November 30, 2005
Raagapella wins title
Stanford Daily (CA):
Tacked to the wall of senior Sanjay Kairam’s room in Durand House is a black shirt proclaiming, “I directed the National Champion South Asian A Cappella group, and all I got was this lousy t-shirt.” On Nov. 5, under Kairam’s direction, Raagapella — Stanford’s only South Asian a cappella group — won Anahat, the second national South Asian A Cappella Championship.
Raagapella was founded in 2002 by Bobby Ghosh, Class of 2005, senior Jay Pandit, senior Sudeep Roy and co-terminal student Mehul Trivedi for just one performance. It rapidly became something far bigger in scope. The group presents a fusion of Western and South Asian music. At the competition earlier this month, it performed three songs — “Vande Mataram,” a patriotic salute to motherhood, “Meri Jaan,” a fusion hip-hop piece and a mix of the Hindi song “Chak De” and the Maroon Five pop hit “This Love.”
Those three songs buoyed the group to victory over its five competitors. Despite its small size, the contest has become much more competitive over the last few years as South Asian a cappella experienced a boom. “It’s great to see how these groups have developed across the country in the past few years and spread awareness of and appreciation for South Asian culture,” said Sunil Parekh, a sophomore.
Winning isn’t too bad either. “We’ve been saying national champions in a semi-ironic way,” Kairam said. But the Raagapella men did take top honors. One of their high points was beating two teams they had lost to last year. Their enthusiasm was shared by the audience, which filled UC-Berkeley’s Julian Morgan Center. “It’s been really rewarding for us to watch this sort of pet project become something so much larger,” said Trivedi, the longest-standing member of the current group, which consists of mostly new students and — for the first time — non-South Asian singers.
For Raagapella members, the win at Berkeley does not bring an end to their hard work. Kairam referred to it as merely “a good note on which to start the year.” With the group’s first album, “Raags to Riches,” a compilation of most of Raagapella’s pieces from the last several years — including the three that won them top honors at Anahat — in the final stages of production, group members look forward to the rest of the year. The group’s success comes on the heels of the Basmati Raas dance team’s national title and the competitive emergence of the Hindi Film Dance, helping to make South Asian performance as popular on Stanford’s campus as it is nationally.
Review - Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir
'Baltic Voices 3'
The only downside of this invigorating, spirit-rustling CD from Paul Hillier and the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir is that it's apparently the final entry in a series of distinctive, soul-bracing new music.
The first track, Vaclovas Augustinas' agile "The Stomping Bride," sets the tone for the frequently percussive modernity of much of this CD. Reminiscent of composer John Adams' clustering alto-tenor chimes under soaring sopranos (as in his "Harmonium"), this setting of a Lithuanian folksong is a perfect early-holidays jaunt.
And the comfort of that work helps ease the unnerving grace of wavering-vibrato lines in Kaija Saariaho's "Nights, farewells." This signal work leads you into the bravest abstractions of the CD. Menacing and imploring, the opening lyrics seize the stage: "In the air / light tears itself / from the ground / into darkness." In polyphonic moan and sigh, the ensemble ushers in the final sequence, icy with Balzac's elegiac adieu, "Granite, farewell, a flower you shall become."
By album's end, you're left on the slow walk of Henryk Gorecki's "5 Kurplan Songs," a relentless picture of gathering hope amid impending darkness: "There, the sycamore will shelter me / there, the storm will pass me by."
November 29, 2005
New Release from Vox One
After a seven year hiatus the legendary vocal jazz group Vox One has reunited and spent the summer in the studio recording an a cappella album of all new material. Certainly considered to be one of the most talented and creative vocal jazz groups ever, Vox One's previous recording are considered classics. The new recording "Pure Imagination" takes their music to new heights and will satisfy the most discerning of listeners. With 16 tracks and almost an hour of music the recording is a musical journey of superbly arranged songs interspersed with some amazing vocal improvisations and holds one's attention from beginning to end.
Primarily A Cappella is proud to have been part of this project and are very happy that the group chose to sign with our record label. We have always been big fans of theirs and look forward to further working with the group, as we will be putting in a lot of effort to help promote this recording. The CD is now available exclusively thru Primarily A Cappella and will be for sale at the group's upcoming record release party this Friday, December the 2nd at Arlington's Regent Theater. Those of you in the Boston area should treat yourself to a great evening of top-notch a cappella singing by attending the show and further information is available here
Listen to the title track "Pure Imagination" in Real Audio
November 28, 2005
Fairfield Four's Wilson Waters Jr. dies.
Wilson "Lit" Waters Jr., an integral member of Grammy-winning gospel vocal group The Fairfield Four, died Thursday at his home in Nashville. He was 74 and had been diagnosed with cancer. Mr. Waters joined the Four in 1982, and his emotional second tenor vocals helped the group find mainstream recognition.
During Mr. Waters' tenure, The Fairfield Four won two Grammy awards, recorded four albums, made vocal contributions to critically hailed albums by Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, the Del McCoury Band, Kevin Welch, John Fogerty, Colin Linden and others, and were part of the movie and soundtrack O Brother, Where Art Thou?. In the movie Mr. Waters appears near the end of the film, digging a grave and singing the mournful Lonesome Valley.
"You hear Lit in that scene, and his vocal power is just striking," said Linden, a Nashville-based musician who recorded and toured with the Four. "The Fairfield Four brought a different sort of musicality, and Lit was right in the center. You always got a sense that he was one of the real anchors of the group. "He didn't step out that often as a lead voice, but once in a while he would take a verse or part of a verse and he would astound you with his power," Linden continued. "It was something that he kept in his back pocket."
