Alex Boyé puts on a memorable show
Colonia, Yap. It didn’t take long before the children joined Alex Boyé and began imitating his moves as he danced and slid, sang and teased the crowd at the Matson Yap Sports Complex to the beat of his African-infused songs. The flash of his gold high top sneakers encouraged even the shyest among them to join the joyful performance while their parents and families laughed, swayed and clapped from the bleachers.
The closing ceremony of the 2018 Micro Games had ended after two weeks of sports competitions. It was time to celebrate and celebrate they did.
But life was not always as jubilant and full of promise as it is now for this 48-year-old singing sensation who rose to fame with his music videos that have garnered nearly one billion views on YouTube.
Born to a Nigerian mother who moved to London alone while pregnant with Alex, they lived in the tough neighborhood of Tottenham while she worked for the underground cleaning the tracks. When Alex was 11, his mother went back to Nigeria and left her young son behind for the next eight years. During that time, he lived in foster care and with a relative who got the young boy admitted into a private school that “was like Harry Potter but without the magic,” Alex laughs. It was that turning point that he credits with giving him an insight into what could be a positive alternative to the harsh life he had experienced up until then. At the age of 16, another turning point occurred when he joined the Church of Latter Day Saints. The church gave him the opportunity to perform in public for the first time.
From that humble beginning, Alex became a backup dancer for George Michael and other popular acts; formed and sang lead in the successful European boy band Awesome that appeared with many famous performers including Bryan Adams, Simon and Garfunkel, MC Hammer; and was signed with the band to a recording contract with Universal Records of Europe. But in 1999 he made the decision to step away from the rock lifestyle and go solo. The record company took away the apartment, clothes, phone and money they had given him.
Living on the street for a time, one night he grabbed a half-eaten hamburger that had been tossed into a garbage container near the historic Royal Albert Hall Theatre. Looking up, he said out loud, “I’m going to perform there one day.” He etched his initials into the metal container. Several years later, in March 2013, he was the opening act on that historic stage for Olivia Newton John. His initials can still be seen on that trash container, a reminder of how far he has come.
Since moving to Salt Lake City, Utah in 1999 where he became an American citizen and met his wife, this father of six has continued to build his international career, adding acting in the theater and films to his success as a singer and dancer, and sharing the stage with famous musicians including Jay-Z, Tim McGraw, Missy Elliott, Justin Timberlake and The Beach Boys. A new album is now in the making with Randy Jackson from American Idol fame.
In 2015, he appeared on America’s Got Talent to great acclaim. Now, Alex Boyé is headed to Broadway where he will take over the lead role in the hit musical Hamilton about the life and influence of America’s founding father Alexander Hamilton. The role seems fitting since Hamilton also came from a difficult and harsh background.
But first Alex wanted to come to Yap when he heard about the Micro Games.
The regional LDS church’s volunteer organization, Helping Hands, had been involved with the International Olympics in Seoul as host of a welcome center for visitors. When Yoon Hwan Choi, Asia North America president of the Mormon Church, heard about the Micro Games and their need for volunteers, he immediately offered to send members of Helping Hands to Yap to provide much needed support. IT and media experts arrived a few weeks prior to the event and pitched in, providing assistance with live streaming, videotaping, photography and equipment. The local congregation also stepped up and helped clear out and pack up the school furniture at Yap High School for storage during the Games before the campus was turned into the Athletes Village for nearly 1,000 athletes and their coaches.
When asked if he would like to perform during the Micro Games, Alex immediately said yes. He was eager to visit Yap, a place he knew nothing about.
During the opening ceremony on July 15th, the organizers of the 2018 Micro Games ended the ceremony with a rare fireworks display. Nearly two weeks later on Friday evening, July 27th, the appearance of Alex Boyé at the end of the Closing Ceremony was no less explosive.
The people of Yap and visitors from the nine other islands that participated in the two-week-long event were filled with joy as Alex strode into the massive gymnasium and entertained them with his high-spirited performance of celebration surrounded by a group of local children who danced as he sang his powerful songs. His trademark song, Lemonade, extols, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” After cheering on the athletes who participated in the Micro Games as they experienced both triumph and defeat, his message of choosing the positive over the negative followed everyone home with memories that will last a lifetime.
One of Alex’s distinctive trademarks is six white dots arching above his left eyebrow and a white horizontal teardrop under his right eye. When asked about the symbolism, he explained that during the time of the slave trade in Africa, families were torn apart. Children, mothers and fathers were captured and sent to different places, never to see each other again. The mothers marked their children with indelible scars that denoted their lineage, family and place of origin. They became a permanent means of recognition should they ever find their way back to their families. His own mother knew how to “read” the scars borne by the people of Nigeria. Today, Alex honors his African ancestors with his own form of this vital imagery, much as he marked his initials indelibly on a metal container on a London street corner many years ago.