A high-energy multicultural collective from Ottawa, Ontario, the Souljazz Orchestra fuse vintage African, Latin, Caribbean, British, and American sounds, from Afro-beat and zouk to funk and ska. They expanded their audience significantly with the Fela Kuti-inspired 2006 single “Mista President” and have continued throughout the 2010s with a slew of exploratory albums for the revered Strut label, such as Solidarity (2012), Resistance (2015), and Chaos Theories (2019). The Canadian ensemble’s cross-continental sources are reflected in their reach as a tireless touring act. They’ve performed across North America, Europe, and Africa.
Featuring keyboardist Pierre Chrétien, alto saxophonist Zakari Frantz, baritone saxophonist Ray Murray, tenor saxophonist Steve Patterson, and percussionists Marielle Rivard and Philippe Lafrenière, all of whom are also vocalists, the Souljazz Orchestra took shape in 2002. The first album from the collective was Uprooted, released in 2005 on the Funk Manchu label. The overtly political 2006 single “Mista President,” from second album Freedom No Go Die — their first of two LPs for Do Right! Music — increased their audience significantly; it was voted to the number nine spot in that year’s Top 30 of BBC DJ Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide program. After Manifesto in 2008, the group started a long-term association with the higher-profile Strut label for Rising Sun, another Peterson favorite. Near-constant touring preceded and followed Solidarity, released in 2012.
After performing on three continents, the Souljazz Orchestra reconvened at Metropolitan Studios in Ottawa and emerged with Inner Fire, released in 2014. Fresh influences from the discothèques of Francophone Africa and the French Caribbean were woven into their mix for Resistance, released in 2015. Their affiliation with Strut continued with Under Burning Skies in 2017 and Chaos Theories in 2019. The latter LP delved into the collision of ska, reggae, and punk that emanated from early-’80s England. ~ Andy Kellman