I have been asked on many occasions about the journey that took me into classical singing. Usually there is an unspoken assumption that anyone of African descent who chooses to develop in this area of expression is somehow a wannabe. I have sensed this attitude a great deal in mingling with folks who are not particularly urbane or refined, but just happen to have been born into circumstances where classical music and singing are obvious things for them to take part in.
As a result of this, I have also encountered people who expected me to fall over myself in emulating cultural habits of the majority within the aforementioned culture. They think people like me are looking for validation from them and they have the power to withhold or give it to me, depending on their whims and moods.
It is interesting to observe folks from those same heritages, choosing to develop their expressive ranges in cultural genres that were initiated by people of African, Caribbean, South American or Black American descent. Why is it that they are seen to be “drawing inspiration” from those sources, while people like me are regarded as wannabes?
Will there ever be a time when these attitudes might change? I’m not holding my breath, waiting for such a moment. Within every culture, there will always be journeymen, mavericks, those whose faces (or voices) fit in and those who excel at playing the game.
At the end of the day, the artists among us will create new work and the terms of reference will shift accordingly.