Luigi Maclean opens up on Vocals & VGMAs

Luigi Maclean’s rise to mainstream notice has been nothing short of miraculous—an astounding run overseen by an Amazing God. Little wonder that his maiden single bears the same title....
Luigi Maclean

Luigi Maclean’s rise to mainstream notice has been nothing short of miraculous—an astounding run overseen by an Amazing God. Little wonder that his maiden single bears the same title.

Only two years after guesting on mentor Joe Mettle’s Bo Noo Ni (which won 3 awards at the 2018 VGMAs), the touching chanteur now sits among this town’s most beloved vocalists, and could pick up a Ghana Music Award come May 18 for his vocal talent (he’s been nominated alongside King Promise, KiDi, and Akwaboah for Male Vocalist of the Year). The giddy protégé, Maclean had accompanied Mettle up the podium for the plaques a dozen months ago, smiling at everyone. This year, he is up for a laurel of his own.

Full circle.

While he insists there’s still a long way ahead for him, Maclean notes that the opportunities a single verse on Bo Noo Ni has unlocked for him demonstrate exactly the following:

“You’ll never know when that one spark to your greatness will happen.” He snaps his fingers to accentuate “spark.”

“It only takes one thing,” adds Maclean, smiling in appreciation of God’s wonder.

Our conversation ensues in a quiet first-floor loft in Achimota this sunny Sabbath. He’s obviously dropped by from church, a crisp smile completing his look that also consists a suit, dress shoes and a sparkling white shirt.

Maclean’s smile never leaves him—it’s part of his charm. For his family and friends, he’s also quite the humour merchant; supplier of frequent rib-scorching laughs.

To start, I inquire about his relationship with ad-libs, seeing as it is among the first thing one notices of his silky, entrancing delivery.

“It’s an expression of one’s heart—the meaning of a song to that person.”

A song’s lyrics constitute the primary tool with which to express theme, “…but when you’re ad-libbing, it’s like you’re at liberty to express the song in a deeper sense,” adds Maclean.

He divulges to me that he’s always been attracted to the technique of ad-libbing. He was instantly attracted to it. As a little boy, when he listened to music with his friends, ad-libs rang loudest for him. His friends obsessed over instrumentation: stylish keyboard placements, a sick bassline, a horn solo…

But not him.

“I always noticed that for me, it was what the lead singer was saying –maybe a word, a note, a phrase or something. It always caught my attention much more.

“Those things were the loudest for me. They were the things I could hear easily without trying.”

He delves deeper, likening ad-libs to wordplay in poetry: a poet’s coinage of a regular phrase makes it stand out from the rest, glowing like burning coal.

Maclean’s method with ad-libs is straightforward—he plunges into the melody heart first: “I feel the music first. When I feel it, I’m able to express it.”

Ad-libs are a tricky enterprise. Memorable ad-libs are trickier, for it is easy to flat, or get carried away. How does one remain composed while conveying emotion without overdoing it?

These are unsaid rules, opines Maclean. You have to practice music to know it, and mastering one’s intuition and balance is a great place to start, because, ultimately, “you’re your own timer; you’re your own supervisor.”

For instance, while recording Amazing God (Reverb, 2018), he purposely decided not to sing at points, so as to not overshadow his backing vocalists.

“No one teaches you. You are your own check.”

Like an appreciable number of today’s music stars, Maclean’s path to stardom took the talent show route. A decade ago, fresh out of the Mfantsipim School, where he did high school, he entered Charterhouse’s Stars of the Future reality show (responsible for nurturing the careers of the likes of Efya, Irene Logan, and Adina)—albeit purely to fulfil a childhood desire rather than in pursuit of a musical career. “I just wanted to sing,” Maclean says. Indeed, he admits that until a couple of years ago, he hadn’t embraced the idea of singing as anything more than a hobby.

The confession leaves me stunned. A single listen to Mr. Maclean’s voice and one would assume that he was born a singer. That he didn’t envisage a career path leaves my eyes widened.

I gather myself somewhat. Why enter Stars at all then, I wonder.

Before the advent of singing reality shows in Ghana, Maclean had always fantasised about entering popular American singing contest, American Idol. Stars of the Future, to his mind, was Ghana’s response to the US-based competition. Hence, his decision to enter.

Though he was eliminated along the line, he had indented his presence, endearing himself to his fellow contestants, presenter Jocelyn Dumas, and his newfound audience, channelling Kool and the Gang, Nii Okai among others.

Stars of the Future was fun for Maclean, but once it was over, that was it—or so he thought.

“As I said, it didn’t look to me like it [his talent] would be a career. I just wanted to sing. So, when Stars of the Future was over, it looked like that chapter was over. ‘Now, let me go to school. So I went to university.”

