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With ‘Mirage,’ the spotlight shines on Ona Kirei

Bill DeYoung

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Ona Kirei wrote and recored the songs on her album "Mirage" after a series of dramatic life changes. "I have found how important it is to be authentic," she says. "Whatever I do, whatever I put out there on the stage, on record, I have to be true to myself." Photo provided.

Singer and songwriter Ona Kirei has been part of the bay area music community since 2018, but with this week’s release of Mirage, her first solo album, she’s taken a major leap forward.

Mirage is intimate, bare-boned, its laser focus on Kirei’s voice, intertwining with piano, or standup bass, or a small combo. Some of the songs are like atmospheric tone poems. Ostensibly it’s a jazz record – her melodies, and her voice, travel to all sorts of unexpected places – but it’s more than that. Jazz is merely the launch pad.

Kirei, who’s originally from Barcelona, speaks and sings in Spanish, Catalan, Basque, Portuguese – and English. But this isn’t fado, any more than it’s bossa nova or gypsy jazz.

At any rate, she doesn’t refer to herself as a jazz singer. “I am a musician,” Kirei explains. “Although I feel like jazz is my home base for several reasons – I love improvisation, because of the use of harmony, and of rhythm. But if we’re talking about jazz as a style, I do that sometimes, but that’s not what this album is about.”

She’ll perform Saturday at the Palladium Side Door, premiering many of the Mirage songs with La Lucha (John O’Leary, piano; Alejandro Arenas, bass; Mark Feinman, drums) and special guests James Suggs (trumpet) and Mike diRubbo (sax).

The members of La Lucha are, in fact, the only other musicians on the album.

“With La Lucha, we are like best friends,” says Kiri. “They are like my brothers, and we have this incredible communication on the stage, and an incredible music chemistry. And that has definitely allowed me to express myself better, into being more confident about what I do and who I am.”

She also has a duo project with Arenas, called Orilla.

“And with Alejandro, it’s the same but even more. He’s like my brother from another mother. We have evolved together. The fact that we are playing together so much, only voice and bass, leaves us so naked musically speaking, so exposed that we have been able to see ourselves more. Once we evolved as musicians, see what we liked about ourselves. The people that you surround yourself with make you change.”

Mirage, she explains, is the result of a divorce and numerous other recent life changes. “I really believe that our evolution as artists is very tied to our evolution as people. As human beings. And playing with La Lucha, and with Alejandro in Orilla, both have helped me a lot.”

Two of the album’s songs – the opener “Sarabanda a Barcelona,” and “Y Sin Embargo Te Quiero” – feature just O’Leary’s piano and Kirei’s voice. Another, “The Peacocks,” is performed with the vocalist and Arenas’ standup bass.

“Fata Morgana” is a wordless a cappella track; Kirei has overdubbed her voice several times to stunning effect, and added claves and handclaps.

“Fata Morgana is like a wild type of mirage,” she explains. “And it’s also the name of an ancient sorceress. And I find that duality also very interesting.”

Words, in fact, obsess Ona Kirei. She says she’s a “nerd” about it sometimes.

“I find it fascinating to see where words come from, and how they evolved to the uses we give them now. I think it tells a lot. Mirage comes from the Latin mirare, and it also means ‘to look at’ and ‘to aim.’ In my case, ‘mirage’ talks about just facing the truth – a lot of things that seem completely different to what they are.

“This was my case, but I think that somehow it’s something that we all experience. It doesn’t matter what’s the context, or the people, it’s about chasing our truths. This is an album that talks about that.”

It is a bold musical statement, and one of the most rewarding locally-made records in recent years.

“I’m not a showman,” Kirei says. “There’s a lot of singers who get into this business because they love to be onstage, in the spotlight. That’s not why I’m here. I’m here because I am passionate about music. I love music. And I love to use my voice in service of the music.”

Tickets for the Saturday performance are here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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