In Tune with Walter Kolade Spearheart
Walter Kolade Spearheart was born in 1983 in a rustic Nigerian community and raised in an evolving cosmopolitan Lagos. He expresses music out of the enchantment of a world as seen through his eyes, writing expressively on matters of love and humanity. He also loves to tell stories especially to children. His earliest exposure to music education was with the piano at age 7, but his path as a musician became much clearer in 2002 when he began learning to play the violin. He played orchestral and chamber music till around 2007 when he discovered Celtic music. From then on, he has evolved in different forms and genres of music, from a violinist, to a singer-song writer, a harper and to performing in small circles and making private recordings. His 2013 debut song Ordinary Girl co-produced with ‘TRUTH’ enjoyed airplay on some Nigerian, as well as international terrestrial and online radio stations and platforms like numberonemusic.com, where it rose to the number 1 spot on the charts for country music and remained for a week. The remix will feature TEBA SHUMBA – a man whose name is synonymous with South African roots reggae music.
Spearheart’s ventures cut across entertainment to therapy. A humanitarian, he plays his 21-string harp as a volunteer in hospices around Cape Town where he spends most of his time. In this chat with Adebimpe Adebambo, he takes us on his musical odyssey and future plans.
Do you still play the piano and what inspired you to learn at such an early age?
I still do a little piano work every now and again. Quite like the harp, it’s a very relaxing instrument to play but not as intense as the violin. The first formal music training I had was brief, in the form of piano lessons when I was 7 and later at 12, courtesy of my parents, especially my mother who loved music very much. From then on, my music came out of a strong personal interest and of self-development. The way I would play an instrument may bear some subtle difference from a person who had some serious formal training. I remember once in 2011, I was part of an orchestra put together to perform a song produced by Wole Oni in Abuja, with some Nigerian artistes. While rehearsing in one of the hotel rooms, a colleague (a violinist) looked at me and said, “You play more than just the violin.” I answered in the affirmative and went further to ask how he could discern this. He simply said he could tell from the way I played the violin.
You informally taught yourself how to play the violin. What’s your educational background and did you study music formally?
My approach to music is with the heart and not the head as scholars are apt to do. I’m not a scholar of any kind. I never liked the contemporary formal education system or any form of study for that matter. For the records, I tried to quit school at age 8 but my mother didn’t let me (laughs). At the time, I loved drawing more than anything else including music, yet I hardly do any fine art these days. It’s an interesting story I’d love to tell on a different platform; it’s one of immense consequence! I somehow found my way into the university in 2001 to study microbiology, but only as something imposed on me by my parents.
Those were some of the unhappiest days of my life – but I have no regrets. I met a few wonderful people. I remember days of walking to school for lectures at the University of Port Harcourt, and I would hear beautiful symphonic music playing in my head. There was hardly any space to put down such extensive music. Those singular experiences and perhaps a few others like meeting after school in the evenings and on weekends to play music with my friends kept me somewhat together. I started playing the violin in 2001. I often say that the violin found me because it wasn’t something I had previously aspired to do. In my first year at the university, my older brother who was on industrial training in Port Harcourt visited with this poorly built violin my mother had bought a couple of years before, with the hope that one of her children would play. All the while before then I didn’t play that violin but after a few days of having it with me at school, I became very fond of it. In a matter of months I got invitations to make public presentations and grew, playing alongside and learning from other musicians. In 2001, my mother passed on. She always had the strongest parental influence on me. Three years was enough time for all such influences to completely wear out, so in 2004, I liberated myself from the prison that was the university. Since then, I have devoted my time to personal development with a rather holistic approach and along the lines of my most natural inclinations. I aspired to play the guitar and even more so the harp.
I started playing the guitar in 2007, about the same time I started pushing my singing voice. In June of 2015, I also started playing the harp.
Your altruistic work, playing your harp in hospices in Cape Town is laudable. What inspired this and are you going to do the same in Nigeria?
My interest in playing music for therapy has evolved over the years. However, learning about the harp and coming across the International Harp Therapy Program (IHTP), as well as the inspiring story of Harps for Hearts by Lisa Lynne, helped broaden my horizon to the possibilities that abound.