Oh, by the way, Luigi is alumnus of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, which he insists is an unparalleled training ground for music in the country.  He joined a choir while in university, and it was the beginning of what he describes as “serious singing,” and subsequently meeting Joe Mettle, now his label boss at Reverb Studios.

Maclean’s story stands unique because it revolves around his Bo Noo Ni appearance. And so unsurprisingly, we return to it. Did he see any of this?

“Sometimes I ask myself…”

He pauses, scrambling for the appropriate wording: “…that thing—it’s strange, yet not strange—because I’ve been with Joe Mettle for a long time—but if you ask me if I saw it coming, no, I didn’t see it coming.”

Laughter follows—specifically the sort that accompanies marvel.

“After rehearsal one day, [during preparations for the live recording of Mettle’s 2016 live project, God of Miracles], Joe Mettle just called me and said to go and learn that song, because I would be performing it on the day of the recording.”

Joe Mettle [L] onstage with protege Luigi Maclean.

The instruction left his jaws ajar.  Why him, he wondered. Even as he recalls that conversation, Maclean lifts a smile up to the heavens.

Mettle would later reveal that he felt led by God to do so.

“I just feel like it’s God’s way of outdooring me.”

The above is the conclusion Maclean arrives at every time he replays the scenario in his head.

When I reiterate that the Bo Noo Ni verse has ensured that he’s mounted nearly every major gospel stage in Ghana, he chuckles nervously, clearly reticent about the compliment. He admits though, that the verse has proven a “great blessing” and “opened a lot of doors” for him.

The reason Luigi’s verse on Bo Noo Ni sparkles is not merely due to the lyrics, but also the garnishing that conveys it.

“I won’t lie: I stand before my mirror often to sing and practice my riffs, but the delivery of Bo Noo Ni was organic,” Maclean blurts out a sudden confession.

“One thing I’ve noticed is, most of the time, once you get into the act [of singing], it carries you along with the flow.”

And how does one navigate that with the pressure of a live recording, which requires that everything must be perfect while still seeming natural—seeing as these two usually don’t mix?

Again, the right balance. For most of the live recording, he was admittedly nervous: “This is a big stage. I have to get it right” he would think to himself.

But see, here’s the thing: “Music is art.” It cannot be forced. At the same time, it’s a science—“something you get better at with practice.”

Ultimately, God wanted it to happen the way it did on the night—so it did, observes Maclean about the rave reviews that met God of Miracles: “Everything just fell into place.”

Bountiful testimonies have followed the project. He hears them every day. Bo Noo Ni has become for many, morning hymn and daily prayer accompaniment. So entrancing is the worship number; so riveting is Maclean’s gift that his admiration too has quadrupled.

“People might not know you, but because you have a song, you become part of their lives.”

He recognises this—the feeling otherwise known as celebrity—but notes that keeping a level head is deliberate: “You can’t let these things get into your head.”

“If you’ve blessed someone before, people are expectant for more—so that whatever you were doing to get them what they getting has to be doubled; be it prayer, fellowship, improving your knowledge of songwriting…Just keep building.”

The nature of the testimonies resulting from the song is pure evidence of God’s involvement –not man, Maclean emphasises. More than anything, testaments amplify his faith in God.

Therefore, no, he doesn’t consider himself famous.

“I’m just doing my thing. Everybody has a story, so I believe it’s time for the world to know my story, and how I’m walking with God.”

Maclean orders an Uber after I turn off my recorder. The meaningful stares we get from passers-by as we exit the apartment complex corroborate my suspicion that he can no longer walk freely around his block, or patronise his favourite neighbourhood Waakye.

“Ah, it’s my neighbourhood,” he laughs either out of a curious oblivion of his growing clout or a quintessential modesty about it.  Granted, from what he’s heard, the thing about his neighbourhood will change—but it’s too early, and he sincerely hopes it doesn’t. For now, though, he’s making the most of his situation.

“I’m enjoying myself.”

Maclean is conversant with the phenomenon of celebrity. He can even define it: “Fame—people who are known and celebrated for being the best.”

“That’s you, bro,” I think to myself. “If not now, sooner than you think.”

Hailing from a musical family, Maclean observes that contrary to the typical caginess of Ghanaian parents at the prospect of their wards venturing into music professionally, his folks have always been supportive of his singing—more so because they spotted his sonic flair from infancy.

Beyond his new single, and the multiple features he’s granted on songs thus far, Maclean is looking forward to an album. He holds back a timeframe though.

“I believe my steps are ordered. I’m looking to God; I’m walking with him, and I believe he’s walking with me hand-in-hand.”

 

Entertainment writer from Accra| Editor, enewsgh.com|Pounding music makes me dance --in my mind.

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