Hello everyone, welcome to the year 2020. It feels good to once again bring you our musician of the month series after the short break. Allow me to introduce our musician of the month – the Brooklyn-Nigerian Operatic Countertenor Andrew Chukwuka Egbuchiem.
Lets meet you. Your name and background (education, family, and career).
Ans: My name is Andrew Chukwuka Egbuchiem, I am Countertenor. Born in Lagos, practically a Festac Town boy and grew up mostly in Lagos. I also schooled and lived in Abuja for some years. From a family of 5. Four of whom used to be in the choir so it’s safe to say I am from a musical family although the only one who took the risk of pursuing it as a career. I started the choir with my elder sister both of us singing soprano LOL that’s a funny thing to look back at. It was amazing to grow up amongst the siblings I had. I did get invited to sing a few concerts with my young brothers.
What genre of music do you do and why?
Classical music; Opera
What’s the biggest problem you’ve had to overcome so far?
I don’t think I have totally overcome them. In fact, I would say am still on it. The problems includes acceptance in different forms and starting a career in USA. The later which is also a blessing.
What do you enjoy most about being a musician?
Being a musician makes me happy and allows me to be just the way I am. It allows me to express myself in ways I can’t when I speak and shows my vulnerabilities in a way you wouldn’t see on a normal day. It actually reveals my deeper person.
What do you hate most?
What I hate most is people wanting to fix you in a box. I’m mostly Not a Black or white person. I believe I fall on the grey lines. I feel and like what I like. Trying to put my arts in box is suffocating most time. People wanting me to sing and look a certain way its difficult and messes with my head. Because I start worrying a lot and a worrying Andrew is not what u want because I shut down.
If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?
I don’t want to change anything in the industry. I just want the industry to evolve, move to a next level and be accommodating to all. Not deciding that you have to look and sing a particular way to be a “Cesare” or “Rinaldo” etc. Not define my according to the color of my skin.
What drew you to the music industry?
Love for the human voice, sounds and harmony. Hearing beautiful genuine sounds from the heart gives me goose bumps. I have being asked several times, “why music?” and I simply say I just want to sing. I am not interested in anything else but just to sing. I love to sing and I love love to listen.
Who are you inspired by?
I am inspired by many, some of whom are both musicians and others non-musician. I would keep this simple by mentioning the musicians. The reason I have gone out of my way to keep singing is because of a 100% Maria Callas. I feel a part of her is in me. It isn’t just her voice but the feeling that comes with her voice. Whenever I am feel unhappy and dealing with something I simply listen to her. Here’s some Andrew secret “most times when I have a performance, on my way I simply listen to Maria Callas”.
What’s an average day like for you?
I am a workaholic and I have this extra energy and restlessness; which ultimately means that I must be doing something productive like; writing, reading, watching movie, plotting and mostly researching. If there is ever a disease like work-restlessness, I would say I suffer from that. Now I know that sometimes I unknowingly put people who live with me or are close to me under pressure with this. I like to be busy doing something. I guess this part of me I got from my parents (my dad and mum). Aside work, if I have time on Saturdays, I like to watch the English premiership or sports. Rehearsals some evenings during the week. I spend very less times hanging out. A lot of research on internet for newer songs. Watching news mornings and nights.
What is your biggest achievement so far and what do you hope to achieve in the nearest future?
Although I don’t think that I have achieved anything yet but everything I have done musically for me is an achievement. If I were compelled to pick the one I would say is my biggest achievement if ever I would say is the ability to survive New York City as an immigrant, a musician and also gradually emerge from the music scene. NYC is very hard, extremely fast, extremely competitive and this kind of life can be quite depressed sometimes. So I live my life staying positive all the time.
Please discuss how you interact with and respond to fans;
Hmmmm, this is tough as I do not consider myself a star, so I don’t know about the fans aspect of it. I am a combination of a simple and a complex person. The way you see me is the way I am. Andrew likes very simple things and very simple lifestyle, I always make time for people, friends and strangers alike. I only get complex when you are going past the boundaries or when you are not being straightforward with me. I like very straightforward and humble people (straightforward not lousy). If you are nice I would be nice to you. I can be very approachable. I feel I am merely just enjoying God’s grace and just a tool for God without that I am simply nothing so nothing more different from and anybody else.
What is your favorite part about this line of work? Your least favorite? Why?
The most favorite part of my line of work is when I get told this “I felt that song you sang or I had to hold back my tears” because for me that’s the very essence of performance. Liking my voice is not as important as feeling the message I am trying to portray. I’m constantly a work in progress. I never feel satisfied hence I can’t listen to a play back of 90% of my performances for a second time There is a sound quality I am working towards and I am not there yet. I go home feeling very fulfilled if a member of the audience tells me I feel your music.
