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October 2, 2006

Review - Sweet Honey inspires crowd with song

Kalamazoo Gazette (MI):

Sweet Honey in the Rock filled Chenery Auditorium with great joy on Friday night, which, for a lot of other singing groups, would have been enough, a job well done. But the group's a capella tones were also colored with anger, pain and frustration as members delved into a kaleidoscope of issues not normally addressed by musical groups. Even the group's most commercial song, an uptempo version of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song'' that was gilded with fluttering harmonies, was a protest number, perhaps the definitive piece among freedom songs.

The women singers let it be known that they cared about their planet, cared about their souls, cared about the tears of the world and wanted to embrace anyone who, for whatever tragic reasons in their lives, didn't care about themselves. The Links, a local, 31-member organization of black women, have a right to be proud for bringing this Grammy Award-winning group with the big voices and even bigger words to Kalamazoo.

If the group could be faulted at all, it would have nothing to do with its music, which had precise rhythm, harmony, tempo and dynamics, and more to do with the amount of talk offered to the audience in the form of song introductions. Each of the group's six members (one member, Arnae, was not present) functioned as an ambassador for the group and was comfortable in talking to the audience at length about the history of the songs that were sung.

Subjects included taking care of the environment, looking back on one's family foundation and using that to move forward, viewing all children as one's own, and helping children understand the commonality of people -- that we are one. Sweet Honey appeared to be preaching to the choir here in Kalamazoo, a throng of about 1,300 people who seemed eager to hear the group's liberal lyrics and talk. When the group sang their original, "We Who Believe In Freedom,'' member Carol Maillard urged the audience to sing along. "We want you to rock this song out because those people who DON'T believe in freedom for all are working 24/7!'' she said.

Sweet Honey sang two one-hour sets and offered a 30-minute intermission. Group members dressed in black for the first half of the show, then returned in a variety of colorful, tie-dye fashions in the second half. Their vocal material ranged from African songs and gospel to jazz and rap.

The group was at its best singing gospel like "Precious Memories.'' One song, "Greed,'' a highlight of the show, bordered on being a humorous sermonette. Yet the group also offered stunning moments with "I Like It That Way,'' a jazz tune made for kids, and "Prayer at the Crossroads,'' a rap number about drug addiction. Group member Aisha Kahlil, who wrote the song about someone she loved who succumbed to addiction, contorted her body, turned her face into a mask of anguish, shook and shuddered as she sang this song of sorrow.

If the best musicians are those who can tell a story through their music, she must be one of them. Yet, in the spirit of Sweet Honey, such a performance was merely a link in the chain of the potential talent in all of us that, given the opportunity to bloom, can carry all of us forward.

Posted by acapnews at October 2, 2006 10:24 PM