Last Thursday, Kaieteur News enlisted the services of a young musician, Akeem Adams, to play at the ceremony, commemorating its 25th anniversary.
Adams played a musical rendition of Smooth Operator by Sade, and Loving You by Minnie Riperton.
It was a combination of smooth jazz and classical soul that captivated the audience and, for a moment, shifted attention away from the reason for the celebration to the talent of an incredible, young artist.
Odds are that a violin wouldn’t be the first choice for most Guyanese musicians. A piano or guitar would be more accessible, or even a recorder. Violins are more popular in classical circles, playing an extremely prominent role in all orchestral music. In fact, the violin section plays much of the melody in every piece of classical orchestra music you’re likely to hear. That music is not particularly popular in Guyana’s musical mainstream.
But, for 22 year old Akeem Adams, the violin is a passion that he stumbled into. He’s been playing the instrument for four years, and doesn’t see himself letting up any time soon.
Before he got into music, Adams said he “wanted to be a historian and an archaeologist” because he used to read a lot about history and mummies. The content he was exposed to fascinated him.
“But music happened in 2012,” he said.
The change of environment that resulted in the shift in his interests is that he moved from his hometown of Linden. He used to live there with his aunt, since his mother passed away when he was just eight years old. Adams is the eldest of four children. He has two brothers and a sister. Before he moved, Adams went to school at New Silvercity Secondary. Then, when he moved to the East Coast of Demerara, he went to school at Golden Grove Secondary.
Asked how he learned to play the instrument, “That happened by mistake,” Adams said.
Four years ago, he had joined the National School of Music, hoping to become an expert at three instruments: the piano, the guitar, and the recorder. He had no intention of trying the violin, but his sister wanted to try it, and she didn’t want to learn alone. So Adams decided to take the class with her.
Piano didn’t come easily, Adams said; the posturing is difficult. With the recorder, he tended to get winded very quickly. And with the guitar, even though it’s also a string instrument, he said that he has difficulty mustering the sort of dexterity that the guitar demanded. The violin came naturally, like it was meant for him.
He said that a talented violin teacher named Gillian Oak taught him at the National School of Music. He had learned from her for about six months, until Oak had to leave for Mexico. But he didn’t let that hinder him. For the past three years, Adams has been teaching himself to play the violin.
He said that Bridgette Nelson, who he calls his mom, is a music teacher and the National School of Music’s Co-ordinator for music for Region Four. She helps him to develop his skill. While he plays the other three instruments he signed up for, the violin is his favourite.
Adams mentioned liking artists like Lindsey Stirling, who is an acclaimed, popular young American violinist, Björk, an Icelandic singer/songwriter, and Aurora, a Norwegian singer/songwriter.
Adams said that he likes Stirling because she doesn’t relegate violin music to traditionally classical music only; she plays music that is more popular to the millennial generation. What’s even more impressing to him is that Stirling has managed to merge the more traditional classical style of music with new age Electronic Dance Music (EDM).
Björk’s music is generally electro-pop and indie-pop styled, and Adams said that he’s drawn to her music because it is avant garde. And as for Aurora, he said that her music “is kind of like dream pop and baroque pop.
His musical taste is heavily influenced by a lot of Celtic Music, which originates from the Scandinavian region.
Asked whether the exotic nature of the violin intimidates him, he said, “I’m not intimidated by the violin.”
Because of his tastes and his interest in the violin, he said that people tell him that he’s “trying to be white”. It’s something that could get frustrating at times, he said, “but I don’t let stuff get to my head.”
Today, Adams has a string of performances under his belt. He has played for major events like the opening of Movietowne and a meeting of the leaders of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM). He said that his manager, who has been with him since late last year, Kristia Ramlagan, looks out for him; “She gets me events and stuff.”
He doesn’t just perform a lot, but he teaches too. He’s a violin teacher at three different schools, the National School of Music, Music Unlimited, and Foundation Seven Music School.
While many young creatives have lamented that the local environment makes it difficult for them to make a living off their talent, Adams has succeeded. Currently, he doesn’t have any other job, and doesn’t see himself taking on another any time soon.
In fact, he wants to compose his original content, but he doesn’t believe that he’s ready.
“I’m going to be getting Skype lessons from a professor that teaches in America,” Adams said.
He said that, before he starts creating, he has a lot more to learn. Asked when he thinks he’ll be ready, he said that there’s no timeframe or criteria – “I’ll just know”.
Further, he hopes to take his craft to the international stage, because he’s not sure that Guyana would appreciate his style of music. He said that he hasn’t often cleaved to Soca and Dancehall music, which are more popular in Caribbean circles.
“I’d love to mix with people from other countries, and learn from other types of music.”
He has been thinking about going to Berklee College of Music, in Boston, Massachusetts.
When he matures much later on, Adams said, “I see myself making albums, traveling and inspiring other young people like myself.”
In fact, the young musician hopes that his work would inspire Black youth like himself to take up lessons so they could learn to play the violin too.
Adams has high hopes for the music industry in Guyana, too. He said that music is a hobby, and people should feel comfortable seeing it that way, instead of as a chore. But it’s also an art, he said, and “you can make a living from it.”
There are two sides to that coin, because Adams said that it’s not just necessary for young creatives to change their mindset. It’s also necessary for the rest of the Guyanese community to respect musicians and their art. He said that he wants “people not to see musicians as monkeys who perform tricks.”
“You have to practise,” he said, “It’s a skill. It doesn’t come easily.”
He said that it’s important for people to give musicians the support that they need.
Akin to that, he’d like to see Guyana’s copyright laws updated, so that musicians could benefit fairly from revenue generated by the marketing of their content.
“They pay a lot of money for international artists to come. We need to make money from our original work [too].”
Last night, Adams performed at the National Cultural Centre, during an event held by the National School of Theatre Arts and Drama.
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