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April 23, 2005

One show is never like the next

Quad-City Times (IA):

SoVoSó, the visiting artist performing through Quad-City Arts this week and next, owes its beginnings to jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin. But for Sunshine Becker, the youngest member of the group, there’s some Grateful Dead involved as well. SoVoSó — somewhat of an acronym of “From the Soul to the Voice to the Song” — is primarily an a capella band that combines jazz with world music, gospel and R&B. Two of its founding members were part of Voicestra, a group started by McFerrin.

When McFerrin decided to focus his energy on being a symphony conductor in his native Twin Cities, Voicestra members David Worm and Joey Blake spun off into the San Francisco Bay area-based SoVoSó in 1994, keeping McFerrin’s style alive in new surroundings. Its improvisational style was a draw for Becker, but McFerrin wasn’t her only influence. “To me, being able to improvise is why I saw over 60 Dead shows,” Becker said. “Every time I would see the Grateful Dead, I would never see the same show, and I was delivered the same exact musical message that I was supposed to get that night.”

Just like her jam-band idols, the 32-year-old Becker and the other four members of SoVoSó play it by ear. The set list is different for every show, and conceived shortly before the quintet walks out on stage. Although its repertoire includes familiar songs such as “People Get Ready” and “Stand By Me,” much of it is improvisation.

For Becker and the rest of the group, it’s like walking a musical tightrope. “It’s sort of a blessing and a curse to be an improviser,” she said. “You get to experience the magic when really good and amazing musical things happen, and at the same time you take a risk not knowing what’s going to happen next. “We’ve had to built up a tremendous amount of trust to improvise this well. That’s one thing I can tell you for sure about improvising: I know my band will stick with me and an idea no matter what happens. If I need to be rescued, they will rescue me. If I need to be supported, they’ll do that, and vice versa.”

SoVoSó has recorded four albums, and a fifth is being recorded while they’re spending two weeks in the Quad-Cities. An album, tentatively called “Then and Now,” is rerecordings of past SoVoSó songs, as well as newly written pieces by the fivesome. It’s being recorded in one of the members’ hotel room while in the Quad-Cities, Becker said. One of SoVoSó’s trademarks is its “circle songs,” where any number of performers stand in a ring and begin the background of a song, vocal part by part. Someone moves to the center of the circle and improvises a lead part. Becker said the technique has been successful with everyone from grade schoolers to college students. “We get to make music together on the spot,” she said. “It’s a constant morphing, if you will, of songs.”

In its two-week residency with Quad-City Arts, SoVoSó is performing before an estimated 10,000 students, from grade school through college, as well as several varied groups of adults. Becker said she and the rest of the group enjoyed the young audience. “To touch that many people, especially young people — who can decide for themselves whether they’re going to do something positive or something negative with their mouths — that is a huge gift to me, and the rest of the band,” she said. “That is why we do this.” But she did apologize to the moms and dads of the young audience members, who may be overinspired during a SoVoSó show. “I’m sure there are a bunch of kids in the Quad-Cities driving their parents crazy this week, singing bass and snare drums,” she said with a laugh.

Posted by acapnews at April 23, 2005 12:49 AM