My wish to also work as a therapeutic musician has grown stronger since then. I hope that someday soon I would experience the IHTP, but for now there are many hospices, hospitals and care-giving homes around the world that could use harpers. The hospices generally care for terminally ill people so the music is to give them some soothing and psychological comfort amidst periods of sometimes excruciating pain. Many of them are incapacitated and cannot even leave their beds or wards. They are basically awaiting death. The music is also for the staff whose work requires so much love and care giving. Visitors also enjoy the music. I would love to be active in this regard in Nigeria, but a lot of groundwork needs to be done in enlightening ourselves about the finer effects of music.
What drew you to Celtic music after 5 years of orchestral and chamber music?
I will always remember the day when I first heard Caledonia by Dougie MacLean. However, it was the rendition by Eileen Laverty that was used for the Homecoming Scotland 2009 video promo on YouTube. I was in attendance at a forum in Nigeria. During one of the longer interludes, one of the organizers was thoughtful enough to engage the participants with musical videos shown on a projector screen. The music called out to me so strongly, I had to leave the common area just to hide my emotions. It was like a song I had heard before, and one I loved so much. It was truly love at first hearing. This was a little over five years of strict classical music. Though from the start, I was already slowly gravitating towards Celtic music with Enya and The Corrs, this particular song sealed my unwavering love for Celtic music!
What are the different genres of music you work in?
I would like us to first consider that the various genres of music are born of human spiritual disposition, many of which are closely related and perhaps even similar, only differing in the sense of style and rendition. Everyone naturally has a predisposition to music so that sometimes it’s hard to say precisely what kind one truly loves because it hasn’t been heard yet— it’s like a beloved yet to be met. It can also be an uneasy task to classify the kind of music one loves because it is so different from other forms readily known. It’s all about deep inner feelings. So in this sense, I can say that I strongly feel the magic and enchantment of the Celtic music form, enough to render it somewhat as mine. Classical music forms my basic foundation and I genuinely feel and express what may well be termed as such.
However, the quality of feelings I most readily experience and my natural inclination, births music along the sounds of folk and country though not traditional American country style. In the bid to be more expressive with instruments, my music is elaborated into world and alternative music forms. I also had an impressed Hip-Hop background and even though I hardly subscribe to its sentiments as part of a personal culture, I can still very much relate with the emotions and the attitude that births Hip-Hop. It’s all about what one feels and wishes for others to feel. I wish for my listeners to feel magic! (laughs) and the genres of music that give the most magical feelings?
Having been inspired by one of the world’s great tenors, Andrea Bocelli and legendary rhythm and blues and pop singer, Elton John, would you say you have hit your mark as the vocalist you aspire to be?
I do not believe that I would ever hit a mark that would give me the comfort of saying I have achieved some success as a vocalist in comparison with any other singer. My goal is hardly to hit the highest notes or to evoke the greatest sensation. It’s enough for one to simply be a happy person whose voice and music resonates with beauty, love and consequently hope. I appreciate where I am now, for I remember where I am coming from. This gives much hope as to the beautiful possibilities attainable; it is a path of endless aspiration for beauty and effective service through the ability to express music.
Three years ago, you uploaded an audition video online, which gave rise to the release of your first single. Can you tell us about that audition and the single that launched the singer in you?
I only called it an audition video at the time for want of what to call it (laughs!). It wasn’t connected to any contest, but simply born of the wish to break out of a shy hole by daring to take the first steps in putting myself out there as a singer/songwriter. Perhaps I can say I was auditioning for those who cared to listen. The song was written sometime in the first quarter of 2013. It started with a simple search on Facebook. The subject of the search was an old flame I knew in her less adventurous years. Her pictures on Facebook revealed she was all grown up and independent but had unfortunately lost an unassuming appearance of innocence and sweet enchanting childlikeness! My feelings were strongly evoked on that account and the song was the next outcome. In the course of writing, I wanted the song to carry a form that would confront people on a global level, something of a cosmopolitan or popular culture. Thus the choice of lyrical expressions was a deliberate attempt to connect with and convey my feelings through the form of an international pop culture.
