Singing: It’s not Rocket Science, you know – Ifriky Tadadjeu Sokeng interviewed by Albert Combrink
A question often asked of Cameroonian Tenor Ifriky Tadadjeu Sokeng is: “So where did you learn to sing Opera?” I know. I asked him this myself. When we (white South Africans and others) think of East Africa perhaps we think of lions and quaint villages at best or civil war and famine at worst. But Opera?
Well, for your education and mine, in steps Rocket Scientist Ifriky Tadadjeu Sokeng. Officially a PhD student in Space Technology at CPUT, Ifriky has been making a name for himself as a singer for some time. He has been seen at various corporate functions and high profile events such as the “Hope Ball” ( a large HIV Fundraiser with the German community), “Dance for a Cure” (a big Cervical Cancer Inoculation programme fundraiser) and many conferences and concerts.
Ifriky speaks with great pride of his homeland and the training he received there. Cameroon, it appears, has as many music styles as it has provinces. Music infuses the daily life in cities and rural areas alike. Bendsikin (“Knees close to the ground”) is a strong urban street-music. Makossa is a type of funky dance music, best-known outside Africa for Manu Dibango, Bikutsi is based on a war rhythm played with various rattles and drums and xylophone. Sung by women, Kikutsi featured sexually explicit lyrics and songs about everyday problems. And in between there is George Frideric Handel and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Schools, choirs and colleges all have choirs and training programmes, with various levels of expertise. Handel’s Messiah is considered an “entry-level” work that every choir worthy of the name will have learnt and performed. University Choirs are considered “club level” as in sports.
In this music-rich environment, a system of tutors ensures that the knowledge gets passed on from seniors to juniors. Using the basic resonators used in articulation, imitating the older singers and acquiring a basic operatic sound, lays the basis for all the other styles. “It’s a miracle I didn’t break anything” says Ifriky, recalling his teaching which focused on the voice and the high range, rather than matters of interpretation. Cameroonian speaking voices are generally placed “high” in the voice, making high notes part of the musical style.
Cameroon is home to 230 languages. These include 55 Afro-Asiatic languages, two Nilo-Saharan languages, 4 Ubangian languages, and 169 Niger–Congo languages. English and French are official languages, a heritage of Cameroon’s colonial past as both a colony of the United Kingdom and France from 1916 to 1960.
Ifriky arrived in South Africa to further his studies in Engineering and Physics as part of CPUT University’s Space Engineering programming. As he arrived, his first questions were: “Where’s the church? Where’s the choir?”
He received vocal coaching from Kamal Khan at the UCT Opera School. He credits Kamal with helping him discover his real voice and a solid technical foundation. Khan helped him focus on “feeling” the best way to sing, rather than trying to listen to himself – a method fraught with problems as one’s ears are physically behind the mouth where the sound comes out. He found this the perfect technique around which to “Configure” his voice – a reminder that we are talking to a scientist here!
That self-awareness, the “Knowing” of your own voice, seems to be at the core of Ifriky’s approach to interpretation as well. At first, the world of Opera was a mystery: why would one want to SING something that could simply be SAID? Ifriky learned through the Internet, on Wikipedia, Youtube, and so on, that these songs and arias had stories, that they were part of larger stories and that their composers had stories, that the story-tellers had stories. This set him on a life-long personal quest to understand the meaning behind the notes.
Ifriky is very excited about the music scene in Cape Town, praising local musicians for not only chasing a market-driven industry but willing to think outside the box and explore serious artistic creativity. Ifriky has many exciting projects planned for the future including releasing his first CD, with Janine Pick (Soprano), Ivan Meredith and myself (Albert Combrink) on pianos and keyboards. This disc was recorded live in its entirety in under two hours. Which gives you an idea of the energy levels of this talented young man. Read more HERE and HERE.
In the meantime Ifriky was part of the team that built Africa’s first nano-satellite. ZACUBE 1 was successfully launched in Russia at the end of 2013. Read more HERE.
So I simply have to say, there will be much to report in the near future