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June 20, 2010

Unexpected Harmony

New York Times

Over the last few months the four Filipino-American R&B singers from the San Francisco Bay Area known as Legaci have appeared on some of the biggest stages of American pop. There they were, belting perfect four-part harmony on “Saturday Night Live,” finger-snapping and line-dancing like the Temptations on “The View,” “Ellen” and “Today,” and crooning to a hysterical, sold-out crowd of 15,000 at the annual KIIS-FM Wango Tango blowout in Los Angeles. (They took the stage just after Kesha and Adam Lambert, just before Ludacris and Usher.)

If you’ve never heard of them, chances are you have heard of their boss, the teenage pop heartthrob Justin Bieber. Legaci’s members are his backup singers, which means that their camera time comes in blink-and-you’ll-miss-them flashes. Onstage they live between bursts of spotlight and the shadows of their perch at stage right.

They just might be the most visible yet invisible pop figures in the world.

Before joining Mr. Bieber’s touring group, they were rising stars on YouTube, now a crucial launching pad for Asian-American artists seeking the kind of exposure rarely afforded them by the mainstream recording industry. In 2007, Legaci began posting videos of itself doing mostly a cappella covers of Top 40 pop and R&B hits in the living rooms of its members (or of their parents).

The group has covered a few Boyz II Men classics, slowed Jason Derulo’s sparkling hit “Whatcha Say” into a plaintive, heart-melting ballad, and when it took on Iyaz’s “Replay,” Mr. Tolentino recreated its rhythms and studio effects using old-school hip-hop beat-box vocal techniques.

But it was Legaci’s version of “Baby,” the ubiquitous spring smash by Mr. Bieber, that changed everything. Joined by Ms. Nguyen and the rapper Traphik (another YouTube mainstay), the group stripped “Baby” of its slick production and re-arranged it into a passionate slice of pop.

The video was barely up for one day when the group received a call from Scooter Braun, Mr. Bieber’s manager, who just three years ago had discovered Mr. Bieber in much the same way, watching him perform his own cover versions on YouTube. Mr. Braun was so impressed with Legaci’s take on the song that he invited the group to join Mr. Bieber.

“I absolutely loved what I saw,” Mr. Braun said by phone from the Bahamas, where Mr. Bieber and Legaci were rehearsing for a summer tour. “I really wanted someone to be in the band who was from YouTube, so that Justin could give something back to the community that gave so much to him.”

Only a week after receiving the call Legaci flew to New York for rehearsals and then joined Mr. Bieber live on MTV and on New York’s top pop radio station Z100. The group has been pleasantly surprised by just how much it has been embraced by Mr. Bieber’s fans, many of whom now follow Legaci on Twitter and subscribe to its YouTube channel. The connection is not lost on Mr. Braun, who is working with Legaci on a record deal.

“The amount of exposure they get on the road with Justin is more exposure than they’d ever get working a single with a major label,” he said.
Read lots more here.

Wow! This was the lead article in the Sunday New York Times Arts & Leisure section and is very extensive. It's great to see a vocal group persevering and sure enough comes a bolt out of the blue and they suddenly are touring with the hottest group in the land! There has been a strong tradition of Filipino vocal groups here in the Bay Area such as Kai and Pinay who often perform a cappella and who have entered the Harmony Sweeps. Keep posting those YouTube clips and congratulations to Legaci for breaking into the big time.

Posted by acapnews at June 20, 2010 10:03 PM

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