I Don’t Talk, Scream, Yell or Smoke Days to Major Performances

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Classical opera singer, Abiodun Koya raised her ante with a new brand tagged “Vienna in Lagos” in a two-in-one concert – Frankincense Concert and Future Symphony Concert series – in Lagos. Koya who has performed for two Presidents at the White House, the US Congress, the Nigerian audience at the Kennedy Center and the Nigerian US Embassy, at the Democratic National Convention, and for Presidents Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari, continues to attract a global audience of world leaders. The founder of the Abiodun Koya Foundation, which provides music literacy programmes and scholarships to orphans and public school students across Africa told Nduka Nwosu why her various brands such as her Sunday radio Hymnsical programme have become outlets for spreading the gospel of opera music

Why Vienna in Lagos?
The Frankincense Concert, ‘Vienna in Lagos’ was the 2018 and second edition of my annual classical music performance in Lagos. It featured both Western and traditional folk tunes with orchestra music embedded with a touch of class and elegance. I longed for a unique show that would be a memorable concert dinner event served locally hence I created a remarkable concept with Frankincense Concert.

The idea is to create a theatrical environment that represents the European atmosphere and culture here in Lagos. This is so that Lagosians don’t necessarily have to travel outside Nigeria to experience a foreign musical culture. We can recreate everything with all the fine details brought to the doorstep of the audience. This time around, I took it a notch higher like it had never happened before, bringing to Lagos a violin virtuoso from Canada as the international guest artiste.

Frankincense Concert is designed to give classical music enthusiasts in Nigeria an opportunity to enjoy world class performance in an ambience that exudes class and elegance without having to travel to Paris, Milan or Washington. If you like, it is an exclusive premium lifestyle concert designed to showcase musical art performances and an interpretation of the beautiful Nigerian culture with a classical expression this yuletide season.

At the heart of every celebration is the art of music. Classical music doesn’t just set the mood; it creates an ambience that opens expressions of love, warmth and a divine connection in the most remarkable way possible. It acts the same way a good fragrance does to the emotion. It is medicinal and healing with a massaging effect. This is what happens when a good fragrance and a well-orchestrated music find a common platform of expression.

You usually have two shows in Abuja and Lagos. Can you talk about the concept and public response?
The surprising truth is that my genre cuts across all classes of people, as it maybe uneasy to believe. I have my audiences in Abuja and Lagos as part of my global outreach and so I get invitations to share my gift and artistry where the crème de la crème of society resides as well as the grassroots. In Nigeria, Abuja and Lagos offer such ideal setting and it has been impressive.

We brought Austria to Lagos, technically speaking, with an international reputed violinist, who shared the stage with me and the orchestra.
Frankincense is an intersection between the West and Africa because even though the genre of music is essentially foreign, I will be rendering a number of timeless Nigerian tunes, including Elu Agogo, Ise Oluwa et al. It has always been my desire to have a world class orchestra concert in Nigeria and Frankincense concert is the platform that made that dream a reality. Since I embarked on the journey of bringing orchestra home to Nigeria, there has been a deluge of positive response and feedbacks from Nigerians.

What’s the response so far to your Hymnsical radio programme?
It is a relatively new radio programme that comes up Sunday evenings. It is an eclectic mix of all sub genres of classical music. I designed it to get listeners relaxed, rejuvenated and all prepped for the busy work week ahead. I play a pot pourri of classical mix ranging from Broadway to Disney, organ to classical and jazz and sometimes the mix includes songs from Enya and Yanni. I love movie soundtracks and so I play movie theme songs from the Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones, Gladiator 007, Mission Impossible and Sound of Music; the list goes on and on.

What about your Independence Day performance at Christ Church Cathedral Lagos?
It was an Independence month recital. I thought of creating something that will bring people together in the community. It was prepared as a free concert in honour of our day of independence, an Independence Day concert. It was one of my efforts to include everybody and pray to God about our dearest country through music. The response was caressing against a background of a beautiful and lovely environment, a lively evening.

