Edoheart's sound is sometimes African-folk in the style of Miriam Makeba but Edoheart also has a noisy, unpredictable side, as in her song "Harmony" which features a wild, free-improvisation vocalization over drum-machine reverb. Edoheart's performances involve music, dance, visuals and performance art and have been called "powerful ritual". Edoheart has also been compared to Sun Ra in her performance style. She has performed internationally in Africa, North and South America, Europe and Asia, most recently in Japan and Brazil where she performed at the Museu Brasileiro da Escultura and also shot the video for her song "Sosomoneycockplease" highlight and link. Her new album Wa Domo Edo is available on itunes on her label Edoheart. Her song, "Monsoon In Ibadan" is available as a free download from netlabel Clinical Archives and was downloaded more than 10,000 times in 3 weeks. A vinyl single of her song "Sometimes" will be out on the label Feels Like Love in late August. Edoheart has won several awards for her artworks, has produced several dance-on-film works, most notably, her "Fire Butoh Series" and has published two books of poems. Her ultimate desire is to uplift, share and conserve Edo culture through collaboration with artists around the world.
As a free-improvisation vocalist, singing is an incredibly important tool in my performances. I think I might have a bit of synesthesia and singing can replace my other sensory actions. I employ vocalizations in response to pre-recorded sounds, the visual images I project at performances, in response to other performers and as the sonic manifestation of my psychological states and my inner-body transformations. So I sing what is happening in my body. I sing my inner-dance. This is what I call my butoh-vocal theatre. Singing is for me, also the singing of other things and the singing of silence. So, sometimes I am silent in my singing. I took a month of piano lessons when I was ten and started trying to teach myself guitar a few years ago, so singing remains the instrument with which I am most comfortable because I have always sung. I am also a poet. Poetry was my first study, so I consider sound to be pieces of language. Not just the words in a song but the entire song itself is a part of speech. Bach's "Air for the G String" for example, is like a sentence. It becomes like a sentence to me because of the pervasiveness of the work. It is so famous and well-known that it is a statement, a punctuation mark, a symbol of our human expression. In a performance, I could create a poem by playing a pre-recorded version of "Air for the G String" and then adding to Bach's notable work with another sentence in the form of a song or vocalization or even a dance. When I was little and I was hungry, I would sing. Singing is a primal tool of communication.
How does your study of classical vocal technique influence your creative and performance processes?
I was not originally aware that is was classical vocal technique I was studying with you... In the short time I have been studying it, it has given me a more thorough understanding of my instrument, so that I am aware of what happens with my voice in different ranges and of what happens with my body so that a particular sound occurs. The exercises have strengthened my voice and have become even, motivation and an underpinning for free-improvisation--a jumping-off point for making more sounds. I have realized that studying classical vocal technique is in the end, more useful than having studied a particular style of singing because it has given me an ability to sing in different styles as it has been concerned more with education about the total function of my vocal instrument in lieu of the parts of my voice that sound like jazz or opera or one particular style. It is like having bought a dress-form on which one can create many different dresses instead of having bought one dress. Or like that adage about teaching a man to fish. Something I am realizing now about a fundamental way in which my performance ability has been affected is the length of the notes I can now hold post-study. As you are aware, I am a severe asthmatic and carry an inhaler everywhere. When I first began studying with you, I was worried that I could not hold notes very long because I would run out of breath pretty quickly. Perhaps this is the most important way classical study has influenced my creative and performance processes. I have learned essentially, how to breathe (not just for singing) and can comfortable hold out long notes- in fact I love to do this. This is very useful for my free-improvisational vocalizing because I have time to find the next note without dropping the one I am holding. This can lead the audience to believe that the song has been pre-written and rehearsed when it is being literally plucked out of thin air. I suppose I now have a more egalitarian relationship with air. It is this study that also led to my extending the performance of butoh to vocalization. Butoh refers to movement inside the body; now, the voice, in my style of performance, has become an integral part of showcasing that movement, through a more intimate experience of singing.
You once told me that artistic expression is such an integral part of Nigerian culture that the language does not really distinguish "art" as being something separate from life (the way we regard it here). How has this part of your background influenced your work?