Mr. Waters was not a part of the original Fairfield Four. Named for the church its members attended, Fairfield Baptist Church on Fain Street, the group was founded in the early 1920s, before Mr. Waters was born, but he joined former and future Fairfield Four members James Hill and Isaac Freeman in the gospel group The Skylarks, an act that released several extraordinary records on the Nashboro label. The Four reunited in 1980 after a long hiatus, and Mr. Waters joined the group in 1982.
In October of 1989, The Fairfield Four was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, and in the 1990s the group extended its popularity beyond the traditional gospel field, drawing notice in pop, rock and country circles. Dressed in "Tennessee Tuxedos" — black jackets, bow ties, white dress shirts and denim bib overalls — the Four performed a cappella, allowing each member's voice to be heard to full effect. In February 1998, Mr. Waters collected his first Grammy, as the Four's I Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray was named best traditional soul gospel album. A second Grammy followed in 2002, for contributions to the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Mr. Waters is survived by sons Ronnie, Johnnie, Tommy and Timothy Waters and by daughter Julie Helms.
November 24, 2005
A Special Christmas Blessing for Branson
Branson Courier (MO):
At the outset an Ole Seagull must admit that he can’t read a note of music and doesn’t know a “beet” from a “beat,” but even he knew that he was listening to something special as he listened to the Gatlin Brothers and Lennon Sisters present their Christmas Show at the Welk Theatre in Branson, Missouri on the afternoon of Nov. 19. On their own, each group has that unique special blend of natural singing ability and harmony that God blesses very few families with. But when the two groups combine to present the Christmas portion of the show that blessing is multiplied exponentially, creating a synergy and spirit that fills ones heart with the true meaning of Christmas even as they realize that they are participating in a very special entertainment experience.
The first half of the show features the Gatlin Brothers, Larry, Steve, and Rudy “on doing all the hits they are famous for, “Houston,” “She’s a Broken Lady,” “All the Gold in California” as only they can do them with Larry and Steve providing just the right amount of comedic and audience interaction. How does “Boogers and Snot” fit into the great scheme of life, well wonder no more because Larry and, through video, his granddaughter, Parker, will make it all clear.
Ever since a 15 year old boy came in from hunting and walked through the door of his uncles house in 1956 and saw the Lennon Sisters for the first time and realized that there was more to life than hunting and fishing he has been a Lennon Sisters fan. That is mentioned simply because, as they sang their portion of the first half, that boy, who is now 64 years old and back to fishing, took a few pictures and simply, for the most part, sat there mesmerized by the beautiful elegance of their music and harmony rather than writing down what it was they were singing. One highlight, from a performance filled with “highlights,” would be their beautiful rendition of “Somewhere” from the musical “Westside Story.”
The Christmas portion covers the entire second half of the show and, let there be no doubt about it, although “Happy Holidays” might be the theme at Walmart, in this show there is no doubt that the holiday being celebrated is Christmas. From the opening number to the grand finale, it is one traditional Christmas favorite after another with a couple of surprises thrown in. The Gatlin’s rendition of the “The 12 Days of Christmas” is a real crowd pleaser and adds the Gatlin’s own special meaning to the phrase “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
The main highlight was when the Lennon Sisters and the Gatlins sang a medley of Christmas carols accompanied only by Steve Smith and Mike Cathcart on the guitar. The blending of their voices and harmonies with the beautiful guitar playing of Steve and Mike results in a simple elegant expression of the Christmas spirit. Or was it the Lennon Sisters rendition “Ave Maria,” or the number where two of Janet’s “angel” grand daughters, Lia, 6, and Ana 4, stood watch over the baby Jesus as their grandmother and her sisters sang His praises. Maybe it was the combined voices and the power and conviction of the grand finale.
Whatever the highlight might be, the Gatlin Brothers and Lennon Sisters Christmas Show is not only a poignant musical definition of the true meaning of Christmas it is a unique one of a kind opportunity to experience the synergy of two of America’s favorite singing groups as they join their voices and harmonies together in a beautiful, powerful, and moving musical experience that is without parallel. These folks need to make an album of inspirational songs together!
Thru December 10.
November 22, 2005
Pilgrim a cappella
Old Colony Memorial (MA):
For The Nonce is a sound for the ages in the 17th century. And as late November nears, the quintet of Pilgrim singers carry a song of the season as well. Sarah Cole, Dan Cuetara, Sara Mahoney, Shelley Otis and Mike Weber bring the 1600s to life as Colonial interpreters at Plimoth Plantation by day. When the work is done, they continue their immersion in evening song.
Last year, the five friends and co-workers joined forces and created a singing group that specializes in the music of the Pilgrims settlers. Stuck for a name, they settled on the working title of For The Nonce, old English phrase meaning just for now. The name endures along with the old English focus. "We thought about The Village People because we always work in the (1627) village, but it was already taken," Cuetara said. "We couldn't quite reconcile ourselves to it either," Mahoney said.
For The Nonce has a distinctly different sound from the disco of the 1970s. The group blend in five-part harmony, wrapping their voices around songs common folk would have enjoyed in the 1500s and 1600s. The group found inspiration in the material provided by the plantation for their roles as interpreters. Their private research in the plantation's library developed dozens of songs that commoners like the Pilgrims would have known and possibly even sung in the original settlement here.
The group dresses in Pilgrim finery. The men wear doublets, breeches and hats. The women wear smocks, waistcoats, petticoats and metal corsets called stays. The ladies cover their heads with white linen coifs as well. The group is one of three affiliated with the plantation that sings at dinners and receptions. For The Nonce is distinctive in two ways. They are the newest of the groups and they focus almost exclusively on the music of the common man, singing songs that would have been played at weddings, fairs and festivals of the day. "Because that's what the people of Plimoth Plantation were, just common Joes," Mahoney said.
The singers share loves of history and music. Cole sings mezzosoprano. Cuetara sings tenor/baritone. Mahoney sings soprano. Otis sings alto. And Weber sings bass. Cole brought the voices together last year, after Otis returned from a sabbatical. The two women may have the most classical training. Cole has been studying music for five years. "It's different from 17th century, but it's English and dance music," he said.
