Babatunde Akinboboye shares his experience as a black opera singer on TikTok – Billboard
Babatunde Akinboboye, 38, became an opera singer by mistake. His only exposure to classical music was through popular culture, as looney tunes and Mrs. Doubtfire. But Akinboboye found himself in the world of opera after taking a men’s ensemble class in his sophomore year of high school.
“I kept taking singing lessons and one of my singing teachers suggested I consider opera. It was completely foreign to me and I was really resistant,” he says. “After a while of convincing and trying out different vocal techniques, an operatic sound started coming out of my face. It was almost like finding an accidental superpower. At that point, I was like, ‘Let’s see. what this opera is about I think that might be the decision for me.
Akinboboye’s First Internet Glimpse fame has come to infuse his love of classical opera and hip-hop, performing a rap opera or “hip-hopera”. He posted a video of himself singing “Largo al factotum”, a famous Rossini aria The Barber of Sevilleto the instrumental of Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE” in 2018, garnering more than 1 million views on YouTube. The viral moment prompted Akinboboye to find other ways to showcase both his passion for hip-hop and his daily life as an opera singer.
“It was around the middle of the pandemic…I decided to be a serious content creator, and then I thought I’d watch Tiktok and consume content to see if I could find things that made me happy. good,” he said. “It was awkward at first because TikTok is a different culture. By consuming it, I learned to appreciate it and it became my most used app.
TikTok has become Akinboboye’s safe space to share what it’s like to be a black opera singer. His experiences touched others involved inside and outside the opera world. The Los Angeles-based content creator has become an internet sensation with his TikToks depicting his daily life as a professional opera singer, earning over 618,000 followers on the platform.
Below, Akinboboye speaks with Billboard on the importance of shedding light on his experiences of being Black in the world of opera through social media – including the arguments he has had about whether he is even an opera singer.
Was your hip-hop video your first dip in content creation? What motivated this?
I had never created content before and never thought I would. When I made this video, it was something I had done myself in the car a bunch of times. I thought it was entertaining, and I thought I wanted to record it to share with my regular friends and not with my opera friends, because I didn’t think they would really enjoy it. I shared it on my personal FB and it started spreading outside my network. I was like, “Oh! Is that viral? OK! I’m going viral!”
People said they would buy an album of that. I didn’t want to lose the following that I received from the viral video when creating the album. I started finding videos that I could put out every day – just put something out every day to keep them entertained while I worked on the album. Then my followers increased much more than before. I continued to do things that I found entertaining.
I started finding out how much money was spent on creating content. I should probably figure out how to start doing it seriously, especially since we’re in a pandemic and I’m an opera singer. Live theater is not doing well right now. Let’s check out this content creation thing, and it’s been awesome.
What type of content have you seen interacting very well with your followers?
The more I can polarize the juxtaposition between opera and popular culture. I did it a video where I’m wearing a full tuxedo and I sing the lyrics to a dancehall song that had a lot of vulgar lyrics, but I sing it with a very professional operatic technique. This is one of my most viral videos on Tiktok.
People who are outside the culture of opera have this image of opera as being this elitist, fanciful, glitzy and elegant art form. Elements of this are true, but there are many that many people can relate to. Like many artists, we are asked to work to be exposed, and so I can create content related to that. People recognize it. Having to deal with a boss or a conductor where you kind of have to shut up and take it on just to get the job done. A lot of people can relate to that.
In your content, you show people what it’s like to be a black performer at Opera. What prompted you to show it?
I discovered that a number of my frustrations in the opera industry were due to the fact that I was black. Some people might think that’s debatable at this point, but I don’t feel like it was – because I’ve found that many of my black colleagues from different generations have similar experiences or feel the same thing. It encouraged me to talk about these things and refer to these issues, because I thought to myself that if this was something shared by so many people in my industry, it’s probably shared by other people in outside my area.
I’ve had several arguments with people about whether or not I’m an opera singer, which is interesting because I don’t think that’s up for debate. There was a case after a performance, I was at the reception after talking to one of the spectators [an attendee]and he was trying to tell me that I was an athlete. I was like, “I don’t really play sports.” He said, “Come on, do you play football? Basketball?” He almost started arguing with me because he felt like I was hiding information.
It’s not uncommon in my industry. Part of my management is talking about it and sharing it. I found it to be therapeutic and cathartic for others…I feel like it gives people permission to own their feelings about their experiences when they see other people owning their experiences.
How does it feel to see your content resonate with others? It became that therapy for you, and now you have it resonating with others as well.
It’s very very good. It’s something I needed. It’s something I wish I had [earlier in my career]. It had been a long time in the industry that I hadn’t allowed myself to come to terms with the feelings I had with the negative things that I was going through.
Providing validation and someone a guide away from gaslighting feels good to know – especially young opera singers I get a lot of passionate messages thanking me for speaking their minds , or letting them know that they weren’t crazy about the thoughts they felt about the experiences they had.
What can be improved in your sector?
We’re just doing the old stuff, and we’ve stopped innovating. My theory is that opera music has had a close relationship with pop music throughout history. He adapted to what was popular. I think when popular music got too dark around the jazz period, opera stopped being attached to popular music. The goal was to faithfully recreate what was done in the past and the closer we are to what was done before, the more correct it is.
For many young artists, we enter in the hope of being able to create art and something new. And we think it’s a Simon Says game. How well can you follow these instructions? To what extent can you repeat what has been done before? It’s hard for a lot of us young people because we’re creative, we want to do something new… His resistance to doing new things keeps us from connecting to this art form that we love.
What frustrations or challenges are you currently facing?
A lot of performers have a lot of problems with new operas. In performances, we have to re-engage this trauma [i.e. Blue highlighting police brutality, Fire Shut Up in My Bones confronting abuse or The Central Park Five] do it for these people – that’s not the kind of thing we want to do. On top of that, because there’s such a rush to stage operas written by black people, many of them haven’t gone through a full process that an opera goes through before it’s ready. to be played. As a result, it’s partially done and it’s extremely difficult for us vocalists to perform, as there are still issues that haven’t been resolved.
The opera industry has done a very good job of making opera singers and people afraid of being critical. Opera attracts people to the point where if you go to an opera and you don’t enjoy it, you can’t tell people you didn’t enjoy it, because you look uneducated.
Is there something in the opera that you think is improving and evolving?
I see a lot more people of color on the industry scene, especially in the United States. This is also true in Europe. I enjoy seeing more POC on stage and seeing new stories. New stories are told. I think the pandemic has something to do with it. I see much more deliberate actions and an intention to innovate. Which I relish.
Where would you like to see opera go in the next few years?
I look forward to these new stories not being just traumatic porn for different minority groups or underrepresented voices anymore. [like The Marriage of Figaro, Elixir of Love, Magic Flute, Aida and Dido] when there are new stories that are uplifting and good for those other people.
Can’t wait to see POC on the other side of the stage as well. I am addressing the administration of opera companies and industries – people when we walk into an audition, I’d like to see a little more people of color there, and a lot more women. I would love to see more POC there, make the decisions and grow that way.