What is your Foundation all about?
The Abiodun Koya Foundation gives scholarships to underprivileged children in Africa, visits orphanages and supports widows. So far, we have quietly given out scholarships to over 200 children and have helped almost 100 widows across Africa and still forging ahead. My next big dream project is to build fairly reasonable clinics in rural areas where there is no ready access to health care. These clinics will provide an affordable healthcare for low income citizens of a particular community at a given point time.

When do you intend to sensitise interest and start the training of opera singers of tomorrow?
Whenever I hold my concerts, they are always a benefit Concert for The Abiodun Koya Foundation. The
organisation is dedicated to raising Education and Music literacy for youths within the rural communities in Nigeria. Through donations and hosting of fund-raising events, we are able to provide scholarships to these youths. Music literacy Programme (MLP) is my noble idea ofeducating youths on Basic Music Education across the Country in the Nigerian public schools and orphanages. This is our bid to ensure that our country remains a viable brand in every respect in the global village of creativity with emphasis in music.

This is also to restore the beauty of music through the upcoming generation using rudiments of classical music to teach Music literacy 90% of the time, music to the young Nigerian mind is practically all about vulgar lyrics, swaying of the hips and dancing to a rhythm-less percussion that promotes nudism and the out rightly banal. There is an urgent need to rescue and preserve the true Art of music culture and this can be done majorly through this noble idea. The Foundation has
therefore thought it necessary that while this brand has gripped the better part of the psyche of the Nigerian child, there is need to redeem the finer and deeper emotions of the mind, using the model and legacy of the likes of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and George Frederic Handel to name a few.

Why do pregnant women find listening to classical music so comforting?
They do because classical music is the music of angels. Basically, pregnancy is not an ordinary experience because at that point the pregnant woman is carrying a new life and so is sandwiched between two worlds. Babies love anything divine and soft while they are in the womb. They also hang on to the culture in heaven a little longer after they are born. They love classical music so much that they naturally respond to it though they may not often show these reactions outwardly. But within them, they are at home with the harmonising tunes of classical music. It has also been proven that classical music makes babies develop a higher sense of intelligence and smartness. I have no doubt in my mind that classical music was the music of Sango and Zeus while they were here on earth.

How do you maintain your voice, for how long and why?

I do vocal warm-ups for about 20 minutes daily. This is so because the voice is an instrument on its own and as a professional singer, I have to exercise my voice daily, at least 20-30 minutes every day to keep the voice intact. Failure to do this will affect the quality of my performing voice as I will not be in top shape vocally. I also do not scream, yell or smoke. Whenever I am in a cold region, I like to cover up my neck area with a scarf. Once or twice a week depending on my schedules, I meet with my Chinese voice teacher for voice lessons and training. If we cannot physically meet, we have the voice lessons virtually.

How correct is it to speculate that when you have an upcoming show you don’t talk?
Yes, it is true. Whenever I have a major performance and I’m talking of a huge concert production not a feature or cameo appearance type, I go on a vocal rest two or more weeks before the performance. It goes like this: no speaking, no form of verbal communication except for rehearsals and vocal warm ups. During this period, I communicate via minimal text messages and emails as I can’t pick calls. Furthermore, my team does most of the verbal communication to people on the outside for me and when I happen to be in the same room with someone, if I have a message to pass across, I just scribble it on paper. With these measures, I am able to maintain the best quality of voice for any upcoming performance.

Going forward, what milestones are you hoping to leave behind?
I am hoping to venture into filmmaking so as to tell beautiful and brave stories of heroes and heroines. Remarkable stories about my culture and African heritage. I have therefore started taking acting classes in Hollywood. I am so excited about this, very, very excited. I have also started my fashion line called Eko Avenue. I am now on the side making clothes for icons and celebrities in the US. I started this quietly and gradually so being a singer, Songwriter, philanthropist and now an up and coming fashion entrepreneur and actress is really all amazing! It is super terrific, it can only be God, I mean God only.