Odane Whilby is a singer, songwriter, musician, with a soft spot for the Mott Haven area and a desire to support other artistic talents within the Bronx and beyond. In his five years as a full-time musician, giving back to the arts community in the Bronx remains one of his priorities. We met with Odane at Mott Haven Bar and Grill to discuss his journey as a budding musician, his feature on on Sofar NYC, and the current projects he’s spearheading.
Whilby’s relationship with music began at an early age, “my mom said I used to dance to the windshield wiper as a kid. Music was everything... I don't know anything else,” said Odane, who has played bass since the age of 17. “I’ve been writing songs all my life but I never thought of it as something I could really do.” But he seriously started pursuing music as a career after he received an unexpected opportunity to perform his original music for the first time. “A friend of mine, Kelly Jones, she was very influential in me really try doing this as an artist. She gave me my first show. We were both supposed to do a part of the show but she had to cancel. I ended up doing the whole show. That was my intro into being an artist, that was my first hour set, my first time performing my own music and everything.” After that experience Odane went full force on the New York music scene, booking shows and learning the ropes. Unbeknownst to him, his experiences as a young artist would open the doors to his first art development project, the Bruckner Sessions.
“It started at Lehman College. I met the director of Lehman Stages, Dante Albertie, through my [now] wife. At the time, I was starting out as an artist. I was hustling and bustling, and learning New York City as far as music artists are concerned. I was discussing with him the things I was learning, the things I wished that I could share with artists coming behind me so they wouldn’t have to go through some of the nonsense that I went through.” As a result, the Bruckner Sessions had been born.
We all shared a laugh as he described the Bruckner Sessions as the hood version of American Idol this version offered no prizes for participation but focused on mentoring aspiring artists through music. Whilby used his knowledge as a musician, willingness to help upcoming artist, and connections made with professional musicians to offer mentorship and teach what he knew about music, songwriting and performance.
The change from the Bruckner Sessions to the Bronx Music Project was caused by the devastation of hurricane Sandy. “The whole area was under water,” Odane recalls. “It was very hard because that was my main source of income, it wasn’t a lot of money but it was important at that time. I was homeless. My family and I had lost our home, we were squatting and living in hotels. It was a very unbalanced time. The Bruckner Sessions before that was really thriving. We had to open the doors to accommodate the people. So [Sandy] was a big shock to the system. But everything is in God’s plan, God works things out. The year before things got back I got a call from Joseph (the current owner) they were looking for programming for a Saturday because they were starting back up.
That whole year prior was like preparation. I had gone through some things. I met some people. I was really at my wits end. Somebody actually prophesied to me the month before I got the call, a guy by the name of Daryl Young. He told me three things, the first thing he said was really rough I didn't understand it at the time: he told me I would have to put the music down, my first kid was going to be a girl, and that people will call the ministry God has given me different. What [Daryl] said to me bothered me. At first I dismissed it…you can’t tell me that God’s telling me to put down music...I don't know anything else.
So, I was in my hotel room. I came back real late. It was a stormy night; lightning was striking outside. It was like a scene from a movie. I couldn't sleep. I was stressed out. I had been reading this bible app, 365 days of bible verses. I was on day 60. My phone glitched, I turned it back on it went from day 60 [on the app] to 364. The bible lesson was about Moses, when he had the experience at the burning bush. The lesson was that the rod represented Moses natural gifting as a leader. There was only a few times when I heard God audibly in my head, that was the moment when I feel like God was screaming at me. He said, “this is what I am talking about when I say put the music down.”
[Music] is my natural gifting, this is what I've done all my life. When Moses put the rod down it became a snake. When you lay down your gift at the command of God, not just putting it down because you give up, you're going to see the negative things that it could be. That snake represented the curse that was in his gift like every blessing the flip side could be a curse. God told Moses to take the snake up by the tail that was a specific instruction. Any bushman knows you don't pick a snake up by the tail. You secure the head. That’s kind of what we do with our lives, we try to control everything. This is a moment when Moses had to trust a God that he never met before, something that’s speaking to him out of a burning bush. This is a crucial moment, it doesn't make any sense and he says, you know what, this bush is burning but it’s not burning and some dude is speaking to me out of it, I might as well take the moment as it is and do what the guy is saying, and he took the snake up and as soon as he went to go pick it up it became a rod and from that point on the bible no longer referred to Moses’ rod as “Moses’ rod” but it referred to it as the rod of God. That moment for me was crazy so obviously the prophecy was coming to fruition and it kind of restored my faith in prophecy. The Ology came out of that. People always come up to me and say The Ology is so different.”
The name ‘The Ology’ is a play on the word ‘theology’—the study of God and God’s relationship to the world. A name fitting for the event because Odane is catering to the niche of Christian artists. “I keep it specifically for believers because we’re working on what I believe is an issue, which is the lack of understanding of our creative power as a community of believers in this area. I feel like we don't understand who we are when you we work together. What I want is for The Ology to be a safe space for artists in the kingdom to come to be free as creatives. It’s about presenting people who are about quality and excellence it’s not really a development situation it’s more about presenting the quality we have as believers so that people can see that it's there. Some of the people who have passed through here can be on main stages they just haven't had the opportunity because the industry is limited to what the industry can do. Every ology is it’s own event, the people that come together make that night what it is. I think part of what people like about it is the organic feel. I stress the point that we have the power to keep that so that no one has to lock into what the mainstream is doing in order to survive. The people that attend can support all the artists that have come through The Ology so that they can have careers. Imagine if we were just committed to supporting artist because they are a part of this community..
Relationships are everything, the community is everything, us coming together is everything. That’s what’s important to me, building a platform where people have the opportunity to build relationships. Even collaborations, maybe another genre of music would come out of it, that would be crazy! It’s possible when you bring people together. This is the Bronx, the birthplace of hip hop...this could be the birthplace of something else.
The Ology live show, which is held on the first Saturday of every month, currently features live music, spoken word and comedic segments by co host C. King. Whilby is also looking beyond music and brainstorming ways to showcase other art forms like photography, visual arts, and dance.
As Odane was finishing his pulled pork wrap and fries, we asked him to share a few tips for those who are committed to being full time artists like himself. “Two main things: You are a servant to the community. A lot of artists get caught up in themselves; I understand you do art as a means of expressing yourself however, whatever you're doing with your artwork as a musician or visual artist you gotta remember the community, who is watching what you do.. You gotta remember to be balanced so that people can connect, you have to come down to people’s level. You have the power and potential to save lives. What you have to say is very important, how you say it is crucial. Second thing, perform as much as possible. You won't be able to learn certain things unless you get out there. Fall on your face, get back up, practice, do it again. Don’t be afraid.”
Odane reminded me of the importance of perseverance. In the words of Walter Elliot, “Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.” During each short race there will be obstacles to get around, sometimes we will fail to beat those obstacles the way we believe we should but the key is to regroup, get back up and persevere. Odane persevered, through the many obstacles that came his way on his road to becoming a full-time musician and in turn, became someone who uses their talent and knowledge to give back to his community. Undoubtedly, a part of his process of getting back up included falling on his face in failure but also in prayer. His hard work continues to pay off as The Ology continues to thrive and he has been invited back to perform at Sofar Sounds this month.
So what is it that you desire to do? In what ways do you hope to effect change in your community? There will no doubt be adversity on your way to success but always remember to get back up.