Joshua Alamu wants us to sound our very best. The British vocal instructor has coached numerous singers and budding professionals to achieve the best their vocal chords can produce, across the globe, for over 15 years now.
His résumé to date includes tutoring stints with popular British television talent show The Voice, and a whole slew of now household names such as Daniel Bedingfield, Westlife and Dionne Bromfield, as well as being on hand to help hopefuls on the Pop Idol and The Voice television talent shows. Now he has made his way over here, to present an intensive voice coaching course at the Rimon School of Jazz and Contemporary Music, and the Felicja Blumental Music Center in Tel Aviv, starting today and through till Saturday, and will give a limited number of private coaching sessions on Sunday and Monday.
Alamu says he didn’t quite opt for his current career path by design, but is delighted it worked out this way. Initially, he set out to hone his skills as a singer and applied for a place at the School of Creative Ministries in Notting Hill Gate, West London. He duly impressed the judges at the entry audition, somewhat unorthodox style notwithstanding.
“Coaching is something I fell in to, almost by accident, many years ago – about 15 years now. I went to my first audition at music school, and I got called into a room and had to stand in front of three people – a bit like [TV music talent show] X Factor – and basically sing my heart out. I remember closing my eyes, and feeling as nervous as hell, and singing my song and I didn’t realize that, while I was singing, I was actually swiveling around with my eyes closed. When I finished singing the song and I opened my eyes I had my back towards the panelists.”
The 180-degree approach, along with Alamu’s vocal performance, worked nicely and he was accepted by the school.
Things began to take off nicely for Alamu in double-quick time, when one of the teachers at the school, celebrated vocal coach Carrie Grant, got the young student a vocal backing slot with American pop singer Luther Vandross.
“Carrie and [husband pop singer and vocal coach] David Grant sort of took me under their wing and the backup singer thing with Vandross was my entry into the music industry,” he says. Alamu soon added a teaching bow to his professional string, when the Grants enlisted Alamu’s help with coaching some established musicians.
“My first job as a coach was with [pop band] S Club 7. Carrie and David became so busy that they needed a hand, and they took me along to work with some of the members of S Club 7. I was completely star-struck but I had to remain professional.”
Alamu took to voice coaching like a proverbial duck to water.
“I had the best time of my life, with S Club 7, and that’s how the coaching thing started.”
Coaching quickly replaced performing as Alamu’s principal line of work.
“A lot of singers get a buzz when they come off stage, and they say something like ‘I had a great time, I want to do this forever.’ I sang on many stages and it really had that same kind of effect on me. But when I did my first coaching gig I felt I got that same buzz that singers usually get from going on stage. That’s when I knew I should do coaching as a profession.”
There is an old saying that suggests that “those who can do, and those who can’t teach,” but that does not apply to Alamu.
“I work very very hard to be the best at everything I do. If it’s singing I’ll demonstrate to the world that I can do it. The response to my coaching has been amazing and that shows that Josh is able to put his mouth where his money is.”
In Alamu’s case that adage can be taken literally.
It is a two-way street. “There is the belief that if you sing you can’t teach,” he says, “but that doesn’t go for me either because I have been doing coaching for many years successfully, and I see the results in the singers I have helped.”
Aramat Arnheim certainly appreciates Alamu’s coaching talents. Arnheim is an Israeli voice teacher and was instrumental in bringing Alamu over here. She says we are lucky to have him here for a few days.
“I am very excited that Josh is coming to Israel,” she states. “He is a very popular teacher in England and all over the world, and is something of a guru with a unique coaching style. I saw him give a course in the United States and I was amazed by the miracles he worked with the singers.”
Arnheim says that Alamu has a special mix of attention to detail and of getting the most out of singing charges.
“Josh’s style is almost scientific. He likes to analyze every ululation and every vibrato, to enable the singers to understand what they are doing with the song. But he can also show a singer, in a matter of minutes, how to take a song and to focus on the right parts of the song, so that they can get more out of it. Josh does that on the very highest level. There simply aren’t any voice teachers of his quality in Israel today.”
At the end of the day, says Alamu, he is coming here to help young Israeli singers express themselves better and more professionally, rather than impose his ideas on them.
“I’ve always felt that a teacher should never have an agenda. Our job is to serve. So I always ask someone standing in front me at a coaching lesson what they want to do. That means that the student has to have clear idea of where they are heading.
“If they don’t have a vision for what they want to achieve, then I tell them they need to have that. I am not going to place what I think you need on to you. You need to tell me what you are after, and I will provide that. A lot depends on people’s vision.”
It will be interesting to see how Alamu’s Israeli students evolve in years to come.