Interview with Akua Allrich

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Akua Allrich is a critically acclaimed jazz singer/songwriter from the Washington, D.C. area. Allrich earned her BM in Music from Howard University and can sing in Portuguese, French, Spanish, English, Xhosa, and Twi. Known for her moving melodies, enchanting lyrics, and unique sound, Allrich commonly headlines sold-out performances

Howl: What influenced you to become a jazz singer?

Allrich: My dad is a jazz musicians, he plays the woodwinds and the piano. He was my first music teacher and I have always been around Jazz music. It is one of my first musical loves. But, the truth is, I didn’t set out to be a singer at all. It wasn’t until I was in undergraduate school at Howard University, that I was encouraged by my mother and God mother to take voice lessons. I have always sang throughout my life, but not professionally or in a group. Music was always in my life and I took piano lessons from age 4 through college. So, while in college, I started taking voice and piano classes because it seemed like fun, and then, destiny took over. In my 2nd semester of college I changed my major from biology to music therapy and then again to Jazz vocals. It seems like a major jump, but when your spirit calls and inspires you to do something, you nurture that calling and make it work. 

I graduated with my BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) in Jazz Studies, and then took a performance break, for fear of getting swallowed up by the “music business machine”, and I got married and had 2 children. About 8 years after getting my BFA, I had a family and a Master of Social Work, and the calling moved me again to record and start performing. As soon as I started performing again, my career took on a life of its own, and I’ve been blessed ever since in this business.

Howl: How do you determine the melody that goes with the lyrics? 

Allrich: I don’t have a set formula for song writing. When I hear a melody in my head, I try to record it somehow, via phone, a recorder even the computer. I later go to the piano and put the chords to it and sit down at my computer and write the lyrics in. Other times, the song starts off as a poem and I go with the energy or mood of the poem and make the melody from that. I listen over and over again until I the melody makes me feel the way I felt when writing the poem. I also try to envision what energy I want the listener to take from the song and make sure the melody moves in a way that will create the emotion I intend to invoke.

Howl: Do you make a song based on poetry? 

Allrich: Sometimes I do. In my opinion, music is melodic poetry, whether it is vocal or instrumental. The intention is the same, to invoke emotion. 
 
Howl: I [Camila] enjoy singing myself, and I enjoy writing poetry. I sometimes try to make them into songs. Do you have any tips?

Allrich: What helps me is being clear about the emotion that I get from my poetry and that helps me figure out what the sound will be. For instance, if my poem is an angry poem, it might have a rock & roll kind of feel or a bluesy feel to it, with contrasting notes, highs and lows. If it gives me peace, my melody may be more like calm waters, sweet tones and harmonies, not too many contrasts. Also, recording whatever comes to my mind helps tremendously. I often go back to those recordings to see what I like the best. 

I would also say to practice your craft often, and be open to learning new things.  

Howl: What is your songwriting process?

Allrich: My life is so busy, I have to record moments of musical inspiration. When time permits, I go to my piano and pluck out the notes and try to complete the ideas I love the most in my recordings. Other times, an entire song will just reveal itself to me in 10 minutes, and this is where the recording is really important to me, because those inspirations can be very fleeting. I try to give each musical inspiration the same level of respect; some odd feeling I have at a given moment can often lend itself to a very beautiful song. I think its important to give the same attention to each artistic idea. Sometimes the strangest, or what may seem to be the most corny idea, ends up being the most inspired. 

Its important to know that that you do not have to be a trained musician to be an excellent singer/song writer. Training is an amazing tool, that helps you express yourself clearly, but everyone has a gift, whether it is professionally developed or not. Believe in yourself and always know that, like every other living being, you have your own unique ability to breathe beauty into this world, your job, your teachers, parents and advocates’ jobs, are to help you determine the best way for you to express that beauty and share it with the world.

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