Ankh Ra Amenhetep has a busy year scheduled for 2009. He plans to be on tour most of the year to bring his unique vocal coaching style to the masses across the U.S. with his Ultimate Voice Workshop series. Upon meeting Ankh Ra, it is obvious that he cut from the cloth of originality. He spent the first few minutes appreciating the BE Team for our endeavors – after we were an hour late to our interview in NYC! His very presence alone is soothing and the energy in the studio where we interviewed him was remarkable. Maybe it was because we sat down with him on the historic Inauguration weekend. Or maybe Ankh Ra understands that the quality of an outcome is often a result of the energies put into it.
“Vocal coaches never start of looking to become vocal coaches. They become vocal coaches usually as a circumstance of making a living or doing something else with their careers.” Ankh Ra smirks when I ask him how he became the vocal guru he is today. “I started off in the church. The church experience is invaluable for singers. That is the African-American training for singers. The church teaches everything except vocal production. They don’t teach you how to sing and reading written music. But you learn harmony, training, memorizing, ear training,” Ankh Ra adds. I started in the church at 7. At 15 I was the director of a 25-person voice young people’s choir. After this I scaled down to 10 people, then 6 voice ensemble. The manager was older than us and she had us in a church circuit and the circuit was very small. This was before Kirk Franklin, The Clark Sisters, and the Gospel Music explosion as we know it. I had a 7 voice ensemble and had to perform and none of the keys on the piano worked. After I played that piano, I realized that I wanted to do something different – that I would never get where I wanted to go doing this.”
So Ankh Ra left the church to expand his horizons. “I decided to go to college for music. I started a band and got some cultural experience; we toured and saw different things. We almost got picked up by Earth, Wind & Fire, but it didn’t happen. During all of this time I am also trying to become a solo artist. The band didn’t work out and from there, people who heard me would ask me ‘Do you teach?’ At the time I was more concerned with my next gig! After many requests I started teaching. I went back to school and got some in-depth knowledge of the voice and began teaching.” After being inspired by musical theatre, he wrote 6 different musical theatre pieces in which he was vocal director and music director. “Through this, I was doing my spiritual development piece.” Ankh Ra sees spiritual development as a necessary piece of vocal development. “Music really imitates life. People think it’s the other way around. Life is the most important thing. Music is a part of life.” Ankh Ra also heavily studied the Ancient Kemetic Egyptian culture.
What makes Ankh Ra who he is? “It is a collaboration of all I have done in music because I have done everything. It is also the spiritual depth of my understanding of life that I’m always gonna bring to my sessions. Because we are vehicles of God. God needs us just as much as we need God. Music is a job where you always have to be in touch with what is inside. That is what makes it so spiritual. Everything comes from the inside out, not from the outside in. I am always gonna relate music to life, power, and transformation.”
On MTV’s Making the Band, Ankh Ra was portrayed as a vocal guru, who left the artist in a better place than when they started. “My vocal technique is just as strong as my transformational work. On TV, they only showed an angle of me on the show. I [don’t just deal with the music, I] deal with the person. Training the voice is about training the vocal muscles. But we also have a mind muscle we have to train too.”
I asked him which band member from Day 26 made the most progress in their vocal (and professional) journey. “Q[wanell Mosely],” was his immediate answer. “He came in like a young Michael Jackson, with all the mannerisms, dance moves and everything. And we had a break and Q went home and he came back with real swag!” “Call it Dawn Richards,” remarks Jason Dinsmore, BE Mag’s Editor-In-Chief! “Naw, this was pre-Dawn….Dawn didn’t give him his swag, [she] helped him build his swag! He came back from that break [a different person]. He’s the one who danced the best he had a really good voice; he came back and started working on his voice, his style. He started getting into who Q is, vocally. To me out of all of them, Q has the best shot of being a solo artist. Willie, too because he is the front man. But from a long range perspective, Q is the youngest. He has the most opportunity if he wants to go solo. Robert is extraordinary. Every time Rob stepped in front of [Diddy], he killed it. In fact, he built the band around Willie and Robert, but mostly Willie. Mike is getting love too.”
I asked what Ankh Ra though about Dawn Richards’ vocal ability. “I think Dawn really sings with her heart and soul. The episode [of Making the Band] where she cried she’s really coming through that. People that really sing from inside that means they have a lot of stuff going on and they sing through that stuff. Your artistic development comes from your own personal experiences. If you’ve gone through some stuff, you can take what you’ve gone through and put it in your music so we can feel it. She has that internal energy where you can look at her and be like ‘Who is that?”
Could being an American Idol judge be in Ankh Ra’s future? “If I was asked, I would do it.” We asked him if he had any ideas on how to change the format to make it more interesting. “Any ideas on how to change the format? If I were to change the format, I would take the people that can’t sing and make them sing. I would like to show America some growth!”
Relative to the educational system, “It’s really about education they don’t see how the arts educate. The arts are just another vehicle because you have to have discipline, education, the same things you have to have for any other genre. People see singing as something ornamental and this country doesn’t honor it until you’re really successful.” He becomes even more insightful.” White people structure the curriculum, and they are very linear. They read. We’re different than white people. I thin that sometimes we’re trying to be so much like white people because that’s what we’ve been programmed since childhood that we don’t value what we bring to the table. I mean we’ve created every single musical genre that’s on the planet right now! We have to celebrate what we bring to the table. With Barack and this paradigm shift I believe it is the time right now.”
For more on Ankh Ra, and/or to REGISTER for his ULTIMATE VOICE WORKSHOP series coming to a city near you, visit his website at: http://www.myspace.com/ankhra OR http://www.ankhra.com OR http://www.vocaltour.net