s musical landscape in just a few short years. Offiong returns to the legendary Scullers Jazz Club on September 24 less than a year after her first sold-out appearance in November 2013.

Of returning so soon to the place where she first heard the greats play, (Rachelle Ferrell, Jonathan Butler, and Nnenna Freelon), Bassey is excited and says that she was “blessed and surprised to sell out my concert last year, and to be invited back and to have that opportunity is such a great one.” She adds, “It’s one I couldn’t really have dreamed about.”

Bassey’s Nigerian-American roots and her musical influences of gospel, soul, jazz, R&B and traditional West African music are on full display throughout her self-titled debut album, “Offiong Bassey.”

Bassey, whose name means “God’s moon,” exudes a quiet air of self-assuredness, confidence and humility. She’s very much looking forward to her upcoming performance at Scullers.

“I switched things up a bit,” she comments. “I have some new material that I’m debuting. I have a new sound. And so I’m just excited to show everybody what I’ve been up to.”

The public almost didn’t get a chance to hear a glimpse of Bassey’s voice or see her talent first-hand. She initially was headed down another path before fully committing to her music career. Being the eldest of two, there were high expectations for her and her future. A graduate of Yale University, she went to work for Bain & Co. where she consulted for various industries from media and entertainment to pharmaceuticals, software and IT.

However, Offiong knew that she wanted to sing and to be creative, but just didn’t quite know how to fit music into her life. She was coming to a point in her life where a decision had to be made between either attending graduate school or committing to her music. She knew that if she was in grad school and not working full-time that she wouldn’t really have the money to executive-produce her own album. Making her decision a bit more challenging was the fact that she was awarded a full scholarship to attend the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, which she eventually turned down.

“I felt in my heart and my soul I couldn’t envision it [grad school],” she said. “One of the things that has helped me to be authentic is that when I’m moving along in my life and I want to take a next step, I know that it’s right if I can see it within myself, in my soul, in my mind’s eye. I can see it’s actually happening.”

Once she made the decision in support of her music everything fell into place. Bassey landed a job with Bellwether Education Partners (an education consulting firm), which was actually started by a former Bain manager. It ended up being a great transition for her in that it offered a more manageable work-life balance for her to record, and most importantly she had the means to finance her first album.

Bassey began writing songs in 2005, but it wasn’t until 2010 that production began on the first album, which was released in 2013. Her lyrics and music which “speaks to the spirit” are sung or rapped in English as well in her native Efik or Nigerian Pidgin English. Musically, the album is described as “genre-bending sounds mixed with everything from Afro-Peruvian rhythms and funk to R&B and Nigerian Ekombi.”

Her upcoming Scullers performance will include many of the songs from her sophomore album, “The Gathering” (which doesn’t have a release date yet). Since her first project, Bassey says that she’s learned a little more about the art of songwriting and how to communicate.

“With this album I’ve taken more of a step back and I write as it comes to me from my heart as I respond to the environment,” she says. “And, then I step back and say ‘ok, what is the message that I’m trying to convey?’ and ‘how might I shift things around if need be in order to have that message be clearer?’”

As lead producer and songwriter on her new album (she learned the technical and artistic aspects of production through observing and learning from producers she previously worked with), she may give the audience a sampling of South American and East African sounds and rhythms. But one never knows with Offiong. One thing is for sure. This global citizen who has traveled to Ghana, Japan, Nigeria, Panama, and Spain has always been about getting out there and experiencing new things, and so will the audience on September 24.

Offiong Bassey performs at Scullers Jazz Club on Wednesday, September 24 at 8 p.m. Show: $25; Dinner/Show: $65. Purchase at www.scullersjazz.com and for more information on Offiong Bassey visit www.offiongbassey.com.

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