The group limits selections to songs that would have been available in 1627. The earliest, "Oh, My Heart," is attributed to King Henry VIII in the early 16th century. Cuetara is openly skeptical of the king's involvement, wondering how a man who killed two wives could write a song to lost love. "Buddy, get a clue," If you'd just stop killing your wives," Cuetara tells audiences.
The group has mastered harmony, taking on everything from the psalms to a 17th century birthday greeting. Long before the familiar Happy Birthday song was written, singers celebrated birthdays with rhyming verse for youngsters and more mature lyrics for adults. At a recent dinner, For The Nonce welcomed a girl into her teens with the 17th century tune called "Shoot False Love."
The group practice daily in the 1627 village and perform for special audiences. They are available for private functions. They played a mock wedding at the plantation last spring but have yet to land a gig for the real thing. They are about to go international. The group is scheduled to sing Saturday in America's Hometown Thanksgiving Celebration Parade. The group will be shuttled to the waterfront from their jobs at the plantation to sing a few songs for the parade's opening ceremonies. The show will be broadcast to soldiers overseas in Iraq. "They're just an incredible talent. They give an Old World feel," plantation spokesman Jennifer Monac said.
November 21, 2005
Choir of angels heads for film fame
The Sunday Times (UK):
They are prettier than the blokes in The Full Monty, more talented than Billy Elliot and have groovier tunes than Brassed Off. Now the story of the Cantamus girls’ choir from Mansfield in Nottinghamshire looks set to become the next cinema blockbuster in which working-class grit meets the arts. Peter Flannery, who wrote the 1996 television series Our Friends in the North, wants to turn the story of the 43-strong choir of girls aged between 13 and 19 into a film. He said he wanted to portray “the transforming power of art to bring hope and joy to an ailing community”. Led by the indomitable Pamela Cook, with her polite refusal to divulge her age, Cantamus has been going for 37 years, but it is only in its present line-up that its harmonies are becoming famous outside its home town.
Johnnie Walker has raved on his Radio 2 show about the choir’s CD, called Cantamus, released recently by EMI, which includes a version of Coldplay’s Fix You and U2’s I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. “There’s a vogue for choral singing in the charts at the moment,” said Ian Brown, a music consultant, who believes Cantamus’s single — a cover version of Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime by the Korgis, released on December 12 — could be the Christmas No 1.
“There are choirs about that are put together, manufactured,” said Brown. “Cantamus are just real. They’ve been going for years, they’re normal girls. It’s what they do on Friday evenings and Sunday mornings. If they were from Cambridge you might expect it. But Mansfield?” “We’ve experienced a lot of poverty following the decline of coalmining and heavy industry,” said Cook.
Cantamus needs to raise £100,000 to fund a trip to Xiamen in southern China next year to defend its title of gold medal winner in the World Choir Games, which start on July 15. “The girls are very competitive,” said Cook. “They love it. But there’s a lot more than singing. They learn teamwork, discipline and dedication.” “It’s such a supportive network, like a family,” said Victoria Gray, 18, one of the choir members. She intends to pursue a serious career in music and has already won the Nottinghamshire heat of Young Musician of the Year.
Commitment to the choir — two rehearsals a week, singing lessons with volunteer teachers and learning the music by heart — marks out the girls, who all attend local comprehensive schools, from their peers. “When I was younger I used to wish I could go out on Friday nights,” said 18-year-old Sofia Papadopoulos. “But there’s a special bond with the girls in the choir — and there’ll always be time to go down the pub.” “Being in the choir boosts our self-confidence. There are quite a few pregnancies at my school, but none in the choir,” said Nicola Vardy, 15. “You’re still open to drink and drugs,” said Papadopoulos. “But choir teaches you to value yourself. You think, ‘I don’t have to do that, I’ve got something else’.”
“I’d like to write the story of the choir and what it has meant to Mansfield,” said Flannery. “The point of Cantamus is to get away from the deprivation, depression and drugs and do something with your life. It gives them a sense of purpose and a sense of togetherness. “That’s what I’d like to celebrate. I’m waiting to see if they get to China. Will they successfully defend their title? If not, it’s another film anyway: how singing transforms their lives.”
November 19, 2005
Bright Eyes vs. The Bobs
Mountain Express (NC):
Two bands. Worlds apart. One night. Your call.
It's likely no one has ever called Richard Greene, the baby boomer bass in a cappella quartet The Bobs, an "indie love muffin." It's also likely that the Bobs' audience doesn't shower the group with stuffed animals, flowers or panties – items hipster singer/songwriter Conor Oberst, aka Bright Eyes, refers to as "all the normal things." But, then again, Oberst has yet to perform a voice-only rendition of Cream's "White Room" using kazoo-like mouth effects in place of Eric Clapton's emotive guitar. But on Nov. 17, both acts – Bright Eyes and the Bobs – will go head-to-head to win local hearts.
The Bobs are both more hygienic and more forthcoming, though their schedule is somewhat less hectic. "We play 50 to 100 dates a year," Greene points out. "It allows you to have a life." Formed in 1981 (a year after Oberst's birth), the a cappella group was the brainchild of Gunnar Madsen and Matthew Stull, two unemployed Western Union singing-telegram deliverers. A free classified ad soliciting a bass singer turned up Greene.
"We started doing this for a lark," he reveals. "We started out doing open mics." Three years later, the group's first album was released, and that's when they realized their quirky barbershop-quartet style might amount to more than a hobby. It was that year they received a Grammy nomination for their arrangement of "Helter Skelter." This year, the group is touring in support of their new release, Rhapsody in Bob, based around Gershwin's classic "Rhapsody in Blue." Hint: On stage, a pianist plays the keyboard parts while the Bobs work out the rest of the instrumentation with their vocal "chords."