The language does distinguish different occupations, of course. What I said was that it is the culture that does not separate art from life. My people, the Edo people, have documented more than 30,000 artworks stolen from us by the British. That we were able to document these many artworks from hundreds of years ago, demonstrates the very high function of art in my particular Nigerian culture. (There are 250 ethnic groups in Nigeria by some estimates. The Edo are just one.) It is this elevated importance of art that I take from my culture. To the Edo, art was inseparable from society. The king did have many prized artworks created for him by royal artists but all things in society were created in the way an artist makes art. There are no need for museums when art is everywhere. We have different ways of walking in different ceremonies. We bow when we greet elders or people we respect. Certain phrases are sung in a conversation even. In school, I remember clapping for another student and that we had to clap in a particular rhythm. A person becomes a work of art in her behavior. Because of my cultural background, I think of myself as an honest performer. In the same way I am moved to breathe and eat, I am moved to making art. I do not try to dance or sing in a way that I am not honestly moved to in a performance. I do not compete with other performers in a collaborative performance. I am content to make a harmony with my silence or to wait for the next sound or movement to arrive to me as long as I am being honest. I think this comes not just from my culture but because I did not train in performance other than my recent study in singing with you and butoh, both of which are concerned with this honesty. Beyond this, I believe that I am art. Art- to me- is not just a creative creation but also a state of being. I realized, while thinking about words once, that ART is a conjugation of the verb "TO BE" in the plural "you" form. We say "I am / You are / Thou art." My culture influences my art is this way. I am not just an artist. I am art. Edoheart. So this is why I deal in so many mediums- painting, dancing, singing, writing, etcetera. My culturally-derived function is to be.
How have audiences in various countries responded differently to your work, and how have their reactions been the same?
This is perhaps connected to the last question. I am my art, so I think audiences are responding to me, not solely my work. For all my audiences, I think I am also something unique- as a Black African experimental woman artist. Our world has maybe not seen so many self-professed experimental artists that are African- from Africa- and also women. All audiences have been interested in my experience and are surprised by the content, sometimes. Other than that, I think different cultures have different ways of behaving according to their culture. Some are more quiet; others are raucous. The fact that any audience makes itself present for me is something for which I am eternally and deeply grateful.
Your intense work in dance has had a dramatic impact on the quality and range of your voice. Can you share any insight about how dance and singing support one another?
It was quite a discovery for me, that the more intensely I worked my body, the stronger my voice became. Despite asthma, I can sing quite loudly while descending into a back-bend now. Recognizing the connection between the physical conditioning of my body, which is the instrument that houses my voice, in combination with my study of butoh dance led to explorations into singing inside my body, singing outside of my experiences and using my voice as a sound-maker not just a song-maker. My butoh dance work has extended to my voice so that I sing and dance butoh at the same time. When I am not butoh-singing, my vocal quality is perhaps more popularly stylistic. When I engage a butoh voice, it is experimental and I have produced sounds that are beyond what I thought achievable in my range or that have qualities that haunt me. I have recorded myself making what I think is the sound a roaring dinosaur would have made! Some African cultures are capable of using the voice to create clicks and myriad tones. Mandarin has that beautiful multi-tonal quality and I love the note-structure of Carnatic singing. I once heard a man who could convincingly mimic a dog barking in the distance though he stood right in front of you. In my Edo languages (there are several Edo languages) some sounds we produce are multi-consonant like mw, gb, kp, vb and quite difficult for others to make. I think that as American culture (which includes sounds) takes over the planet, we lose some knowledge of the versatility of the human voice. It becomes even more important to experiment. I think of the Williams sisters grunting when they hit tennis balls. The body can force sound out of itself involuntarily. I am interested in exploring that place. I have realized that dance is inseparable from the voice. The voice is part of the body. This extends for me also to sign language, which I have begun using in my work.
Eseohe's remark that she "was not originally aware that is was classical vocal technique I was studying with you" really made me smile. If there's no distinction for her between a classical vs. non-classical approach to singing, why should there be for any of us? Visit her web site to find out when she's performing in your part of the world.