Versatility best describes this Chicago-born classical singer, Ranti Ihimoyan. Selected as one of the twenty (20) members to sing on ABC Chicago’s Morning TV Show in 2010, she has been greatly influenced by a plethora of genres, from jazz to blues, to soul music. A graduate of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), Chicago, where she earned a degree in Chemical Engineering, Ranti Ihimoyan also took music lessons at the Vandercook College of Music. Ranti Ihimoyan’s music explores a fusion of neo-soul and classical music in a style she refers to as ‘neo-classical music’, a fine example is Iwe Kiko, her latest video, which is already making waves.
Your passion for music started in secondary school where you were awarded first place in the soloist segment of the Shell Schools’ Competition amongst several achievements. How come you had to study Chemical Engineering at the Illinois Institute of Technology?
Well, I didn’t have to study Chemical Engineering. I’ve been blessed with a mother who didn’t pressure me into studying any particular course. It was more a case of limited information. I don’t recall our secondary school counselors giving us the option of music and languages as a course of study. I first chose accounting because I could add on the subjects I enjoyed – music, French, and business studies. However, my math teachers encouraged me to try the science and engineering path as I got distinctions in all my junior secondary certificate exams. I was intrigued by the Niger Delta crisis and the pollution of our rivers so I eventually found myself a chemical engineer with a specialization in environmental studies. Another noteworthy point is that most of the people I saw around me then, apart from my teachers were doctors, bankers, engineers or entrepreneurs. I eventually met a recent graduate of my alma mater at the Lagos airport as I was about to head to the States to study Engineering. She was studying Music in the UK with the intent to be a performer.
You resigned from a plum job as an engineer to dedicate more time to your music. Can you share this experience and how it compliments your musical ambition?
Again, I feel very blessed to have gained some rewarding work experience on the journey to discovering how I wanted to pursue my musical passion. Once I was settled on the fact that I wanted to fuse classical music with jazzy/neo-soulful folk, it was very clear that I needed to devote more time to this pursuit to make the most impact. It was not an easy decision to make, considering the uncertainty of the music industry, globally and especially because I was enjoying and making a difference in my last role as an environmental and regulatory advisor. However, with much prayer and great advice from mentors and friends, and most especially my husband’s encouragement, I knew it was definitely time to take the risky but fulfilling plunge. I’ve learned that if you don’t give up on your dreams, others would eventually come around and dream with you, but it starts with you.
As a classically-trained singer mentored by the legendary Seth Riggs who has coached the best acts including Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Josh Groban, your exposure to other genres like jazz, blues and soul music has expanded your repertoire. How important is it for a classical music performer to acquire a crossover status?
It’s funny you mentioned Seth Riggs and crossover. He was one of the people who supported my decision to follow the multi-genre/crossover path. When I first met him in 2012, he was very concerned about pop or contemporary music ruining my classical voice. However, by the time I met with him early 2015, he had listened to some of the demos I recorded and gave me some tips for following the crossover path successfully. Personally, my first love is classical music. It allows me to express myself in extraordinary and theatrical ways, especially opera arias, because I also enjoy acting. However, I think that any 21st century musician will need to be versatile as long as they are well grounded in their primary style and allow that style to influence the other styles of music they sing or play. This can be extremely beautiful.
You refer to your brand of music as neo-classical, underlining its fusion of neo-soul and classical music. When was your band, the Neo-Classical Band/Orchestra formed and what do you hope to achieve with it?
The Neo-Classical Band and Chamber Orchestra was formed in 2011 when Ugoma Adegoke of The Life House asked me to organize a proper classical concert at their former Victoria Island location in Lagos. That was right around the time I was thinking and journaling a lot about creating a new genre of music – it was divine. I suggested we make it a fusion with a more laid-back setting and voila!, the Neo-Classical Band was formed and the experimentation began. My hope is to expose more people to what I call elegant, positive and rejuvenating music by bringing a fresh twist to more traditional sounds, and a classic feel to the more popular ones. I want to pull people out of the status quo and negative vibes that dull our senses, to music that feeds the soul, lifts the spirit and allows the mind to dream, create and breathe.
