Street Date: March 27, 2020
Throughout ONA, which is the word for “she” in her family’s native Croatian language, Alexa explores through eight unique original compositions and two outstanding new arrangements, the complex theme of what it means to be a woman. The tracks are at once deeply personal, in part reflecting Alexa's Croatian-American roots, yet resonate with the many cultures of women who have come into her life and influenced her music. ONA ultimately embraces the experience of women everywhere.
Musically, ONA is a departure from Alexa's first album Ode to Heroes (Harmonia Mundi/Jazz Village) and catapults her into new and uncharted territory. While ONA, too, is rooted in jazz, it showcases Alexa's sonic pallet inspired by contemporary soul, world music and pop. Alexa's use of her voice as both a lyrical and experimental instrument, her use of atmospheric sounds, electronics, soundscapes and textures, all give way to a hybrid sound that is uniquely her own and defies classification.
Alexa's stellar band consists of Grammy winning drummer and co-producer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Matt Brewer, pianist Carmen Staaf, and guitarist Jordan Peters. In celebrating the feminine throughout the album, Alexa also features an all-female line up of special guest artists of the highest caliber: Regina Carter, Becca Stevens, Claudia Acuña, Sofia Rei, Nicole Zuraitis, Sarah Charles, poet Staceyann Chin, and ROSA Vocal Group, including Aleksandra Denda, Astrid Kuljanic, Tiffany Wilson, Shilpa Ananth, Valentina Blu Lombardi and Eleni Arapoglou - who specialize in Balkan singing.
The idea for ONA evolved over the course of two years, but crystallized in early 2017 after Alexa attended the Women's March on Washington, D.C., the largest single day protest in American history. "I have never felt so motivated to express my right to resist, to protest, to be heard and to support a positive movement of change". Immediately following her return from the march she composed the showstopper "The Resistance", thematically punctuated by the spoken word of poet and activist, Staceyann Chin. “Cassandra”, Alexa’s salute to the #MeToo movement honors the unheard and unrecognized women of the world who have suffered abuse, assault and harassment. The culmination of the stories she began to build through her compositions would go on to inspire ONA, the song and the rest of the album.
Propelled to explore the battles and burdens of women in her own life through the lens of five elements: the mind, the soul, sexuality, the struggle to redefine gender ascribed roles in relationships, and a woman’s inner strength, ONA morphs into a universal story of women everywhere. In Alexa's own words, "ONA is the musical expression of what being a woman means to me. It is the discovery of the wild woman spirit within me and the experiences I've encountered in setting her free. It celebrates the inspirational women who have given me the confidence to realize my truth and express it freely."
The title track, "ONA" opens with the equivalent of a rallying cry and marks the first time Alexa has ever written lyrics in Croatian and introduced ethnic sounds in her original compositions. The Croatian lyrics are comprised of sayings and teachings she has learned from her grandmother (with whom she speaks Croatian) and the English lyrics are rooted in life experience with her mother (with whom she speaks English). Alexa says, “It is a beautiful combination of the two most prominent female voices in my life.”
MacArthur Genius grant and Doris Duke award recipient, Regina Carter, makes a special appearance on the standout track "Pachamama.” Named for the Incan goddess of Earth and fertility, the track is a haunting call to protect our threatened environment. Of Alexa's music Regina says, "Thana isn't afraid to take risks. Her vocal performances are powerful, vulnerable, joyful, spiritual and genuine. Her use of rhythm, textures and intricate harmonies is unique and at times, complex. Sometimes you think you know where she is going, then she surprises you."
In the darkly sensual “Animal Instinct”, which reveals the lover, Alexa expresses her unapologetic pride and comfort in her own sexuality in a world that often overlooks a woman’s needs and desires. Her arrangement of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop” further ignites the sensual imagination, showing how passion can be a tightrope walk between reality and fantasy.
The aching and delicate piano/vocal duet “Set Free” presents Alexa, the sister, as she reflects on the untimely death of her brother and the powerful bond that siblings share. The relationship between father and daughter is explored in her soothing, acoustic original “You Taught Me”.
The folky, Pan American influenced “He Said, She Said”, featuring Becca Stevens on voice, charango and ukulele, was written as a wedding present for Alexa’s best friend and her Peruvian husband. It charmingly portrays two people who throw themselves into love’s vulnerability, risking everything to be together because they believe in the power of their love.
The album closer - a truly original rendition of “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears - showcases Alexa’s affection for witty rhythmic intricacy mixed with modern harmonies.
Alexa made her mark in 2015 with her well-received debut album, Ode to Heroes, which she toured in the United States and Europe. She was nominated for a PORIN - Croatia's Grammy equivalent - for Best Jazz Composition and also won the international Jazzon Alpe Adria Composition Competition. She has since been in the Downbeat Magazine Rising Star Female Vocalist Poll for four consecutive years (2016-2019). Most recently, in recognition of the uniqueness of ONA, Alexa recently received the first music production grant ever awarded in New York City by the Cafe Royal Cultural Foundation.
Perhaps Alexa’s most important and ongoing collaboration has been with her husband, five-time Grammy® winner Antonio Sanchez. Together with his band Migration in which she is the vocalist and lyricist, they have recorded and toured three critically acclaimed albums, including the most recent CAM Jazz recording Lines in the Sand. She has also toured and recorded four albums with guitarist Gene Ess and appeared as a vocalist with bassist Michael Olatuja's Lagos Pepper Soup among others.
