Adeboye Adefolalu: Growing up with a White Foster Mother was Interesting

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Adeboye Adefolalu, well known as Uncle Ade the Vocal Coach, is a lecturer, mentor, creative director, director of the All Star Music Group and a lot more. He proactively uses his personal, professional and extended networks to connect individuals and enhance the objectives of all for mutual benefit. In his 25 years in the music industry, he has acquired a great deal of knowledge and experience as a music manager, independent label owner, university lecturer, voice coach, singer/song writer and recording artiste. He talks to Tosin Clegg about his career at large, voice coaching, Nigeria’s music industry and more

Why the choice of voice coaching

First of all, I have great respect for voices that touch souls. And grew up in an era of some of the most blessed and gifted singers. When I decided to take my singing seriously, I knew I needed to know everything there was to know about how my voice worked, and what I needed to learn, in order to get anywhere near to the level of the greats. And my studies took me so deep into the disciplines that I ended up with a really deep knowledge, deeper respect, and a deeper passion for the voice. The knowledge I acquired set me free artistically. And I developed a burning desire to teach others, so that they might also be set free.

My clientele has primarily come from the UK

Some of my clients have experienced national and international success. These include: Seyi-Shay, a female Afrobeats Artiste; Kele Le Roc, MOBO Award winning singer; Isaiah Dyer, lead singer of MOBO, DOVE, UMA and GMA award winning Gospel group, Raymond & Co; Allyson Browne, MOBO Award winner and Lead singer (Angelica schuyler) in West End production of Hamilton; Nataylia Roni, lead singer (Nala) in West End production of Lion King, Andy Abrahams, finalist on X-Factor, and a lot more.

Nigerian artistes and their vocal strength

I have spent some time observing some of the more successful Nigerian Afrobeat artistes, and, generally, their vocal ability (mostly self-taught) is good on record. However, having seen several of these artistes perform live, I am of the opinion that they might not yet have the experience (generally speaking) to perform live, at the standard of the best performers in the world. On grassroots level though, I believe there is a real lack of resource available to educate and inform Nigeria singers about how their voices work. And what they need to do to develop voices that can help them to compete in a very difficult profession; a resource that is very much needed.

Importance of voice training for a music artiste

The level of dependency on vocal training, depends on the level that an artiste is at (technically and mentally), and the level they want to compete at. If a singer is just starting out, and doesn’t have a lot of ‘natural talent’, then the chances are that they would be more dependent on a tutor to help advise on, analyse, and guide their vocal development. This will take months or even years to get to the level of a voice that touches souls. If a singer has a lot of ‘natural talent’, they may be able to progress with their voices for some time without ever taking a lesson. They may find answers to vocal problems, and see sufficient improvement in their voice. This will also probably take months or years for them to get to the level of a voice that touches souls. If the singer with little ‘natural talent’ decides not to take lessons, they will significantly decrease their chances of reaching the desired level of a voice that touches souls. Conversely, if a singer with lots of ‘natural talent’ decided to employ the services of a ‘good’ voice coach, then you can pretty much guarantee that they would develop their vocals to a higher standard. And in a much shorter space of time! It’s worth pointing out that, in each scenario (with or without a voice coach) the singer still must train their instrument. Self-taught is still training, there are absolutely no short-cuts.

The industry is in really good shape internationally

Fela Kuti had put Nigeria on the map in a serious way in the 80’s/90’s. And Davido has overseen its resurgence. In between we’ve had Doctor Alban and Dbanj to remind us of our international relevance. But now, I am seeing real progress in the way that the international music industry is taking note of the Nigerian music industry as a whole. Midem has sent a delegate to Nigeria two years running, which is huge. This puts Nigeria in position to become the capital of the music industry for the whole of Africa. Soon, we could be seeing music industry professions from right across the world, coming to the Nigerian Music week for trading in all things music and entertainment. As well as this, Billboard Magazine announced that uduX just inked a big licensing deal with Universal Music Group. This is a massive indication of the acknowledgment of the potential for Afrobeats on a global scale. On the other hand though, it’s worth pointing out that these deals must not become the Holy Grail like they had become for black music makers in the USA and the UK! I would strongly encourage Nigerian (and Pan-African) music professionals to stay independent. The rewards will be much, much greater! And you won’t have to share the spoils with anyone, except on your terms! There is though definitely an urgent need for the industry to take steps to safeguard untapped revenue streams for home-grown artiste. Publishing is the most lucrative part of the industry pie for global companies like EMI and Universal.

But we also need better education for artistes

We need music business education for managers, record companies, publishers etc, and creative education for producers, writers, singers, musicians, visuals etc. Resources are an essential component for improvement, and can greatly improve productivity in terms of both quantity and quality. Not to get too political, but better roads, better telecommunications, and reliable power supply all will help too. Investment is without doubt the single most important piece of the puzzle. The UK music industry is one of the most valuable sectors for export, and contributes close to three billion to the UK economy annually. The Nigerian music sector has the potential to dwarf this figure many times over. But only with the right investment!

I was last here in 1977 right at the end of FESTAC

I didn’t grow up with my parents, or with any of my relatives, and was parented by a white foster mother. However, I have always known who I am culturally (thanks to Stevie Wonder’s Songs In The Key of Life), but my fortunes have never afforded me the opportunity to come home. Because I was so young, and was only here for 10 days, I didn’t really experience anything to ‘miss’. However, on my trip my eyes have been opened to everything I missed experiencing. I spent real quality time with my two younger brothers (one of them for the first time ever). And I realised that even though we have spent our entire lives apart, we are so much alike. We have the same love for life, we have the same humour, we love to dress well, we love music, and we all share the same ambitions for success as entrepreneurs. We all share a deep passion for realising a better Nigeria. I visited my mother (and Step-father) at their home in Ikeja, and realised that I missed (the experience of) growing up on these streets, going to school here, hanging out with my siblings, having Nigerian school friends, developing a palate for Okra, Yam, Ground Rice and Eba! And it got me thinking that if we had all grown up in the same home together, then we would have grown into the most formidable force. And for the first time in my adult life, regret about the life I didn’t have, started to creep in. But then I thought about how God works, and how great God is. And my spirit told me that this was God’s plan all along! He has blessed us all with life experiences that have moulded us into upright, successful, ambitious, intelligent, proud Nigerians in spite of where we grew up. And I know we are not meant to come together until now, to pool our individual experiences, and do something quite profound for Lagosians.