Ozark Mountain Soul
Ozark Mountain Soul
The biggest musical influence [Sidenote: This article is entry number thirty-one in our coverage of the 2018 Woody Guthrie Folk Festival, featuring Arkansas soul singer Opal Agafia.] in Opal Agafia’s life is her mom. Agafia characterizes herself as a
lifelong serious shower singer, [Sidenote: Agafia, quoted in Kuykendall, Kristal, “Highberry 2017 Standouts: Opal Agafia, Floozies, DSO, Marcus King Band … and BUBBLES!,” ArkanSounds.com (8 July 2017).] saying that she grew up singing with her mother, DeAnna Smith. [Sidenote: Ibid.] Smith sang with Agafia and her younger brother every day, throughout the day —
in the car, around the house, and especially at bedtime. [Sidenote: Kristal.]
Agafia first tried her hand as songwriting when she was eighteen, eventually beginning a songwriting collaboration with Smith while at university. While most of the material on Agafia’s début album, One Down, Forever to Go, are Agafia originals, a few were co-written with Smith.
Make Mine Moxie
Agafia’s stage presence is vivacious, gutsy, and soulful. The twenty-five-year-old exhibits no nervousness or stage fright — she’s pure moxie, addressing the audience between songs, making eye-contact, demonstrating confidence and maybe even a little swagger. [Sidenote: Agafia’s confidence is earned. She’s practiced karate and other traditional martial arts since she was six, going so far as to become a martial arts instructor for youth. — Ibid.] She possesses a powerful voice and stellar technique. Her intonation is accurate and consistent, but not so perfect as to sap the life out of the music. When she hits a particularly significant note she’s apt to growl like an old Delta blueswoman.
Agafia’s backwoods childhood is evident in her slight country twang, but there’s more than a little gospel and soul in her delivery as well. A comfortable looseness in her back and forth with the band reminds this writer of an experienced jazz combo’s ensemble spirit.
For her Woodyfest début, Agafia was accompanied by her band, The Sweet Nothings. The band comprises Michael Schembre (fiddle & vox), Justin Thomas Easter (acoustic guitar & vox), David Lucas Gesualdo (upright bass & vox), and Ron Landis (resonator slide guitar & vox). Their second album, Share What You Own, was released just prior to their Woodyfest appearance.