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Jazz vocalist Ona Kirei salutes the Beatles tonight

Bill DeYoung

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Ona Kirei and her husband arrived in the bay area four years ago. Photo: onekirei.com.

If you need proof that music is indeed the universal language, consider Tampa’s Ona Kirei. The jazz vocalist, born and bred in Barcelona, Spain, is a huge Beatles fan, and listened – like so many of us – to those records over and over again as she was growing up.

In those days, she spoke little to no English.

Kirei, whose Palladium Live! Concert, This Bird Has Flown, debuts tonight as a livestream, says the “word” thing never phased her.

“I did what a lot of people did, in foreign countries where their mother tongue is not English: I just made up the lyrics. I had no idea what the lyrics were saying. I totally would make up nonsense. Sometimes I knew the titles.”

This Bird Has Flown, featuring Kirei and a four-piece combo, is subtitled A Jazz Tribute to the Beatles.

“I guess it’s a very different emotional connection with that music,” she explains. “For example, one song that I love – and one we’re not doing for this concert – is ‘Strawberry Fields Forever.’ I always loved that song, and I had no idea what the lyrics said. I just knew ‘strawberry fields,’ and I would imagine strawberry fields and make up my own story about it.”

Her siblings were fans, and so the albums were always there in the family home. “So it’s something I grew up with. A lot of those songs have emotions attached to them, for me. So I really, really wanted to do this, but my way, using the language that I know better. Which is jazz.

“Not necessarily in a traditional way, but the harmonic language and the improvisational language of jazz.”

The show (named for the subtitle of “Norwegian Wood”) began as a collaboration with guitarist Dominic Walker, Kirei’s frequent performing partner.

“Dominic and I have the Beatles in common,” says Kirei. ”So once we decided to do this, we arranged a couple of tunes together – one of them was ‘Norwegian Wood,’ and it came out very organically. And another one was ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps.’ Those were the first two we did together.

“Honestly, I’m not very good composing and arranging with other people. It’s more like solitary work for me. So we did the rest of them apart.”

Her husband, pianist Pablo Arencibia, is part of the band, as is drummer Jean Bulduc and La Lucha bassist Alejandro Arenas, who also contributed arrangements.

Kirei and Arenjas work together as Orilla.

“We are working a lot – it’s just that we are not posting so much,” she laughs. “We are working so much that we don’t have time to post on social media! And we have an Orilla project in mind – we are going to announce very soon some plans.”

Details and tickets are here.

Here’s Orilla in a Catalyst Sessions from last October – playing a Beatles song, no less.

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