Alex Boyé is of Nigerian descent but was born and raised in London, which is immediately apparent in his music. The singer specializes in “Africanized” versions of mainstream pop songs, and he makes a stop at the INB Performing Arts Center on Monday.
Boyé says he developed a love for music at a young age, when his single mother moved back to Nigeria and he was left bouncing around the British foster care system.
“The first foster parents I had were from Jamaica, and they introduced me to Bob Marley and Kool and the Gang,” Boyé said. “My next foster parents were white. It was in a totally different part of England, and I was the only black person there, and the music they listened to was Phil Collins and the Beatles.
“That’s how I kind of developed a love for different styles of music. It only dawned on me four or five years ago; it’s because I grew up in these different places. I look back and I’m glad about that, because I love to putting elements of different cultures into my music.”
Boyé, now based out of Utah, went on to work as a backup dancer and was a member of the British boy band Awesome in the late ’90s. He started recording his own music in the early 2000s, releasing several albums of inspirational music informed by his Mormon faith.
But he admits now that it his mother who had initially suggested that he apply his African roots to the music he was making.
“She had been telling me to do it for years,” Boyé said. “I just kept ignoring her. I’d say, ‘I live in Utah. No one wants to hear African music!’ ”
In 2012, Boyé was contacted by the Piano Guys, a YouTube-based group that specializes in symphonic arrangements of popular songs, to contribute to their African-tinged take on Coldplay’s “Paradise.” The song’s accompanying video quickly amassed millions of views – its current view count is nearing 42 million – and Boyé recalls phoning his mother to tell her about the unexpected viral success.
“And she says, ‘You stupid boy! I told you this 20 years ago, and you wouldn’t listen to me!’ ” he said. “So the moral of that story is, of course, listen to your mother.”
Boyé’s career took off from there: His personal YouTube channel boasts more than 457,000 subscribers and features his covers of such hits as Lorde’s “Royals,” Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” Pharrell’s “Happy” and the “Frozen” tune “Let It Go,” the latter of which has 73 million views.
“It’s a very powerful medium that not many people took seriously for years,” Boyé said. “Now you have these huge companies that will call a YouTube artist and say, ‘Will you develop content with us?’ You know, I saw two YouTube artists on a Colgate commercial the other day. They’re taking what we do very seriously, and it’s very exciting to see where it’s going.”
Following a brief stint on “America’s Got Talent” – he was eliminated in the show’s second round, despite getting positive feedback from the judges – Boyé is now on the road with his own larger-than-life show.
“It’s pop music with an African twist,” Boyé said. “We’ve got a full band, we use a lot of video screens. There’s a lot of percussion and African drums, mixed with certain pop songs that people recognize and some original stuff, too. It’s very high energy. I want people to come away feeling so much better than when they came in.”
Subscribe to the Spokane7 email newsletter
Get the day’s top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.