Although both acts have made some substantial career leaps, neither is playing into the hands of the music-industry machine. In fact, the Bobs are seriously not serious. "It wasn't forethought," Greene clarifies. "We found we were unable to take things seriously, and when the audience responded well, we went, 'Huh.'"
In an early number, "Art for Art's Sake," the quartet delightfully skewers New Age avarice: "Truth, beauty and love, I'd like you to meet my guru/ He came from above, he'll send you a mantra if you/ Give, give him your love and all your money/ He'll move to Brazil/ With bucks, bucks in the bank."
It could be argued that Oberst takes himself too seriously. His writing still teeters on the adolescent side of angsty – the dark, heart-on-sleeve stuff associated with shaggy-haired rockers wearing tattered hoodies. Give the boy a clove, already. But he's got the talent to back his mewlings. For a musician only just old enough to rent a vehicle, his material is seamlessly arranged, veering from precious to legitimately soulful just often enough to win him Dylan comparisons.
Not that everyone is ready to jump on that bandwagon. "That whine of his makes it near impossible to listen to his lyrics, which occasionally are profound enough to be scrawled in high school yearbooks," sniffed a San Francisco Weekly critic. Well, maybe the Bobs' lyrical hijinx would be more to that reviewer's liking (the Bay Area gave birth to the quartet, after all). Happily, Asheville music fans have a choice.
Not that anyone's counting, but here's how Bright Eyes and the Bobs measure up:
• The Bobs have released 11 full-length albums in 24 years; Bright Eyes has released seven (depending on how you're counting) in about eight years.
• Oberst has performed with Emmylou Harris, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Nick Zinner and Spoon's Britt Daniel. He was caught on film making out with Winona Ryder. The Bobs have performed with the Oberlin Dance Collective, the Los Angeles Theater Center, the Minnesota Opera New Music Ensemble, the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops, and actor Jason Alexander (Seinfeld's George). They've not kissed Winona. Yet.
• The Bobs have been labeled "the only New Wave a cappella group in history." Oberst has been called "the new Bob Dylan."
• Bright Eyes sings self-important songs about love lost and drugs done (among other heavy topics). The Bobs deliver self-mocking arias about giant robots, hippies, Hindu deities, cowboys, Cincinnati and art. Ideas living on, as it were.
November 18, 2005
Shakira Chooses Hip Young Vocal Ensemble To Open Her New Album
Seraphic Fire, Miami’s professional vocal ensemble, will be featured on the lead track (How Do You Do?) of Shakira’s latest CD, Oral Fixation, Vol. 2, to be released on November 29. Seraphic Fire is the first choral music ensemble to be featured on a hit pop album since 1990 when the Benedictine Monks of Silos were featured on Enigma’s MCMXC.
Founded in 2002 by Artistic Director Patrick Dupré Quigley, Seraphic Fire is named for the angels (the seraph) that surround Yahweh’s throne in a double choir and whose volume is such that it shakes the very foundation of the palace. Their name is derived from the Hebrew word “seraph” which means “to consume with fire.”
Patrick Dupré is the recipient of the 2004 Robert Shaw Conducting Fellowship, given annually by Chorus America, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Warner Brothers to a conductor between the ages of 25 and 40 who shows the potential for a significant professional career. At 26, Mr. Quigley was the youngest person to receive this award.
November 17, 2005
Convinced by Persuasions
Washington Times (DC):
More than 40 years ago in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, a group of 20 or so young men would gather every evening for a few pickup games of basketball. But the real treat came afterward, when the group, loath to leave, would spontaneously break into song. "You've got all those guys just singing," says baritone Jimmy Hayes, who will be performing as part of the a cappella group The Persuasions at the Birchmere Saturday. "And you could hear ... that a few guys were singing in harmony. So I said, why don't you come by my house and have a practice?"
The five basketball players who showed up that day went on to form The Persuasions, taking its name from a passage in the Bible. Four of the five still perform today. (Fifth member Herbert "Toubo" Rhoad died in 1988.) "In the beginning we didn't have a name," Mr. Hayes says. "But one night I was browsing through the Bible and I saw the word 'persuader,' because Christ had to persuade a multitude of peoples.
"At this time, though, groups were all ending in 'ions' -- the Temptations, the Vibrations -- and I thought, 'We're going to have to persuade a multitude of people who think that a cappella music has been around and gone,' so I came up with The Persuasions. And we've been going with that for the last 43 years."
Although gospel music still provides the grounding for the group, over the years The Persuasions have performed music by everyone from the Beatles to Frank Zappa as well as their own compositions. Their newest CD, "Sing U2," showcases the music of the Irish band. Fans include the late Mr. Zappa, who recorded their first album, and director Spike Lee, who showcased their talent in the 1990 television special, "Do It A Cappella."
From the beginning, The Persuasions have relied on Mr. Hayes' unerring musical sense to provide the musical ground for the group's distinctively rich and warm harmonies. "We've never used a pitch pipe," Mr. Hayes says. "Whenever I start to sing, we're going to sing it in that key. We've been doing it for so long it's just a natural thing."
November 12, 2005
In fine Song Company
New Straight Times (Malaysia):
They sang a verse and we remembered the past, they reached the chorus and we re-lived today, they finished the song and we were left with a vision of the future. This was the effect of Australia-based a cappella group The Song Company. Members of the group used their inimitable voices to transport us to a nostalgic past and a timeless future. This ensemble of experienced musicians will be in Kuala Lumpur to perform a wide range of music, from that of the 10th century to the contemporary sounds of today.
"We do not wish for our music to be specific or identified with a particular era of history which is what most European groups do," said its leader Roland Peelman, an internationally-acclaimed artistic director. The group, formed in 1984 and operating as a non-profit organisation, comprises seven professional artistes who have been acknowledged for their commitment to the arts. With the support of the Australia Council and the New South Wales Ministry of the Arts, their projects have involved commissioning and creating new works as well as providing opportunities for artists to work with the ensemble through various support groups.
