From fitness instructor to performing in front of 20,000 people as Tina Turner: what a difference a year makes. Emi Wokoma had such year. In April of 2012, Emi took on the role of Tina Turner in the West End musical ‘Soul Sister’. Since then, the musical went on to become one of the biggest hits of the theater season. Starting with several months at the Hackney Empire and the Savoy Theatre, the show then went on the road throughout the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Netherlands. The spectacle was unanimously applauded by the press: every reviewer especially praised the musical’s lead performer. This eventually lead to Emi being asked to perform a concert as Tina Turner, this December in the Netherlands, in front of 20,000 people. It will be the biggest Tina tribute concert ever organized. The Tina Turner Blog had an exclusive interview with Emi.
What was your life like before playing Tina Turner?
“Before that, I’ve done TV shows, I was a regular on a show called Trexx and Flipside, and on Eastenders . I had been acting professionally for several years. I was working at a gym at that time when they asked me to come audition for the role of Tina Turner. And I said: ‘no, I’m not going, I’m not going to get the part, no-one’s going to like me, I’m not going’. But I went, and I got the part a couple of weeks later. I didn’t believe it when my agent told me. I didn’t even think I’d get to be an Ikette, let alone be Tina Turner. I thought straight away: the people that are coming to see the show are going to be Tina Turner fans. They are going to know Tina Turner very, very well. So I didn’t think I could be part of that all at the beginning.”
Was Tina already an inspiration to you before you got the part in the musical?
“Yes, absolutely. She is very unique, she is so different from all the artists that we have. They don’t make them like that anymore, you know. She’s an artist as well as a singer, she embodies something that you can’t find anymore. That’s why I was so attracted to her, because so unique and has such strength.”
How did you prepare yourself for the part?
“Lots of gymming, lots of exercise, lots of vocal training, everything like that. I would like to stress that Tina Turner is very, very fit! She’s practically super woman on stage. To be able to dance in those stilettos, like it is nothing, and also the vocal power. She really is an athlete. So I trained a lot, I studied her mannerisms. But I want to stress that I’m not an impersonator. I’m an actress and I try to embody her to try to tell a story. To tell her physical story through my acting ability.”
Besides the musical story, you are also telling the life story, which wasn’t the easiest one to say the least. Does that also have an emotional impact on you?
“It’s quite challenging and it is also draining. But ultimately, in the end, when singing the hits back-to-back, it’s a celebration. So it’s also sort of very rewarding. And the audience goes on that journey as well. So it can be draining for everybody, but in the end it’s a celebration. And I think that’s why the fans like Tina Turner. Because they understand her life and they understand her struggle. But it’s important to celebrate and not to get down about it. What Tina did is she used her strength and her natural ability. She took her struggle and turned it into her strength and a blessing, so that’s what I learned from playing her so long.”
And now in December, you will perform as Tina Turner in a huge concert: The Tina Turner Experience. You are actually playing at the same venue were Tina performed as part of her 2009 tour. How does that feel?
“It’s an absolute honor and a privilege. Like I said, she’s been a part of my life, and my career, for so long now, that I think that’s just going to be the icing on the cake. I try not to get nervous. I get excited, I get very excited and I can’t wait to see how everything kind of falls into place when we start rehearsing. The rehearsals with the band, with the dancers and the other special guests, that’s going to build the excitement. I try nervously not to get involved. Talk to me the night before we have to go on, it might be a completely different situation.”
And what can we expect from the show?
“It’s going to be an experience. Behind the show are the top choreographers, the top set designers, it’s going to be an absolute feast for the eyes. If Tina was doing a concert, 20, 30 years ago, this would be what we’re trying to replicate. The people that will come to see the show are not going to know what to do with themselves. That’s why it’s called The Tina Turner Experience. So hopefully we can offer you the best.”
And what will life be like ‘after Tina Turner’ for Emi Wokoma?
“I’ve been singing since I was nine, it’s always going to be singing. So that will continue. But I would also like to go down the acting route. And I’m going to go back to my fitness job as well. In terms of performing; Tina Turner has inspired me in the sense that she’s not like any other singer. She inspired me because she sounds like nobody else, she looks like nobody else, she doesn’t try to be pretty and in that she’s very unique. When I do my own thing, I hope that people will see me and say: ‘oh, Emi Wokoma: she’s unique!’.”
The Tina Turner Experience will take place on December 21 at the Gelredome in Arnhem, The Netherlands. Information (in Dutch) can be found on this website. Tickets are for sale via See Tickets.
Curious about the show? Don’t miss your chance to win two tickets: next week on The Tina Turner Blog! Stay tuned for more information!
15 Replies to “Tina Turner Blog Interview: Emi Wokoma”
dear emi, when i look at the video above you should not intend to reach the level of a tina turner show 20-30 years ago. you can be deeply contented if you reach 5 percent of the level of a tina show 4 years ago on the 50th anniversary tour. and this would be a very optimistic dream, believe…
Thank you! I enjoyed the interview and wish I could see the show in Dec. – hopefully bits and pieces will be available on Youtube 🙂
it dosn’t look like your trying to represent tina turner – it looks like you’re representing a tina turner impersonator. and not a very good one by the way…
My only real feeling about this is as follows: I believe this is the West End show that was being created a few years ago about Tina’s life story. Honestly, SOUL SISTER is a better title than WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT. In terms of a “Tina Turner Experience”, this seems to fall along the same lines as the “Michael Jackson Experience” of 2009/10. Since Ms. Turner is very much still alive and well, I see no need of watching someone “perform” as Tina Turner, when I can watch loads of video concert performances whenever I wish to.
