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SOCIAL STUDIES: Esi Acquaah-Harrison An interview with Cirque du Soleil TOTEM vocalist Esi Acquaah-Harrison

John Richards @jrichards202 | 8/30/2012, 3:05 p.m.

The first choir I joined was one from my church and that eventually lead me to The London Community Gospel Choir. I thought well, you know, even though it's a gospel choir and it's not a paid choir, all the time, I thought well, in your late 20s you've got to use your time wisely so this is quite serious [laughs]. Gradually, people started to hear about me and I started to get paid work. A lot of the paid work I got was from being part of the gospel choir.

The Washington Informer: You were working as an accountant back then, how did you balance being an accountant during the day and a singer at night?

Acquaah-Harrison: It was crazy. Very often I would go home and pray that I had just one job [laughs], it felt like two jobs. The accountant work, obviously, that was my bread and butter, that's what paid my bills. Many, many people in the music industry today they have another job and they do the music on the side.

Singing was always a passion but it was fast becoming something which I knew I could professionally. My full time job I had no choice, I had to do. The singing on the side I would often do things like prepare for gigs, in terms of learning words, on the metro, we call it the underground in London. I would be on the underground, with my in-ears, listening to the music, learning the songs - sometimes moving my mouth without actually making any sound [laughs], because it was full of people. It was lot of hard work and I had to decide I'm going to put aside one or two evenings every week to do nothing to make sure I got rest.

The Washington Informer: Your first major role was "Rafiki" in The Legend of the Lion King at Disneyland Paris. How did it prepare you for your role in Totem?

Acquaah-Harrison: Disneyland Paris was an amazing experience. What that prepared me for was learning about not just having to do show after show after show, but doing show after show consistently. We had a vocal coach who would come in twice a week not just to work with us but actually assess the standard of what we are doing. He watched at least one show and then he would comment on it. So that really put me into a thinking of okay, yes I know the job but I've got to keep some consistency and quality. From that respect, that really helped me. Also, I had the chance to do not a lot of acting but a little bit of acting so coming to Totem I think they had very little work to do with me in terms of what I had to do and be acting-wise. It's not that I'm on stage so much but I found that they gave me the ideas, gave me some direction and I tried to take that on and it seemed to work out right, you know? Prior to that, all the other singing I had done [was] a lot of session work and on stages doing real live work. Live Aid, many years ago was one of them, I backed Maria Carey, I sang with Luther Van Dross, I did lots of real work like that. All of that prepared me for being in front of people and not have any stage fright.