ONA has spawned additional female-focused projects: Alexa, together with Grammy® nominated artist, Nicole Zuraitis and one of NYC’s most versatile and sought-after bassists, Julia Adamy formed SONICA, an exciting trio that fuses electronics, vocal loops, three-part harmonies, electric bass, keyboards and percussion into their unique original music and arrangements. Alexa also created the project Founding Mothers of Jazz in conjunction with MusicTalks Concerts to celebrate and honor the powerhouse women who helped build the jazz genre from the ground up, many of whom were not historically recognized for their contributions because of their gender.
Alexa’s ONA is much more than an album. It is a call to action that has reshaped the artist’s identity. Alexa concludes, "ONA conveys what I have learned about the lives of women, starting with my own, our experiences, our emotions, our sexuality, our worth, and our ability to overcome injustice by fighting for what we believe in."
No woman or man will be untouched by ONA's universal message.
ALL JAZZ RADIO
"The control and tightness of musical output is impressive and nothing short of bold as Alexa uncovers the truth of life." Read the full review here.
"During the past decade, Sánchez and Alexa’s distinct expressions have partnered. Now married, theses artists of Mexican and Croatian lineages share a home studio in Queens, where they frequently collaborate on their music. “We go into our separate writing spaces to compose, and then we workshop our ideas together,” Alexa says over a demitasse of espresso she’s pulled in the couple’s kitchen. Awards, magazine covers and clippings featuring Sánchez’s longtime mentor Pat Metheny flank their studio’s staircase, terminating at a framed movie poster for Birdman that lists the credit “drum score by Antonio Sánchez”—one that earned him a Grammy for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media. Read the full feature here.
NEW YORK JAZZ WORKSHOP
"Her sophomore album celebrates not only the journey of herself as a woman, but women everywhere. In our interview, you’ll hear the Best Jazz Composition PORIN (Croatian Grammy equivalent) nominee and Alpe-Aldria International songwriting contest winner discuss her growth as an artist and human being between her 2015 debut Ode To Heroes and the new record; in addition to the people in her life that served as inspiration for tracks on the album, and her role in organizing the massively successful Live From Our Living Rooms music festival. The festival, which took place in April, was the first streaming music festival of the COVID-19 era, a fundraiser with vocalist Sirintip and saxophonist Owen Broder, that aims to help New York musicians out of work because of the pandemic." Listen to this podcast here.
Before the quarantine, the couple was about to kick-off an ambitious tour in celebration of Alexa's latest recording, ONA -- a release discussed in-depth on WBGO's The Checkout podcast. Here, they perform the title track for our Alone Together Duets series." Listen to this performance here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Further confounding expectations and stifling preconceptions is this album's vigorous, uplifting conclusion, Tears For Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." Still, as much of a sharp curveball as this cover represents, it ultimately stands as a rousing microcosm of the daring ingenuity within Thana Alexa's ONA." Read the full review here.
"ONA is a testament to a woman’s soul, a biography of her spirit. The styles and textures utilized employ influences that span the globe. To call the album strictly straight-ahead jazz, however, would not be entirely accurate. Thana adds that the departure from strict straight-ahead jazz was not a conscious decision."Read the full review here.
"ONA" is an ode to the power, to the creativity, to the necessity of speaking out, that Thana Alexa wants everyone to understand that this is also important for all women around the world." Read the full review here.
"ONA conveys what I have learned about the lives of women, starting with my own, our experiences, our emotions, our sexuality, our worth, and our ability to overcome injustice by fighting for what we believe in.”Read the full review here.
THE CHECKOUT (WBGO)
"After we delve into the details of the festival, the second, longer portion of this program explores Alexa’s explosive new project ONA. It’s a release that embraces the #metoo movement, but it really marks Alexa’s rise as a powerful singer and composer." Listen to the full interview here.
WULF'S MUSIC + BLOG
"Thana Alexa is a jazz singer for our times – masterful performer and writer, relevant in her messages and statements and this record is simply ESSENTIAL LISTENING!!!" Full review here.
Cover story. Link coming soon.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Alexa sings about struggle and revolution in some spots, intimate personal experiences in others, and always with deep emotion and blunt honesty through them all."
Full review here.
"The sound of the struggle as coming up from the streets as opposed to fighting the glass ceiling, this musical call to arms is as subversive as it is wild."
Full review here.
DEE DEE MCNEIL
"Like the artist herself, you cannot put this music into a box. It’s as free and wild as the women she celebrates and sings about." Full review here.
JAZZ & BEYOND INTEL
"We continue our conversation by diving deep into ONA music. Below is a sampling plus a look into Thana’s present and future." Full feature here.
"With ONA, Thana Alexa has established herself as the pre eminent vocalist of her generation...It is very early in the year, but ONA is already staking claim to being one of the best albums of the year, and her future development is going to be very interesting." Review here.
"Thana’s self-released sophomore album, ONA, invites listeners into an expansive, detailed soundscape—one she effectively recreates during live performances irrespective of instrumentation or personnel. Thana’s intimate understanding of her own expression allows her to connect honestly with audiences." Review here.
ALL ABOUT JAZZ
"Further confounding expectations and stifling preconceptions is this album's vigorous, uplifting conclusion, Tears For Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." Still, as much of a sharp curveball as this cover represents, it ultimately stands as a rousing microcosm of the daring ingenuity within Thana Alexa's ONA." 4.5 star review here.