"Our singers are never afraid to venture into something new and unknown so you’ll always hear something different and surprising in our concerts. That’s why we enjoy working with composers around the world as it opens up new opportunities for us," he said. Their astounding talent will revive memories of the old classics and enjoyment of today’s music. They received excellent reviews after their performances in the US and Europe earlier this year.
Here the group will sing popular music from their new shows. "We don’t have costumes to dress like the subjects we sing about (be they objects, personalities and animals) since the powerful conviction from the music will make the audience believe they are already that subject at that point in time. No amount of production values will ever make up for imagination and that’s why we focus on the performers and their delivery. The rest such as props, lighting and backdrops are left fairly simple. "We also express culture within different kinds of Australian music but our shows shouldn’t be seen as geography or history lessons but to be enjoyed because they’re entertaining and unique."
What makes The Song Company unique is its ability to improvise and adapt to whatever the audience wants to listen to. "A person will read a particular text or song differently from others and we welcome any interpretation or slant they want to give to a particular song. We like to choose songs that allow us to do something creative or silly with them because a good song will always resonate at different levels." The group also selects each song based on its depth and degree of connection with the audience. "Our songs and programmes are thoroughly discussed, researched and very intensively prepared, so although we must like the songs we perform, there must be more to them so that they can convince ourselves, besides our audience," explained Peelman.
The songs are usually about past and current social and political issues but the group was never set up to advocate anything, he said."We use our lyrics and words to reflect and comment on every imaginable topic and are bound to the importance of our lyrics. We want to cover all sorts of issues that affect everyone, rather than conventional songs that target a more selective audience by elaborating more on psychological and philosophical subjects such as nature and love." With 150 concerts annually around Australia, the US, Europe and Asia, Peelman recalls his most memorable experience: "We toured and sang in some remote Aboriginal settlements in Western Australia and had the privilege of singing in Istana Budaya back in 1999 when it was still new!"
This will be the group’s eighth visit to Malaysia. It will also be conducting vocal workshops with the cast of the much anticipated M! The Opera, slated for production next year.
November 11, 2005
New Release: The Bobs - Rhapsody in Bob
From one of the most inventive vocal groups in history, Rhapsody in Bob has both a classic that truly rocks and classic rock. Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue concerto premered in New York in 1924 in a program called "An Experiment in Modern Music" alongside pieces incorporating barnyard calls and a tin can. Gershwin originally called the piece American Rhapsody because it was such a melting pot of varied musical elements. So, what better group of artists to revisit this auspicious beginning than The Bobs, with a killer combination of vocal chops, Grammy-nominated arranging, and an inscrutable sense of humor that makes them impossible to categorize? Tallest Bob Ever Dan Schumacher (formerly of Kickshaw) debuts with The Bobs (replacing tenor Joe Finetti) on this album, which also features brand new recordings of six cover tunes ranging from Kurt Weill to Tom Petty to a new Bobs version of Cream's White Room. We love the Bobs! Listen to "There Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens"
November 10, 2005
Art, politics quicken flow of Sweet Honey
New York Newsday
When the singers of Sweet Honey in the Rock broke out dancing during last year's Carnegie Hall concert, the audience went up in one approving whoop. Choreography that staged - that intentional - was a new touch for the group, founded in 1973 and propelled in large measure by the near iconic force of its leader and founder, Bernice Johnson Reagon. In late 2003, Reagon, the civil rights activist, ethno-musicologist, Smithsonian Institution curator, university professor, National Public Radio producer, and so on, ended her time with the six-woman, Grammy-winning a cappella ensemble. Almost 62 years old then, she had other dreams to follow.
"Bernice gave each person a telephone call at different points from, maybe, December to January before we were to go back on tour," said Carol Maillard, who became artistic director when Reagon left. "She posed the question: 'If you want to go on, that's good. You should. But if you don't, I'll do the business of closing Sweet Honey out.'" Going on? "It was a no-brainer," Maillard said.
"If what people think Bernice created, really exists," said Ysaye Maria Barnwell, who replaced Reagon as administrative director, "if Sweet Honey really is an institution, then it certainly ought to go on."
When Sweet Honey hits Carnegie's stage Saturday night for another annual concert there, the audience will be served up even newer choreography, including a West African step, and music anchored in Sweet Honey's past but hinting at its evolving future. There will be staple field hollers, hymns, protest songs and love ballads but also riffs on Latin rhythms, rap and jazz, genres that have lately infused Sweet Honey's work. As another sign of what's ahead for the group, post-Reagon, Sweet Honey plans to collaborate with neo-soul singer Jill Scott. And for last month's sold-out Marian Anderson Gala Award in Philadelphia, honoring actor-activists Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis (who died earlier this year), Sweet Honey teamed up with protest poet and spoken-word artist Sonia Sanchez. The group aims to do more of that sort of thing, Maillard said, to expand Sweet Honey's audience and help the group stretch artistically.
Twenty-two women have cycled through Sweet Honey over its more than 30 years, each having a say in some aspect of its artistry. "How we make decisions about what to take on stage, that has always been a very collective process for us," said Barnwell, also president of Sweet Honey's board of directors. "There's a new energy now, but people have always come in bringing their own energy."
New York City-bred Barnwell, who, like most of the group, lives in Washington, D.C., joined the group in 1979. Harlemite Maillard, one of the original singers, returned full-time to Sweet Honey 13 years ago after taking several years off from it. The other four singers, Louise Robinson, Aisha Kahlil, Arnaé and Nitanju Bolade Casel, have tenures ranging from 24 to fewer than two years. Shirley Childress Saxton, who translates the singing into American Sign Language, came aboard in 1980.
