The Steve Rhodes Voices has been around for quite sometime and a lot of people think you ate a millionaire, by virtue of the fact of exposure, longevity of the group and in term of artistic excellence. And of course, for all the media attention that goes with it.
Well again, the beginning of the Steve Rhodes Voices was something of a challenge, but was necessary. We were forced to fill a vacuum. The Provost of Christ Church Cathedral who is still there today spoke to me back in 1970.
He said to me, there is a fall in attendance of services by young people, maybe this has something, to do with the church liturgy as it stands at the moment because€, in his experience whilst in Britain, he had actually seen what they called at that time Pop Services; where the music was modern and so on. He said well, could you do something like that?
As a part of the choir?
No, not as a part of the choir. For specific services, to see whether results could be achieved. And to do this, I put together a group which consisted of my sisters, my wife my daughters, three members of the Lawrence family (father, mother and one daughter). We met and rehearsed. This was a crazy situation because this whole thing happened in one week. It happened from Christmas day till the 2nd of January.
And I had to re-write a. number of things from the church services and use some materials which had been done by other group in the same sort of general area. Now, because he had to ensure that the thing worked, it had publicity in the church; thus we had a Very large congregation. And amongst the people who were there, were people from a television crew- N.B.C. TV and they said "could we do the same thing for them the following Sunday" which we did.
Now after that, we started gelling requests from people saying, 'do this thing again, do this thing again.' And we started getting requests from people saying, "can we join?" So, because the objective for which the thing was established had been achieved, so when pressure started to come from all areas, we had to sit down and take a decision as to whether the thing should continue or not; if to continue, on what terms? I am glad that because of the sort of people who were there, we recognized what our personal visions were.
And it was decided to keep the group together; but with one objective, which was to strive for excellence: to reach a stage at which that group could stand up any where and perform and be recognized in its own right of excellence. We then started doing shows based on requests; occasionally, doing something on our own.
But your repertoire has broadened . It is no more restricted to only Christian music, choral music.
Yeah. ..at the moment the decision was made to keep the group together, an almost instinctive decision was made to broaden the repertoire; but to keep that repertoire Nigerian and Africa .
1991 was a very special year to the Steve Rhodes Voices. You had a lot of activities, you did your anniversary. I remember that at a point after that, you said that you were going to resign. How did they drag you back into it?
Well for about 9 months, I totally withdrew from all activities. It was necessary because over the years, the work involved in pulling together a show that is the Steve Rhodes Voices -became more and more arduous and this was because I had set standards which have become more and more difficult to attain because of the inadequacies of the set itself.
For example, if we lived in a more advanced country, to do a performance, I'd sit down at home and call an equipment supplier and say I want this and this on these dates at such and such a venue. And as far as I am concerned, that is the last I have to deal with that person. And on the day that I want it, it is there and manned by their people, everything is okay. If you want to do a show, you book the hall that you want to use and you get in touch with the professional designer... Things like advertising and selling tickets, there are agencies that do them and collect the commission.
Now because of the absence of facilities like that here, each time the Steve Rhodes Voices wanted to do something, all those areas had to be covered. And the only person with the experience and the willingness to devote the time is me. The members of the group enjoy singing, but when it comes down to the nitty-gritty of putting something like this together, because they are much younger people, more intricate social commitments and so on, they just cannot cope with the time that it demands and the kind of sacrifice that it calls for. Apart from that, is the fact that many of them just don't have the experience of dealing with the type of people that we have to deal with. So, a lot of the work evolved on one person.
At which point did you cede some of the work to one of your daughters?
The closest people to me in the group are my daughters because they have been there from the beginning. They have seen how a lot of things are done, have been aware of the training that I went through each time. They have had major anxieties of their own about my health when we are in the middle of things. So, they have been a source of strength.
And it has nothing to do with the fact that she is a lawyer?
Well, both of them. The difficulty which both of them had with the changes was that members of the group were either their contemporaries or their juniors, and because the societal norms now accepted all sorts of mediocrity, they looked like martinets when they try and lay down rules and maintain the sort of discipline that had made the Steve Rhodes Voices what it became.
This meant that very frequently, they were themselves frustrated by the attitude of those whom they thought should be able to understand better. So, they were up against a problem which I suppose in a way is a reversed generation gap. Because whereas I could come in and say: "Yes this has to be done this way", It would be done that way even if all members of the group go round grumbling about it If one of them did the same thing, then, the members of the group would go thus: "why are they making a fuss about a little thing, surely they understand that today we all like to do it like this..." And they (members) cannot see that these are people who grew with this thing from day one, have seen it grow and known why it grew and therefore don't want to see the sort of thing that helped it grow disappear.
Your question was at what point did I cede; there was no such point All along, these were two people who had been my strongest lieutenants.
Why is it that Gloria's solo career never really took off?
Well, I think that to answer that question, I am going to have to talk to Gloria too. The sort of that happen in Nigeria is that all of a sudden, we see the Press making a lot of noise about a new "star" that has just emerged. It is a reversal of the normal process of development.
An artiste, a performing artiste, should be exposed to different audiences, heard, be accepted by those different audiences. Then, because those different audiences are saying we would like to have something of this artiste that we can in our own time listen to and not just because we went to a venue when this artiste is performing - a justification for making a record is registered.
At that point, there is a market for that artiste and all that needs to be done is to service that market the artiste will continue as a live performing artiste to support the sales of that record and when that artiste is seen on stage, the audience sees the total artistry which is not in a record.
Now, here in Nigeria , we have had a reversal of that process; where the first time that you hear of an artiste is because they have made a plate. The public then want to see this person, touch him, to see if he is real. They put them on stage and they turn into disaster because the craft which they should have learnt in the beginning period was not there. Their first exposure to performance is in the studio, where you
With additional reports from Mr. Magazine