If there’s this much re-evaluation/examination going on about Tina Turner, I think this is the right time to start the reissue campaign of her discography. EMI was recently acquired by Universal Music, and Universal is rather focused of late on reissuing/remastering/repackaging their catalogs, especially the Japanese branch (Universal Japan), which has been releasing excellent mini-LP versions of music in their new Hi Fidelity SHM-CD (Super High Material) format, which basically sounds like a brand new 180 analog vinyl album in the form of a digital CD, w/out the need of owning a special sound system/stereo/Discman/etc to hear the Hi-Fi sound. The sound is Hi-Fi no matter what sound system you use. I believe Ms. Turner’s discography from at least 1978-2000 should be reissued in this format. That would be enough to quell the desire for more Tina material, until she starts a new album, preferably under a new mini-record deal contract w/ Universal Music, and/or starts work on her next film project. Her reissue series would be a rather profitable one, considering how many albums she’s sold over the last 30 years, and how many fans desire/deserve to have brand new minted, completest editions of her works.
Didn’t universal have to let go some of the big artists in order not to dominate the market too much according to EU laws on fair competition when they took over EMI. i believe Tina Turner was one of the names mentioned.
Really, Lasse? Then that’s really too bad, if that leaves Tina’s material “blowing in the wind”. Then who acquired Tina’s discography? Is it “up for grabs”, then? I have to admit, w/ the new acquisition, Universal was definitely looking as if it had the “lion’s share” of the music industries past output. Well then, maybe Universal Japan has exclusive rights to Tina’s catalog, since their releases are not domestic (USA) or EU, but w/in its own region. All of the new SHM/Blu-spec/HQ CD discography reissues of various US/EU pop and rock artists have been exclusive to this Japan-based branch/entity, esp. since the new audio technology appears to be exclusively designed from Japan, and for the Japanese editions of their catalog.
As an unapologetic audiophile, In all honesty, I’d prefer her discography to be released in the mini-LP SHM-CD format, since it is probably the best audio format for CDs in the 21st Century. I don’t know if the technology is ever issued as a digital download for past and present Japanese-issued albums, but I own about 20 CDs reproduced in that format (along w/ some Blu-spec CDs, which are related to the Blu-ray format, only in the audio sense…also, incredible sound, esp. w/ analog-based recordings), and they are like the best of the analog and digital worlds combined. I can only imagine what Tina’s albums would look and sound like remastered and reprinted in this quality format.
That may be one way to dodge the whole “monopoly” thing that Universal Music has got going on of late. Thanks for the info.
I think everything after ‘foreign affair’ is owned by teamwork productions (owned by Tina Turner and Roger Davies) and was only licensed to EMI. Her eighties albums are probably owned by Universal now, as are River Deep, Mountain High (A&M) and all the recordings for ‘Blue Thumb’ (outta season & the hunter).
I believe in giving credit where it is do and I also beleive in criticizing when asked, I have been a Tina fan for many, many years starting at the age 14yrs and I have been to alot of her live concerts and seen her in lots of interviews and read one end of her album cover from front to back. I also have read things on this young lady protraying Tina, sorry to say, she is just a fan. She protrays her poorly. She doesnt have the same energy or like personality. In this video above, Tina wasnt even wearing that type of hair when the best was released. Sorry Emi, this is not the Tina Turner I have seen for years. I dont expect for you to get it 100% perfect but you are alot less than 100%.
All that negativity to Emi makes me sick. Really. I saw one show, begin this year, and I loved it. Emi did it very, very, very well as Tina. It is very difficult to be someone else, to behave like someone else, and to talk & sing like someone else. We have one Tina, a beautiful strong woman with a very powerful and unique voice. And even Emi’s voice is different, she’s a very good singer with a great voice and enjoyable as actress. Her behaving, where she tried to imitate Tina, was good enough, if you ask me. I saw her as Tina during the show, and not as someone else. Then have you done it well. Again, I don’t understand all the negativity. It was a great show, thanks to all the people who had worked on it, also Emi.
ITS NOT NEGATIVITY, IT’S OPINION. A GOOD ACTRESS AND SINGER I BELEIVE SHE IS BUT FOR WHAT I’VE SEEN SO FAR, I DID NOT LIKE. YOU HAVE YOUR OPINION AND WE HAVE OURS.
i am not a fan of impersonators, but criticism here has been a bit harsh. Clearly there are alot of people who like what she is doing and I wish her all the best with the show in December.
You guys shouldn’t be jupim to conlusion to fast, just wait and see. And she is not trying to impersonate Tina, she plays her.
I like her, but i like Tina Turner more 😉
I understand that T-T fans are not goingf to all be fans of Emi.
Unfortunately in a way I am old enough to have been able to follow T-T all of her career. Including playing her music as a DJ during the 70s and 80s,
Last year I went to see Soul Sister at the Hackney Empire and enjoyed it so much went again a week later! I wrote reviews on some sites suggesting that it had the potential to go on to the West End.
Two weeks ago I was able to see Emi again at the Empire in Blues in the Night.
I would be really nice if I was able to get tickets to the Dutch concert.
Was dissapointing that T-T did not invite me to her wedding though!