The production work was a joint effort with the very talented Nigerian musician, music producer and sound designer ‘TRUTH’. The major promotional means viable at the time were online platforms. But these were not sufficient in reaching the local audience. It’s almost common knowledge in Nigeria that without the aid of powerful pluggers and fat payolas, music and music videos hardly get played on the radio and television stations. Regardless, a few local radio stations outside Lagos played the song. However, the greatest satisfaction for me came from the numberonemusic.com platform. In only a few days of uploading the song on the site (for play and free download), it made the number one spot on the country music charts as the most played song in that genre!
It was indeed a great experience, one that indicated beautiful possibilities for me as a singer/songwriter.
Who is your audience and has your country style met with appreciation especially as it isn’t the mainstream Nigerian pop type?
The music I play is very different from mainstream Nigerian pop music, but Nigerians no less appreciate it. It may not nearly sound like the popular styles, or in content suggest the common perceptions and current socio-cultural dispositions of Nigerians, yet it readily finds profound appreciation amongst them. That’s because we are first humans before Nigerians and are very capable of appreciating genuine beauty and human values. Perhaps if most of us weren’t too quick to follow the crowd, we should indeed have several other forms of music effectively relevant in Nigeria.
Notwithstanding, one still experiences unreserved appreciation from a keen audience, every now and again, in little pockets. The limitations of the usual age and education parameters are still quite applicable here, but not fundamentally defining. It’s a matter of having not just a listening ear but a heart to truly feel, since the music is such that confronts listeners on a very personal and intimate level. So I can say that my audience is of simple people of all ages and cultural dispositions, who are not afraid to engage in the silence of their own thoughts, and who very much prefer the natural, intimate and magical pulse of their own hearts to the wild adventure and ecstasy of the crowd!
Does any African musician inspire you?
I do have unreserved appreciation for a number of African musicians. I used the term unreserved appreciation because I cannot readily come up with an African artiste who deeply strikes me. I love different aspects of a number of them. Some have had some influence on the way I produce music.
What exactly is your writing style?
The only thing that one may say is exact about my writing style is that it is ‘a la Spearheart!’ (laughs!).
You plan a remix of your debut song Ordinary Girl to feature Teba Shumba a South African roots reggae musician. Why him and do you also plan to work with any Nigerian artiste?
It is not just a plan; it is work in progress. In April 2016, I met Teba Shumba in Cape Town through a friend. I played a couple of my works for him and at once he could deeply relate with the personality and the potential. When he heard my song Ordinary Girl, it sparked up some ideas within him and I could feel his excitement. In May 2016, he was a guest at my marriage ceremony in Cape Town. After the ceremony, he was thrilled to have a deeper understanding of the song and its origins, having heard the intriguing story and then witnessed the marriage between the songwriter and the woman who inspired the song. I’m happy with this project for many reasons; one being the rich cultural infusion that Shumba’s input would give. He is a very humane, down-to-earth fellow! Perhaps in the coming years, I will find that quality of connection and affinity with other Nigerian artistes that will foster productive synergy.
When will your next single be released and when should we look forward to an album?
I honestly cannot say when next I would put something out there. However, there is hardly a time I am not working on something.
How do you spend your leisure time and what is your favourite travel/holiday destination?
When indoors, I find watching movies an enjoyable way to relax. I love very much going to the park, and sightseeing. I don’t have a favourite travel destination, but I’d sure love to see it all!
You seem to wear white a lot especially in some of your performances. Is there any particular reason for this colour?
I wear other colours but this is in line with my highest and noblest sense of dressing. It is how I would like to be viewed by the public. Everything expresses my personal culture. However, the forms may change tomorrow…I could use other colours but the essence would remain the same.
Give us a something to ponder on.
“There is enchantment in everything, and love is the key that unlocks the greatest enchantment.” In music and poetry, I wish to capture a piece of that enchantment as life permits, and share this gift with the world in a glorious celebration of love!
June 17, 2019