Ahamefule J. Oluo was not doing well. After seven years of marriage, he was divorced, a single father and living in a basement apartment. He had a day job he hated. And though his night job of trying to make it as a musician and as a stand-up comedian was much better, all the juggling was wearing him down.
Then he learned his father had died. The man had left Oluo when he was one month old but “I’d always dreamt about reconciling with him,” Oluo says.
A few weeks after that, Oluo contracted a harrowing skin disease called Stevens-Johnson syndrome, which later turned into toxic epidermal necrolysis.
“My skin started dissolving,” he says. “Like it’s there when you go to sleep but it’s not there when you wake up.”
He was literally disappearing. He lost all the skin on his hands, his feet, inside his mouth, inside of his eyelids — you get the picture. He couldn’t play his instrument, the trumpet, because he couldn’t touch anything with his mouth let alone hold anything.
But he needed to create, so he took a chopstick, banged on a guitar and sung. A melody as well as all other kinds of musical ideas — jokes, too — sprung forth. Years later, Oluo shaped the creations from that six-month period into an experimental pop opera called “Now I’m Fine.” It plays Dec. 4 through Dec. 7 at Seattle’s On The Boards.
Oluo is probably best known as the trumpeter and arranger for Seattle jazz quartet Industrial Revelation, which nabbed a Genius Award from The Stranger earlier this year. He’s performed with Hey Marseilles and Das Racist. He’s also a comedian, the longtime writing partner of Hari Kondabolu.
“Now I’m Fine” combines Oluo’s multiple talents, including his ability to spin a yarn into a performance that has left audiences cheering as well as weeping. (An earlier version of the show debuted at Town Hall in 2012).
“It’s a show that tries to create a landscape of that emotional period,” says Oluo about his biggest project to date. “Now I’m Fine” features 14 musicians as well as singer okanomodé.
"The show is about those moments when you don’t feel hopeless, moments when you get through,” he says. Moments, he adds, that are the lily pads allowing you to just get across the pond, if you were a frog.