On some level, the postReagon transition has demanded that the women shore up the group's fan base. The same year that Reagon left, Virginia Giordani, the group's longtime marketing guru, also stepped aside. Carnegie Hall had no real skills in reaching the kinds of mixed audiences - young, old, black, white, surviving off food stamps or with loads of money in the bank - Sweet Honey has tended to attract, Barnwell said. At last year's Carnegie concert, unlike most prior ones, there were some empty seats in the house.
"We're still trying to build back that audience," Barnwell said. Yet, in other cities, new ticket-buyers have shown up after being introduced to Sweet Honey and its history through "Raise Your Voice" - a PBS documentary by MacArthur Foundation genius grant winner, Stanley Nelson - which aired last June.
Sweet Honey is grounded in the black church music. Reagon came to prominence, in part, for her itinerant singing throughout the South during the civil rights movement. The group's titles, recorded on 20 CDs, include "I'm Going to Get My Baby Out of Jail," "In the Mornin' When I Rise," "Stay" and "Movin' On." If ever, the women said, an era begged for Sweet Honey's strain of politics, social commentary and romance set in song, that time is now. "We knew we could continue to do this," Maillard said. "It's never been based on one person. If we didn't have five singers, we did it with four. I've been on stage when there were just three of us. Despite whatever was going on in the world, and in our lives, we have always found a way for Sweet Honey to go on."
November 8, 2005
Yo ho ho! Sea chanteys inspire singers
(PressZoom) - It is easy to sing a sea chantey: Just say: "to me way-hey-hey-YAH," said Lynn Noel, one of the founding members of a group of singers that brings its special brand of maritime history to the MIT Museum each month. "There is an exuberance and enthusiasm in these songs, like the smell of salt on your face," Noel said.
The sea chantey developed to help coordinate the work on a ship, said David Kessler, program assistant in the MIT Sloan School of Management, who co-produced the program with Noel, an Arlington resident. At its heart, the sea chantey is working music, with songs for pumping water from a ship, heaving at a capstan to bring up an anchor and hauling on lines to trim the sails. Hauling chanteys come in two basic types: one for long, slow jobs, called drag chanteys, and one for short, quick jobs called short drag chanteys.
"Traditionally, chanteys were mostly sung a cappella, although sometimes there would be a fiddle or banjo," Kessler said. Noel and Kessler, along with MIT alumni Jeff Keller ( S.B. 1988 ) and Michael Bergman ( Ph.D. 1992 ), brought the chantey sings to MIT and to Boston this summer. Both San Francisco and New York City have monthly sings. New York's is held in the historic South Street Seaport.
With its history of sailing and rowing, Boston was ripe for a monthly sing, Noel and Kessler said. "Boston really deserved to have its own sea music community," said Noel. The group first met at the MIT Sailing Pavilion in July and August. Roughly 30 chantey singers from all over the state sat on the dock, near the water. "There is a degree of authenticity you get when you are right out on the water singing about the water," said Noel.The sings moved to the museum for winter but will likely return to the waterfront when the weather improves.
The MIT singers are open to any song of the sea, said Kessler. "We'll sing any song that's about sailors, ships, fishermen, dockyard workers or waterside neighborhoods. We cover all these under the umbrella 'maritime songs,'" he said. Kessler has been sailing since he was a teenager, but said the songs give him a new appreciation for it. "As I became more interested in boats and larger ships, I became interested in their culture -- chanteys are fun and easy, and help me appreciate boats and sailing as much as sailing itself," he said.
For others, singing the chanteys is an opportunity to bring history alive. "It gives us an opportunity to bring the past into the present," Noel said. Just last week, a group of 100 singers came together to celebrate the bicentennial of the Battle of Trafalgar, the famous 1805 sea battle in which Britain's fleet, commanded by Adm. Horatio Nelson, defeated the French under Napoleon. "It is a form of living history," said Noel.
Although the majority of chanteys at the Boston sing are in English, the songs show up in almost every language in the world. Last month, an MIT graduate student who attended a sing performed a Polish chantey. In the time before motors, "sailing vessels were moved by hand and heart," said Noel. These songs keep that memory alive, celebrating the sea and all the hard work that went into exploring it. "The songs are an experiential education," Noel said. "They have a real context and allow you to travel the world without leaving your chair."
For more information, or to join in, visit here.
Georgian singers put on enchanting performance
Cleveland Plain Dealer (OH):
The ancient and arcane tradition of Georgian liturgical chant would seem to have the makings of a dry concert experience. This was not so Thursday night at the Beck Center, when the Anchiskhati Ensemble thrilled a near-capacity crowd with haunting harmonies and complex counterpoints. The eight men comprise the choir at Anchiskhati Orthodox Church, the oldest in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. Their concert consisted of not only sacred music, but love songs, work songs and traveling songs.
Each of their voices had a distinct character, from high and reedy to deep and warm to piercing and laserlike. They used this disparity to full advantage. Each line of polyphony came through with crystal clarity. At the same time, they achieved a rich blend when one was called for. Much of the music dated from the middle ages, but the harmonies often sounded eerily contemporary. Intricate passages were built on top of pungent drones that buzzed in the ear, then snapped to a stunning unison at the end.
Most of the songs were a cappella, but a few were accompanied by chonguri, a four-stringed fretless lute, and panduri, a three-stringed fretted version of the same. One of the oldest songs of the night, a portion of a pre-Christian epic, was accompanied by a quiet instrument that looked like a bowed banjo, played in cello position. The focus of the concert was purely on the voices, with the men standing stock still in black and white military tunics with small swords at the waist.
November 7, 2005
From Blue-Collar Boys to Doo-Wop Sensation
New York Times (NY):
A rush of vertigo, pleasurable but a little scary, descends around the middle of the second act of "Jersey Boys," the shrink-wrapped musical biography of the pop vocal group the Four Seasons, which opened last night at the August Wilson Theater. This dizziness arrives during the kind of big showbiz moment (category: The Comeback) that anyone familiar with backstage back stories knows all too well.