Recalling a performance in 2016 where I sang this French song by Kurt Weill and after the performance, I had this elderly woman come meet me after the performance and she kissed me several times with tears in her eyes she said to me “that song brought me to tears and it brought me old memories as well.” This is the most important part of my work and my favorite.
Least favorite is when someone wants you to walk in another singer’s shadow or you give me a job and begin to second guess me. I might struggle but I always like to give my best. So it is very important for me that I do a good job because if I don’t I get very unhappy. I might be a terrible singer but everything I do in Life comes from a pure place I always make sure of that. And my music is my first LOVE and it always come from the purest of places, I never fake it. You feel exactly what I feel.
Have you ever dealt with performance anxiety?
I have performance anxiety 99% of the time. Some of those times I feel sleepy and other times I don’t feel like performing but I want that performance badly. I just started realizing that’s how my own anxiety works LOL! It’s all performance anxiety. Once I begin then it disappears. These anxieties are normal. I just try not to focus on it I just try to focus on the job or task ahead. Concentrate on my music and have the mental picture of it
Have you ever had to deal with failure?
Yes, I had to deal with failure lots of times even most recently LOL. What people don’t know is, I have dealt with more failures that successes. I like it. Why? Because I learn a great deal from it. I am proud to say I am a graduate from the school of failure. It made me wiser, more confident and more knowledgeable because I failed and I owned it. I don’t shy away from it, I just move on. If I remember the first time I lost a singing competition and my reaction to it in comparison to today I can tell you that I am proud of myself.
The first I lost in 2012 I hardly spoke to anyone for 3 days that’s how intense I can be. I’m much older now and learnt to move on. I feel pained but I still move on. I’d say the failures i have had to deal with as a singer taught me how to deal with failures in life. I know I won’t stop failing but I won’t stop moving on too. Having failures as a musician is not the problem because you would always have one but how you deal with the failure or failures.
Tell us a little bit about your journey to the into the music industry.
I started singing at 10 in my secondary school choir in Abuja that’s why I first nurtured the idea of making a living from singing and then after graduating I sing with my church in Festac Town Lagos; Holy Child choir, Holy family Catholic Church. It was here I was given my first solo opportunity in the performance of Handel’s Judas Maccabeus and it was here that my music dream took shape but not started.
I sang with many small choirs in Lagos, Angelic Chorale, Glorious Voices Chorale, Lagos Philharmonic choir, In 2001, I gained admission to study music. then I auditioned for the Muson Festival choir and then Lagos City Chorale. My first solo opportunity was with Life Art Choir in the Performance of Caleb Simper’s cantata the Rolling season and then the Messiah with them at Covenant University. Then solo opportunities with Lagos City Chorale in Messiah and Judas Maccabeus.
In 2008 I started the Philharmonics Company (Nigerian Philharmonics Company) In 2009, I technically (LOL) left Lagos for Abuja. I continued doing performances with the Nigerian Philharmonics Company featuring Prof. Geir Henning Braaten. In 2012, I participated at an International Opera singing competition and opened the door. In 2013/2014, I went on a 6 months performance tour with Singers of United Lands representing Africa in this unique quartet. This was the program that changed my life forever. In 2015, I was in a Music Residency in Upstate New York and after it I started to explore the Music scene in NYC and In 2016 fate moved me compulsorily to New York City.
Tell me about your favorite performance venues.
I don’t know if I have a favorite performance place. It depends on how a venue makes me feel. Even singing in an open air can be a good venue it just depends on the energy that comes with the place. Yes I did enjoy singing Carnegie Hall but all the intimate spaces I have sung have been even as special to me.
What advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
Hahahahahaha firstly please don’t follow my footsteps create yours so you are under any pressure to be like anyone but to be the best version of yourself. Secondly, be humble and calm down to learn. Humility opens your mind to learn pride shuts it. Thirdly be in competition with yourself only even when you in a competition only try to outdo yourself. Set a new record for yourself. You would grow at a remarkable rate.
This one is my most important Fourth be very passionate about what you do. You would get better. Go to reasonable length to get the things you want done. Make sacrifices and don’t make money your soul motivation else you miss on many things that should be of benefit to you. Don’t get me wrong money is good, demand what is due to you but do not make it your sole motivation. Your value would increase if you work at improving yourself.
How do you balance and career as a musician and your personal life?
Hmmmm this one tough wella ooooo. I try it cannot be perfect but I am trying. But like I said earlier music is my first LOVE and if want to come into my life then you have to realize that. She comes first always in any of my decision. If want to love me you must love my music, you don’t necessarily have to be a musician but you must respect her. And I also don’t mix music and pleasure. Music first and always then pleasure can come after.
I hope you enjoyed the chat with our musician of the month Andrew Egbuchiem. Drop your comment.