What have been your difficulties so far in managing a band, and in particular your quarterly neo-classical concert at the MUSON Centre in Lagos?
Wow! Like any new venture, there’s always a learning curve. We’ve had to take some bold and risky steps like staging a full musical. We’ve also had to take long breaks to figure things out. It’s been a slow process but I believe it’s because we’re going to be around for a very long time. To be honest, many of the difficulties we’ve had were associated with the health of our arts and entertainment environment, and inherent support system. However, we had some amazing collaborators who shut down their artistic ventures to back us, but there have been others who backed out because of lack of funds or other challenges. This was why we couldn’t hold the After the Dream musical/operetta last April. We were so sure support would come running in from every corner, after the huge success of our February 2015 show, which was a personal investment. Thus, we choose not to dwell on challenges, but on the opportunities we can derive from them. We forged ahead towards a November show last year that more than made up for the postponed dates.
How well are you received by the Nigerian audience, and how often do you find space to showcase your classical music amidst a host of more popularly embraced genres like RnB, hip hop and Afro-beat?
I have never been ‘booed’ off any stage as far as I know. I always feel welcome wherever I go. I have performed at events alongside various Nigerian artists in other genres such as Wizkid, TuFace, Femi Kuti, Seun Kuti, Waje, Omawumi, Tiwa Savage, Praiz, Yinka Davies, Timi Dakolo, Prof. (Sir) Victor Uwaifo, and Bongos Ikwue. I haven’t felt anything but love from the audience. I hope this continues even as I grow as a musician and expand my horizon. There have been a few awkward moments when a programme was set wrong and a DJ was abruptly interrupted, but no stones were thrown, so I can’t complain. There is such a huge, gaping space for me to showcase my music in Nigeria – so many untapped opportunities that I shudder at the thought of how busy the next couple of months and years will be. I haven’t been performing as often in the past few years because of my engineering pursuits.
You have performed across America, Europe and Africa. How does your experience abroad compare to that of Nigeria, and indeed, Africa?
I would like to defer answering this question until I have a broader view of performing around the world and can speak more definitively.
You have performed lead roles in operas such as Laz Ekwueme’s A Night in Bethlehem and more recently, in compositions by the cellist, Tunde Jegede. What is your assessment of classical music in Nigeria and its future?
I believe we have many talented Nigerian composers and ‘creatives’, as well as indigenous cultural music and we owe it to ourselves as a people to expose them to the world. I also believe we have not scratched the surface of the power of this style of Nigerian classical music to influence other world cultures just as the European music of composers like Mozart have done. Music and art are tools that preserve culture, identity and posterity. We wouldn’t like to wake up to find our cultural identity totally extinct and foreign to our future generations, yet unborn. Governments in some other nations invest heavily in legacy projects just to preserve their cultural identity. As one of my musical heroes, Bongos Ikwue would say, we have thousands of theatre arts students graduating from universities every year with barely any theatres to practice and showcase their craft.
Can you talk about some of your original songs, beyond your performances of those of Jegede and other masters?
I have some original songs that centre on themes like love (because I’m a legit romantic), friendship, and social consciousness.
What has been your greatest musical experience so far?
Thus far, I believe my greatest musical experience has to be a tie between my performance as Queen of the Night in Mozart’s Magic Flute opera with the MUSON Symphony Orchestra because of the high notes I sang for the first time, and my performance in my self-produced and scripted (with the help of my amazing team and the Neo-Classical Band of course!) musical titled After the Dream, because it all came together miraculously in such a short period of time.
Who is your favorite Nigerian singer, and why?
I am torn on this question because I like certain things about certain singers but I will have to say Asa because she’s representing Nigeria and the African continent very positively across the globe. She strikes me as very hard working.
How do you spend your leisure?
I enjoy having lunch with friends. I talk a lot (as you can tell from my lengthy responses) and love to share deep heartfelt conversations with my girlfriends and watch funny movies, preferably romantic/action comedies or just about any well-acted movie, with my hubby and friends.