Our superstar hero - in this case, the singer Frankie Valli, played by a genuine star-in-the-making named John Lloyd Young - has already scrambled from the mean streets of his youth to the heights of Top-40 glory and started the long, scraping slide downward. But there's this one song, see, that he knows can push him back into the big time, and no one will play it on the radio. So he takes his song straight to the people, and by golly, when he's finished performing it, the crowd goes wild. I'm talking about the real, mostly middle-aged crowd at the August Wilson Theater, who seem to have forgotten what year it is or how old they are or, most important, that John Lloyd Young is not Frankie Valli.
That song, by the way, is "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," an after-shave-soaked lounge ballad that was a hit in 1967 and is not a personal favorite of mine. But that's not the point. Nor is the point that Mr. Young - who has been doing a swell imitation of Mr. Valli's trademark nasal crooning throughout this "Behind the Music"-style concoction, directed with more efficiency than originality by Des McAnuff - has again delivered a spot-on evocation of a voice that continues to dominate golden oldie stations.
No, the real thrill, at least for those who want something more than recycled chart toppers and a story line poured from a can, is that Mr. Young has crossed the line from exact impersonation into something more compelling. It's that sort of melting from perfect wax effigy into imperfect flesh that Philip Seymour Hoffman achieves in the title role of the current movie "Capote."
Inhaling the cheers of the crowd, Mr. Young as Mr. Valli glistens with that mix of tears and sweat, of humility and omnipotence, that signal that a hungry performer's need for approval has been more than met. And everything that has led up to that curtain call feels, for just a second, as real and vivid as the sting of your hands clapping together.
It would be, to borrow a phrase from the aforementioned song, just too good to be true that the rest of "Jersey Boys" should achieve this level of conviction. Shaped by the scriptwriters Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice as a cross between "Dreamgirls" (the Motown heartbreak-of-success musical) and Martin Scorsese's "Goodfellas" (the Mafia kneecap-break-of-success movie), the plot follows a much-traveled stretch of highway with few illuminating detours.
But in a year in which one pop-songbook show after another has thudded and died, "Jersey Boys" passes as silver instead of as the chrome-plated jukebox that it is. Unlike the recent Broadway flops "Good Vibrations" (the Beach Boys show), "All Shook Up" (the Elvis show) and "Lennon" (you figure it out), "Jersey Boys" has the advantage of featuring singers that actually sound like the singers they are portraying and a technology-enhanced band that approximates the original sound of their music.
The show's straightforward biographical approach is a relief after the hagiography of "Lennon" and the clunky fantasy story lines, inspired by the perversely inimitable "Mamma Mia!" (the Abba show), of "Good Vibrations" and "All Shook Up." Mr. Brickman (who collaborated with Woody Allen on the screenplays for "Annie Hall" and "Manhattan") and Mr. Elice provide some likably sassy dialogue as they chart the evolution of their main characters from street kids in the urban wastelands of New Jersey to pop gods enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Mr. McAnuff, who won a Tony for repackaging rock for Broadway in "The Who's Tommy" in 1993, lends clarity and crispness to a shifting narrative that lets the different Seasons tell their own sides of their story. They are, in addition to Mr. Valli, Tommy DeVito (Christian Hoff), the group's bad-boy organizer; Bob Gaudio (Daniel Reichard), the genius songwriter; and Nick Massi (J. Robert Spencer), the self-described Ringo (as in Starr) of the bunch. If none of these actors matches the white-hot sincerity of Mr. Young, they are all appealing. And no one overdoes his allotted shtick.
But while "Jersey Boys" is based on fact, it rarely leaps over the clichés of a regulation grit-to-glamour blueprint. (There is at least a clever, expectation-thwarting opening scene, with the Seasons standard "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)" sung by a funky French pop group.) Only in the second act, when the group is breaking up, does the show integrate the songs in a way that excitingly enhances and furthers the plot. And the Roy Lichtenstein-style projections (by Michael Clark) that signal time and scene changes in Klara Zieglerova's standard-issue industrial set feel inappropriately arch.
But ultimately what's demanded by the baby-boomer theatergoers that "Jersey Boys" seems destined to attract is a mimetically precise rendering of songs like "Big Girls Don't Cry," "Rag Doll" and "Walk Like a Man," composed by Mr. Gaudio with lyrics by Bob Crewe (portrayed here as a gay diva of a record producer by Peter Gregus). Because the show uses mood-setting standards by other artists in its first quarter, you can feel the audience getting restless, waiting for "the real thing."
But once the Four Seasons classics are rolled out, every other pair of shoulders in the house starts a-twitchin'. With their three-part-harmony behind Mr. Valli's hearty falsetto, the group's songs remain exasperatingly infectious. And as choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, Messrs. Young, Hoff, Reichard and Spencer come as close to simulating the originals as any pop impersonators on Broadway since "Beatlemania."
The chief source of fresh air, though, is Mr. Young, who mutates from hopeful teenaged schlemiel to regretful falling idol with a spontaneity that never fades. When this Frankie Valli sings, you sense him channeling all the messy, happy, angry feelings of his life without straying from the required official voice. Like Mr. Valli, Mr. Young has a quirky authenticity that can't be faked or learned. His intense belief in his character shimmers like sunlight amid the fluorescence of "Jersey Boys."
November 3, 2005
Cuban choir defects
Toronto Globe and Mail (Canada):
Cendoya-Sotomayor, a Cuban baritone, thought about defecting even before he landed in Toronto on a Canadian tour with the prestigious Coro Nacional de Cuba. This was his first foreign tour -- and the 27-year-old singer saw it as his one chance to escape the repression and fear that marks his life in Cuba, where the indomitable Fidel Castro has ruled since the Communist revolution in 1959, the same year the choir was founded by Ernesto (Che) Guevara.
