At 18 years of age, many of us had no clue what we wanted to do with our lives professionally; but that’s not the case with Akhanni Drakes. He is a teenager settled on the path he wants to take, and has already begun making strides towards his ultimate goal of becoming a recitalist.
One could reasonably expect to see him at choir practice, funerals, and on Sunday mornings at the rural St Andrew’s Parish Church, where he has been organist since February, 2014.
This product of West Terrace Primary and St Leonard’s Boys’ School seems to have always had an affinity with singing, but he was drawn to the organ in quite an unorthodox fashion –– by “looking back” at the musical instrument in a church, and a mother’s insight.
Somewhat of a loner, Akhanni has always had a love for singing and listening to music, but never saw himself wanting to be a musician; even though music was his favourite subject at school.
Naturally, after entering St Leonard’s Boys’, he began singing soprano with the school group before moving to alto; and is now about to start singing bass. But it was while at a church service at Calvary Moravian Church that he first experienced a connection with the musical instrument.
Akhanni recounted that his group was invited to a church service by Andrew Allman, who is also the accompanist to the St Leonard’s Boys’ Choir. He reached the church early and was sitting alone when “a mind told me to look back, and I looked back and saw the organ. And I thought that looked kind of creepy; like something from a horror movie”, he said.
But when the choir moved to the balcony to render the last hymn And Can It Be, Akhanni saw “all the different things [Allman] was doing, and all the keys moving, and I was just like, ‘Wow! I want to learn how to play this’,” he recalled.
But even then, Akhanni had no idea how that would come about. It was while he was away on a tour to England with the choir that his mother Jacqueline thought she would surprise him with a keyboard for his 13th birthday.
Akhanni came home to a brand new instrument wrapped in a red bow and his mother’s wishes for a good birthday. That was the defining moment.
“Nobody taught him in the beginning. From the next day he got up and began picking at the keyboard,” his mother recalled.
“I believe the keyboard had a great influence on me, because were it not for that keyboard, I would not be where I am now,” the Sugar Hill, St Joseph resident says. Although a far cry from his childhood dream of being the a police officer or firefighter, Akhanni has no regrets.
Akhanni recalled that when he first saw the keyboard on his return from England, sleep was on his mind because he was very tired. But by the next day though, he was all excited over it.
He also realized that playing the musical instrument had actually brought him closer to God, the young Christian remarked. That faith also helped him to face the challenge of dyslexia in his younger years.
When Akhanni is not at home playing the organ, he is watching comedies or action films, or spending time with his pit bulls Dexter and Sarah “that don’t fight”.
At other times, his mother has to beg him to “lower the volume on the radio” when his singalong becomes “too much” for her. She describes her son though as shy, quiet, always pleasant, and never getting into trouble.
Leroy Drakes is his biological father, but after his parents broke up while he was still a baby, Roger Greaves, or “Dad”, became the one who would take Akhanni “all over the country when he went to look at animals”, and whom the musician credits for his love of the creatures.
Asked what music does to or for him, Akhanni quickly replied: “I can’t explain the feeling!”
But after some contemplation, the reserved teen added: “Calmness, peace, excitement. Depending on what it is, it can be soothing or make me feel as though I want to listen to more.”
The next step for Akhanni is to complete the music programme at the Barbados Community College, and later further his music studies overseas.