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Take Five With Akua Allrich

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Akua Allrich: Jazz vocalist Akua Allrich is a musician of extraordinary talent and crowd-moving passion. For the past two years she has been electrifying audiences in and around the nation's capital with sold-out performances.

With the 2010 launch of her independently produced album, A Peace of Mine, the young artist's music and concerts are creating a significant buzz with critics and music-lovers alike, and the rest of the world will have an opportunity to hear her. Said Franz Matzner, of All About Jazz, "Akua Allrich's music flows with a free, natural energy as engaging as her equally ingenuous personality."

Allrich's style is fluid and ever evolving. Her musical roots run deeply into blues, soul and rhythm and blues, with a clear grounding in jazz and pan-African music. She sings in many languages including Portuguese, French, Spanish, English, Xhosa, and Twi.

Given her ability to capture the essence of a broad range of musical genres, Allrich is often likened to legendary artists such as Oscar Brown Jr., Miriam Makeba and Nina Simone. She was educated at Howard University, where she was taught, coached and mentored by talented musicians such as world-renowned singer Kehembe V. Eichelberger, singer/drummer Grady Tate, and pianist Charles Covington.

Instrument(s):

Voice.

Teachers and/or influences? My teachers and influences are many, beginning with my father, Agyei Akoto, my first music teacher. My god-mother/vocal coach and teacher, Kehembe Eichelberger was also a major influence.

Then, there are Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Brown Jr., Miriam Makeba, Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, Betty Carter, Nancy Wilson, Charles Covington, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Sarah Vaughan, Abbey Lincoln, Al Jarreau, Grady Tate, Jimmy Scott, Billie Holiday and Jimi Hendrix. The list goes on forever. I'm moved by music that speaks to the spirit and the heart.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... I could see the feeling that came from my dad when he played. It was palpable, not just melodic, which is good enough sometimes, but I could taste his meaning. I wanted to speak from my heart and spirit like that, and speak to others in the same way he did.

Your sound and approach to music: I think my sound is a mix of styles with jazz at its center. I have allowed my connection to—and embracing of—an African-centered musical aesthetic to color and fuse with my jazz roots to express my musical perspective.

I approach my music with the intention of expressing thought through feeling and melody. Music is food for the soul and, while I listen for a sweet sound, I approach the performance of it hoping to affect the movement of spirit with passion.

Your teaching approach: I approach teaching based on the premise that each student is unique, has particular needs, can succeed and has the natural ability to apply and express themselves through music in some fashion. I feel as though each student has something to offer.

Your dream band:

Flute, trumpet, saxophone, drummer, acoustic bass, piano, two percussionists, two background vocalists, guitar, and a Musical Director other than me.

I have had the honor of performing with some exceedingly wonderful musicians. I think I would keep working with the cats I work with now. The energy when we perform is insanely wonderful. Janelle Gill, pianist; Kris Funn, bassist; John Lamkin, drums; Osei Akoto, congas; Jabari Exum , djembe; Jamal Brown, flute; Braxton Cook and Lyle Link on saxophones; Ronald Rolling, trumpet; Lauren White, vocals; Noble Jolley, pianist; Nate Jolley, drums.

In my wildest dreams I would probably add to the crew I already work with with the following amazing musicians: my dad, Agyei Akoto on woodwinds; my mom on vocals; Lee Morgan on trumpet; Nana Vasconcelos on Berimbau and percussion; and Jimi Hendrix on guitar just to top it all off.

Favorite venue:

Bohemian Caverns: the owner has been very supportive, open-minded, and allowed me to have regular dates.

Your favorite recording in your discography and why?

"Fire," which is the first song on my album, would have to be one of my favorite songs, although I have many. "Fire" is a great example of the African-infused improvisation in my music. I think it is a good mix of my musical roots.

The first Jazz album I bought was: I didn't buy any albums until about my second year in college because my dad and mom had such an amazing collection of jazz records. But when their record player broke I bought John Coltrane, Live at the Village Vanguard: The Master Takes...an amazing album.

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically? I am contributing my creativity, and interpretation of jazz. I am taking the sounds of the world and intertwining them with the traditions of jazz while staying true to the basic premise of the genre. Building upon what earlier artists such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and John Coltrane developed as the basis of traditional jazz, I add elements of several different African musical cultures. I'm taking my music to very creative places, as did Nina Simone, Oscar Brown Jr., Abbey Lincoln, Agyei Akoto and Miriam Makeba.

Did you know...

I danced professionally with an African dance troupe from about eight to twenty years of age. I had no intention of entering into the arts but the pull and the affect was undeniable. It sensitized my listening ability and brought me deeply into the music.

CDs you are listening to now: I'm listening to Oscar Brown, Jr., Ani DiFranco, and Lee Morgan. I don't usually limit myself to one or two CDs from any artist. I'm not just selecting a few pieces and playing them over and over—that's not my style; I like to go deep and wide.

Desert Island picks:

John Coltrane, Live at the Village Vanguard, The Master Takes;

Oscar Brown Jr., Sin and Soul;

Any Jimi Hendrix;

All Nina Simone;

Ani DiFranco, Canon;

All Nancy Wilson and Sarah Vaughan.

How would you describe the state of jazz today? I think jazz is on the move, developing and incorporating new sounds from around the world and continually exploring its own roots. A new generation is taking up the mantle of pushing it forward and connecting with listeners all over the world. I am looking forward to being a part of that development.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

Keeping jazz alive and growing will require that new and established artists continue to be creative and continue to push the envelope with their technical ability. Jazz artists should also continue to include different sounds and expressions from our experience and from around the world.

What is in the near future?

I plan to continue developing my music, both writing, and performing. I will also be promoting my new CD, A Peace of Mine, to a wider audience, branching out beyond the Washington, DC metro area.

By Day:

I am a mother, wife, a jazz musician and a school administrator.

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

I would be a mom, wife a music teacher and a school administrator.

Photo Credit

Courtesy of Akua Allrich

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