'Now I'm Fine' Balances Dramatic Personal Stories with Humor - Ahamefule Oluo in Seattle Magazine Dec 1, 2014

by Erin

Seattle Magazine's Brangien Davis talks to Oluo about his upcoming performance:

“There’s sometimes a misconception that this is an uplifting show,” Ahamefule “Aham” Oluo says. A smile curls at the edges of his deadpan voice, but it comes from a place of sincerity, not scorn. His tall frame folded into a café chair at a coffee shop in his neighborhood, Columbia City, he is discussing his new show, Now I’m Fine. It’s a sort of jazz performance memoir, a dark and funny pop opera that shrinks and swells from intimate portrait to sweeping emotion. “I would say it’s neutral,” Oluo continues. “It’s about the momentary pacification of the things that are tearing you apart. It’s about just making it through stuff.”

At 32, the musician/composer/comedian/writer has already made it through some major stuff.Now I’m Fine chronicles the specific six-month period in 2006 during which he went through a difficult divorce, learned of the death of his Nigerian father (with whom he had only ever spoken once, on a brief and crushing phone call), and experienced the sudden onset of an autoimmune disease that caused his skin to dissolve, leaving his face, hands and feet raw and blistered. 

But this is not a sob story. In fact, the show, in which Oluo combines monologues with original jazz compositions performed by a live orchestra, is at times very funny. A longtime fan of stand-up comedians, he found listening to comedy albums a great comfort during the breakup of his marriage. (“I was basically listening to comedy albums alternating with ‘Golden Slumbers’ on repeat,” he says, not entirely joking.) Although he’d never even been to a live comedy show before, upon hearing Todd Barry’s Medium Energy, he felt gripped by a certainty: “I have to do this.”

He found an open mic night at Comedy Underground in Pioneer Square and despite a serious case of nerves, got on stage, told his true stories and was hooked on the high. (Also on stage that night was Brooklyn-based comedian Hari Kondabolu; the two hit it off and are now writing partners.) “Humor is what you do to deal with trauma. It’s distancing,” Oluo says. “It’s a defense mechanism. I can’t tell these dramatic, vulnerable stories without balancing them with humor.”

Amplifying the emotional ups and downs of the performance is the music, which pulls the audience along on waves of aching strings, bursts of horns and the soaring vocals of collaborator Okanomodé Soulchilde. Music has always been essential to Oluo, who grew up knowing his mother had studied opera singing and classical guitar, but was forced to quit due to unfortunate circumstances. “I knew it had been such a big part of my mom’s life and then it just wasn’t there. I felt a musical void,” he says. “There was no time that I didn’t want to play music seriously.” He picked up the trumpet and played in the high school jazz band at Mountlake Terrace, a competitive environment he says made him start taking music more seriously. “It was so great to compete at the national level,” he says. “High school jazz bands are like the Texas football of Seattle.” 

Read the rest of the interview at Seattle Magazine.
Photo by Hayley Young.