Shelby Hodges/ The Paisano
On Saturday, Jan. 26, as part ofthe CAB and UCPC collaboration ‘Beat Out the Semester,’ UTSA was graced withthe musical presence of Nelly’s Echo.
Founder, Nelson Emokpae was bornin Nigeria but has lived in Baltimore, Md. for over 16 years. Originally afull-time physical therapist, Emokpae invested in following a path he hadalways known was meant for him.
“I realized I wanted to be aprofessional musician three years ago, but I’ve always had the passion formusic,” Emokpae said. “It was definitely a challenge and a step of faith, butno risk, no reward.”
Nelly’s Echo consists of Emokpaeand his percussionist Mog. However, as their blog states, Nelly’s Echo isneither a band nor a solo project but rather an experience.
“It’s based off the premise that music is a two-way street;it’s give and take,” Emokpae said. “Nelly refers to the musicians—whoever maybe on stage—and Echo refers to the audience’s appreciation of the musician.”
If the name sounds familiar, itmay be because Emokpae, under the Nelly’s Echo name, was a competitor on thethird season of NBC’s reality talent show “The Voice.” Emokpae grabbed theattention of both Christina Aguilera and Adam Levine with his performance ofBill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine.” Thus, Emokpae caught the country’s attentionin an audition that seemed to be set up by fate.
“A friend of mine who used tobook shows for me in Baltimore called me up and said ‘Hey they’re havingauditions for ‘The Voice’,” Emokpae said, “I was actually on tour then, and Isaid, ‘You know what? I’m busy right now on tour, and I cannot go, but it sohappened that the two days I was off from my tour were the two days they wereholding auditions in New York, so, I auditioned and the rest is history.”
Based on the decision that hewould choose whoever turned his or her chair first, Emokpae joined Aguilera’steam with the belief the artist’s vocal prowess would take him to “the nextlevel.”
Emokpae went on to “The Battles,”where he faced off with fellow contestant and team member De’Borah Garner intheir cover of “Message in a Bottle” by “The Police.” The performance wasEmokpae’s last on the show due to Aguilera’s decision to move Garner on to thenext round.
“It wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but it was a learningexperience for me as a musician, as a singer, as a professional to be graciousin defeat because I’ve had a lot of victories in my life,” Emokpae said. “Itwas definitely character-building.”
Despite the undesirable outcome,Emokpae worked with some of the biggest names in the industry, an opportunitynot many receive and one he has not taken for granted.
“They were all very respectful,helpful and gave constructive feedback,” Emokpae said. “It was an amazingexperience to get validation and feedback from my idols and peers.”
With a humble heart and thebenefits of TV exposure, Emokpae continued doing what he does best—playingshows and producing music—until the launch of his “I Love You” tour in Januaryand is only a continuation of the coffeehouse-style career path Emokpae want apath where the connection to his music, his fans and his faith are mostimportant. The Nelly’s Echo tour has expanded to performances for studentsacross hundreds of universities including UTSA.
“I had seen him when he came to campuslike a year or two ago, and he was really good then. I bought his CD andeverything,” UTSA student and fan Joshual Robinson said. “I really enjoyed himbecause he encourages them [audience] to talk to him and that’s why everybodyenjoys themselves so much, because he gets them involved in it. He’s reallycool.”
While gaining the instantfeedback and gratification of connecting with the audience (which is Emokpae’sfavorite part of performing) he also offers advice to aspiring musicians.
“If you’re starting off as amusician, I would say develop a passion for what you do because in this business,some days you’ll feel like it and some days you won’t, and the only thing thatwill keep you going is that passion for what you do,” Emokpae said.
“Once you’ve gotten past that andyou want to become a professional musician, there’s two things I would suggestin developing your character: persistence and discipline.”
With the passion and dedicationthe musicians of Nelly’s Echo hold, the name can be expected to inspiremusicians and connect with listeners everywhere.