What does it mean to interview an exceptional international talent?” That was one of the questions in my head the first time I sat down to chat with RACHEL KERR. I never knew what to expect. With a calm, girl-next-door air around her, I was shocked at how someone with such powerful voice, who is at the top of her field, and with so many achievements under her belt could be that humble. Having trained some of the best, from Tiwa Savage to PSquare and performed on stage with the likes of Asa and Brandy to mention a few, follow me as I travel into the world of RACHEL KERR, and be ready to be wowed. RACHEAL ABIRIBA
Talented people most times cannot see how gifted they are. Did you at any period struggle with choosing to pursue passion as opposed to living a cookie-cutter life?
This really is a universal thing that I have seen since launching my performing arts and vocal training academy Singercise back in 2012. I realised by observing many of our students that the talented really cannot see themselves. It’s a beautiful thing as it often leads to humility but can also be an affliction if not balanced with adequate self-assurance and self-esteem.
Like most creatives, I live in my head. The battles we face aren’t always the ones that live outside of ourselves but ones that come from within. I definitely have struggled with notions of not being good enough no matter how many public accolades I received. Plus, growing up I never considered myself as special as all my family were musically gifted so it wasn’t unusual that I was musical too.It was only when I personally moved away from my small village of Walsall to the big city of London after university that I started to see the impact that my singing was having on audiences that I was given more of an insight into the power that my gift possessed. The invitations I started to receive became numerous and I was finding myself in front of the world’s most powerful leaders (US Presidents, UK Prime Ministers) on some of the most exclusive stages across the world. The impact was too big to ignore so pursuing my passion became unavoidable.
Everyone knows the entertainment industry is incredibly fickle. How do you stay true to yourself and your music in the thick of it?
I have a great team of people around me and I believe in the power of my gift, so whenever I get into the studio, so long as I am coming from a place of sincerity, truth and authentic expression of who I truly am, I don’t fear the industry’s fickleness. If I am expressing my truth, I always feel like there is a market for whatever it is that I create. It’s taken me a while however, to get to this place. I’ve made mistakes where I’ve tried to create something that wasn’t really me and hated it, but I’ve noticed over the years that art from the heart goes straight to the heart of the audience, no matter what state or season music currently finds itself in.
Do you remember your lowest point in your career?
Absolutely. There have been a few. Starting again after my first team disbanded was tough but God bought me a team that has stood with me to this day (seven years). Also, I remember a time when the voice of my critics really pushed me into a place of fear and hiding especially as I almost wasn’t prepared for the public attention I garnered so quickly. You must remember I was a small town, village girl who went to the big city to pursue law, but here comes music with all its pressures and public opinions… I hadn’t yet developed the thick skin I have now.
What really was the beauty of that whole experience however was that it forced me to take the focus off of myself and put it into something that would actually become another great legacy in my career. It was during this time I started [my performing arts and vocal training academy] Singercise, helping other artists develop the technical skills to thrive in the music industry. I had no idea that it would go on to be so successful with clients who are international superstars such as Tiwa Savage, Waje and P-Square. We have now also launched an online singing school with subscribing students from over 50 different countries. I’ve learnt that every difficult or low time can create something beautiful but you have to endure and keep things moving.
You’ve worked with some of the biggest names in the music industry, what lessons did you learn from the experiences?
I toured as the opening act with Brandy and Lauryn Hill and they taught me the importance of remaining yourself. Lauryn complimented me by saying that I was “one of this world’s rare and most exceptional talents”, which is a blessing but also comes with its difficulties but what will take me far is a relentless understanding and acceptance of who I truly am.
Asa was incredibly gracious and a beautiful unique expression of herself without conforming to the pressures of the pop market. Which taught me so much.
Kirk Franklin taught me a lot about humility and showmanship. As he has a real love for people and has an electric stage presence.
Fred Hammond also taught me so much about graciousness and humility. We had a show at the O2 arena in London and things outside of our control were going wrong. But Fred was like ‘come on let’s go and keep the people happy’. He literally left his dressing room went out into the street and greeted everyone who came in the endless queue, apologising for events that had nothing to do with him just as an act of gracious humility. I learnt so much from him that day
Word of advice for rookies?
I have the rookie deepest in my heart. I created Singercise for the rookie as I completely identify with the fears, insecurities, hopes and ambitions of the rookie. But if I had any words of advice I would say: what is for you, is for you! In a society where we are forced to run a rat race comparing ourselves to our contemporaries on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube etc it is easy to lose focus and confidence. But no amount of time, or mistakes can take you away from what God has for you. So be diligent, work hard, be focused, make the absolute most of every opportunity given to you but also relax knowing that your breakthrough will come if you faint not.
You were the President of the African & Caribbean Society during your University days. Was that your entry point into the Nigerian Industry?
It was my introduction to the cultures and practises of Nigeria in many ways. I was always raised to know and to be proud of my African roots via my parents but because they hadn’t lived there, their cultural knowledge of foods and music was of course limited as it was to a lesser effect of my Caribbean roots. But at university for the first time I was introduced to West African and, specifically, Nigerian foods, efo riro, pounded yam, egusi, jollof rice and the music at the time Yahooze Boys, P-Square, Fela, Asa. I had no idea at the time that some of these people would soon become my clients and colleagues so it’s amazing how it all worked out.
How much do you separate your faith from your music, if at all.
I really don’t separate them at all. My faith very much is a part of me. It’s how I was raised but it has also grown to be a personal conviction I carry in every sphere of my life. Speaking professionally, there are things I simply cannot do, things I cannot say, places I cannot go and stuff I just can’t wear. I make no apologies for it, but I also respect and even admire in many cases my friends and other artists who do not have the same professional convictions as me. It’s all just a matter of conviction and choice. But as for me, I definitely define and carve out my artistry via the blade of faith. It is infused in everything I do professionally.
What are your thoughts on the growth of the Nigerian music industry on an international scale?
I’m so proud of it! It’s been an absolute pleasure to witness and help develop through my vocal coaching school, Singercise. Because the music is valued at home in Nigeria and across the continent, the artists and labels have had the money to reinvest into their art.
So the music videos, tours and music itself has the funding to grow and just keep getting better! Now it’s getting international attention and approval and rightfully so!
What excites you most about making music?
The people it inspires and touches. I love the fact that, even as I am here, there could be someone listening to my music right now and receiving the strength, hope and inspiration to make their dreams a reality. The number of testimonials and words of encouragement I get on my Facebook page and Instagram everyday blows my mind. People have found the power to resist suicide or get out of awful relationships just by listening to my songs or seeing me perform on stage. It’s so humbling and will forever be what excites me about making music.
What are your plans to expand in the Nigerian market?
I’ve recently started working with top producer Legendury Beats on new music. I have a headlining show planned at The Hard Rock Cafe around Easter time and I am looking forward to doing a few collaborations with some Nigerian artists in the near future it’s an exciting time.
What are the key differences, if any, in making music in England and Nigeria?
Music is this incredible universal language that just seems to translate and been enjoyable where ever I make it. I do however find that Nigeria producers have this effortless, infectious and conceptual understanding of rhythm. The drum patterns I hear Nigerian producers create are undoubtedly my favourite. In addition to this, in England I have access to exceptional live musicians who are able to give my music that authentic edge that makes my music timeless.
This Interview was first published in Genevieve Magazine February Issue.