It might be apparent to those who notice my activities on social media platforms, that I have performed a few concerts recently, singing classical repertoire. There is nothing particularly special about this, as I have performed in operas, oratorios and recitals for many years. This time around, there is a slight difference in my attitude towards the work, however.
In my early days as a classical singer, there were very few examples of male singers of African descent working in the mainstream of that art form. Nowadays, I go to Royal Opera House and hear young male singers with African surnames, singing comprimario roles in major productions of standard repertoire. There is no doubt that some progress has been made.
One thing I experienced for a long time in the world of classical singing was a patronising attitude from people who regard opera and classical music as part of their genetic inheritance. There was always an unspoken feeling that they thought I would need their approval and validation to function as an artist. In actual fact, I was creating my own music and contributing to African based and derived performance work in world class arts venues, long before I started my journey in classical singing.
Right now, I’m creating new work that draws influences from diverse parts of my vocabulary, but I’m also happy to sing standard Western Classical repertoire in a wide range of settings. I aim to perform the music to the best of my ability, but it certainly doesn’t matter to me whether or not some self appointed custodians of the tradition approve of what I do with it.
The Pied Piper of Chibok is an example of the work I intend to create and present, moving forward. This excerpt from a new African opera is to be performed on the 16th and 17th of August in The Arcola Theatre’s Grimeborn Opera Festival. Singing theatre can be found in heritages and traditions all over the world. Classical singing technique is the thing that makes opera unique. Those of us of African descent who have invested time, energy and resources in learning that approach to singing will soon be creating more new work that functions within our own terms of reference. Everyone is welcome to witness and (in some cases), participate.