From the Venice Film Festival to the Met Gala, to the training of the Emira Half Marathon, Cynthia Arevo manages to find break moments on her jam-packed schedule. With a flurry of momentum swirling around him, the London-born multi-hyphenate sits quietly in the center.
“Sometimes I get a nice few hours of sleep on the plane,” she laughs. “But I’m not very good at doing it.” With just one Oscar away from an EGOT, it’s hard to argue with the results, because Arevo has made a name for itself not only on the Broadway stage, but also in film and television. He is even going to publish a children’s book titled “Remember Dreams, Ebere”.
Although we can get to know Erivo a bit in each of his roles, his new album প্রথম the first debut of his song যা has made him more of a co-writer. Combined with the classic soul height, the varied structure of modern R&B, and the high pop hook, “Ch. 1 vs. 1” demonstrates the complex emotion that helped Arevo to dominate the stage. From “The Color Purple” to the title role of the 2019 Harriet Tubman biopic on Broadway, Arivo has shown the ability to capture the inner life of people in unimaginable situations, as well as a larger scale. He is playing himself here, increasing that power as a vocalist and lyricist.
Diversity “F1 vs. 1,” with Arrivo, taps into the different expectations of music and film audiences, and its Nigerian heritage history.
You’ve got an album, as well as a children’s book, and roles in TV and movies. How do you split it all up?
Cynthia Arevo: I just keep asking everyone reminders about how the schedule looks! It helps me understand where I am. It’s a very Capricorn thing for me – I think the organization is really helpful.
Were you actively working on other projects at the same time as creating this album? Is it hard to do character work, and then transfer to work in your own name?
I was doing “Genius: Aretha” at the same time as we were finishing singing. I built a small studio in the house where I lived, with all my studio equipment in one of the bedrooms. [It was] Crazy, but I’m glad I did it because I’m consistently inspired and learning. Whenever I play a role, the thought is that I sit with him as closely as possible so I can understand what their mission is, what their story is, what they want. Most people come from places of truth, even when they are not truthful. And so my job is to highlight and express what is needed to tell Aretha’s story; I set myself apart for my own creativity, my own songs, my own stories.
Taking on a role like Aretha certainly requires some creative practice or process, but then do you have to actively return to Cynthia’s “role”?
I’m so lucky that I’ve been able to be one of those people that I was really early on. I soon realized that I had to be okay with myself, even if other people weren’t there, or suffer to try to fit myself into what others expected of me. I’ve been very comfortable with my skin for a long time, so writing about me, who I am, where I come from and the things I’ve done isn’t necessarily difficult for me. Being able to share more with people was actually a relief.
Your music has a strong cultural and even political feel. I know you mentioned Mary Macbeth as a touchstone.
He was a scoundrel, man! There is no one like him. I can’t remember if it was a festival, but I was with my mom in London a long time ago and she was an actor. I just thought she was beautiful. I have never seen anything like it. She was on stage and she wore traditional theatrical attire. She had all the jewelry, all the headwear, everything. And with him were dancers on stage, traditional theatrical dancers. And then the word that he does and uses his voice almost like an instrument, it’s one of my favorite things. He was just so special.
How did your kids book come about?
I was asked to write a children’s book a while ago and wasn’t asked at first, because I didn’t want to do it unless my idea was fully formed and I could write it myself. It means a lot to me to be as honest as possible when it comes to writing things and being a part of that process, so I didn’t want to do it if I couldn’t do it right. And then one day I was taking a bath and the idea fell through. I realized that the only thing I could talk about was that I was actually living my own life: the idea of being able to dream big, but dream in detail.
I write a list at the end of the year to describe what I want to do and I describe in as much detail as possible between those desires and dreams, in terms of the color or timing of something. I think it says to the universe, or, to God, or whatever you believe, that you are ready and willing for those things. And so I wanted something that seemed really easy, an easy way to teach kids that their dreams are very, very valid, that big dreams they never get too big, and to make those big dreams come true, fill in all the details you find. Get them, fill them with what you can imagine. How these dreams come true. What about this book. It is depicted by an amazing painter, Chernal Pinkney Barlow, an incredibly talented black woman who came to the rescue and created a beautiful, almost water-colored artwork for both parents and children. It will be friendly and encourages positivity while sleeping.
Starting the album with a song like “What the World”, that tradition honors Tihya brilliantly with its huge scope and the combination of soul, polyridum and electronics. Can you tell me a little bit about your vision for the instrument of the album?
I think it’s because of the extensive music in my life. Electronics came from my love of urethmics. They were consistently using electronic words. Poly-tal probably came to me from a conventional Nigerian background. In “Tears”, there is a voice that comes at the end that is very reminiscent of conventional Igbo music. R&B is the root of a lot of music I’ve been listening to, but my mom had a passion for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. There isn’t a song on the album that sounds very country, but it’s a familiar sound to me … there are some places where I’m using the top edge of my voice, and it feels airy and floating. It’s a call where I’ve been constantly listening to Kate Bush. And then obviously I’ve been listening to Aretha for a long time, not just when I was playing her, but in my lifetime.
Is your connection to music related to your childhood?
My mother used to sing day and night. She had such an eclectic taste, so she just gave it to me. She was a lover of reggae, especially Bob Marley, and the artist’s name was Lucky Dub. He also liked Aretha and Diana Ross, and a band called Bonnie M and then this radio station in our London called Magic FM, from Mike and Mechanics to Aerosmith, Aretha, Patty Label, Adele, Amy Winehouse, Mary J. Blizz, George Michael, Peter Gabriel – Everything. This is what I was constantly fed and the root of my love for music that was my whole life.
What did you think you wanted to talk about when you started the album?
It seemed to be a piece of three movements: the earth, love, and home. I talk about the world and the people outside of myself, I talk about the love that I have felt; Heart broken, emotion; And then about family and personal. I knew I wanted to share songs that seemed very connected to me. The goal all the time was to make sure that all the songs written were close enough to me so that people could learn something new.
Does acting create a feeling of wanting to express more about yourself elsewhere? Do you think you would have had the same instinct if you hadn’t made this career on Broadway?
I know what I used to write would still be honest, but I don’t know if it was this collection of songs. I’ve loved working this way before, but the last few years have really been a place for myself to be here at the moment, to be able to express who I am and to take the time to remind and reflect on what happened.
Whose expectations do you think are heavy, movie viewers or music listeners?
For me, those audiences are starting to come together. Some viewers who see me in film and TV now realize that I sing. It’s always a really fun discovery – like, “Oh my God, this guy is a real singer.” And then there are people who only know me as a singer and who are starting to recognize that this is the work I’m doing on television and on screen. I can see how many times people ask me if I really sang as Aretha. I want, “Yes, I was. That’s my voice.” [laughs]
I think it’s a weird kind of compliment!
Oh, that’s definitely a compliment. There are some people who don’t do it [music-based] Project Sometimes you have people who are singing and then the actors will mime in the voice. But I was doing everything. I love that. This is a beautiful compliment.
As a title, not only does it make sense to start saying “f. 1 vs. 1”, but it also suggests continuity, a connection to what comes next. There’s an indication that another chapter and verse is coming Looking as an extension, as another chapter?
I don’t know if it will be called “Chapter 2”, but it could be very good. We can jump some chapters or I may have multiple chapters in the album. But I like the idea of being able to start right at the beginning. It gives me a place to grow and move forward and it invites people to ride with me.