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!’.”
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!