After a performance Sunday in a Toronto church, Mr. Cendoya-Sotomayor saw two fellow singers fleeing the hotel, suitcases in hand. He knew he had to act quickly. He called the Cuban-Canadian Foundation and within an hour, the foundation's president had sent a car to collect him, and two more singers.
"It is hard to choose between your freedom and your family. But this was my one opportunity to escape," said Mr. Cendoya-Sotomayor in an interview yesterday in the home of Ismael Sambra, a Cuban exile and the foundation's president. The singer is so worried about the safety of his four-year-old daughter and wife in Havana that he did not want his face to appear in a photograph.
In all, 11 of the 41-member choir managed to flee the hotel between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Sunday, when Digna Guerra, the choir's manager, discovered the absences. In an emergency meeting, she warned the remaining singers that the Cuban government would retaliate against their family members if they tried to seek asylum here, according to Mr. Sambra.
Before this, Mr. Sambra had organized a second vehicle to pick up several more defectors. Others escaped with the help of Cuban-Canadian friends, while one unlucky singer who went back to the hotel to collect her belongings lost her chance. All 11 who defected were taken to the homes of Cuban exiles, including Marta Sanchez, a senior member of the choir and an influential Cuban musician, who rode a bus to Ottawa yesterday morning and is staying there with friends.
Mr. Sambra believes that six in the group have already crossed the border and entered the United States where they have relatives. The United States often recognizes Cuban refugees. The others spent yesterday at Citizenship and Immigration offices filling out forms requesting asylum on the grounds of political persecution.
Mr. Cendoya-Sotomayor said the singers did not plan to seek asylum en masse, but instead there was a kind of "domino effect." He said he discussed the idea in Cuba with two other singers, but was uncertain if it would be possible. He imagined there were government informants within the choir. And once they arrived in Canada for their two-week tour, the singers were only given $20 a day for meals, and their performance pay was withheld, he said.
In the end, however, the other singers helped them by not reporting them to the manager, and in fact one of those who fled is the delegation's deputy head, Mr. Sambra said. "The singers who didn't escape because they have children in Cuba helped the others. They watched out for the security and then said 'fight for me, good luck,' " he added.
Mr. Cendoya-Sotomayor is living in Mr. Sambra's house with two female singers, aged 29 and 30. "I would like to bring my family here and we would all like to go on singing in Canada. We will form another choir and call it Freedom Chorus," he said.The rest of the choir, however, travelled to British Columbia on Monday where it is performing in various cities in the interior and then in Vancouver on Saturday with the Vancouver Chamber Choir. A spokesperson for the Vancouver choir said all but 11 members of the Cuban choir had arrived in British Columbia.
Isley Brother found guilty
Ronald Isley, lead singer of the legendary singing group the Isley Brothers, has been convicted of tax evasion and could face five to 26 years in prison. Isley, 64, was found guilty late Monday on five counts of tax evasion and one count of failing to file a tax return. No figure was given for the sum involved but prosecutors said Isley lived lavishly, buying a yacht, homes in California and Missouri and two Bentley cars while failing to pay more than $300,000 in taxes in 2002.
Isley has not commented on the verdict. He will be sentenced in January and faces a maximum of 26 years in prison, though under sentencing guidelines he is probably looking at between five and 10 years, court sources said.Prosecutors said the the frontman of the family singing group whose hits included “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)” and “That Lady (Part 1 and 2)”, demanded that more than $12 million in performance fees between 1997 and 2002 be paid in cash in a deliberate attempt to avoid taxes.
Isley’s lawyers told jurors during the three-week trial that two of the singer’s accountants had died during that period, making it difficult for him to get his records together and pay his taxes. He denied willful evasion.
Isley was also accused of using for his own benefit royalty checks issued to other Isley Brothers-related enterprises and people, including his brother O’Kelly, who died in 1986. The main prosecution witness was Isley’s former tour manager Ruby Martin who worked with the singer for eight years and who testified under immunity. The Isley Brothers had their biggest success in the 1960s and 1970s. Members came and went but in 1990 Ronald and younger brothers Ernie and Marvin reunited, producing several new albums, and were still performing in the spring of 2005.
November 2, 2005
The "Professor of Pop" sings a cappella
In an article in Britain's Independent newspaper on legendary music producer Brian Eno it says:-
"That's not to suggest that Eno is averse to singing, though. He is part of an a cappella group that meets just for fun once a week. Over the years he has provided backing vocals on other people's records under such aliases as CSJ Bofop."
Wow imagine him producing your next a cappella CD!
Read interesting article with interview here
November 1, 2005
San Francisco Chronicle (CA):
In the shadow of Chernobyl, the naked female spirits known as Rusalki rest uneasily in the earth, emerging from the brackish waters and dark woods to lure hapless wanderers with their enthralling songs. It may sound like the plot of a Ukrainian horror film, but the ancient Slavic myths are grist for Kitka's ambitious new production, "The Rusalka Cycle: Songs Between the Worlds". Working with stage director Ellen Sebastian Chang and the acclaimed Ukrainian-born vocalist and composer Mariana Sadovska, the eight-woman Bay Area a cappella ensemble has created an evening-length work that draws upon age-old songs used to summon, appease and commune with the Rusalki. The spirits of women who have died untimely or unjust deaths, the Rusalki are thought to mediate between the human world and the natural realms of animals, weather and seasonal cycles.
Though the folk opera was years in the making, its numerous references to drowned women and nature in upheaval give the project an undeniably topical frisson. "In so much of Rusalki imagery, these women are naked and wet, coming up through the earth," Chang says during a post-rehearsal round-table interview at Lake Merritt Church with Sadovska, Kitka Artistic Director Shira Cion and co-director Juliana Graffagna. "When Mariana arrived here, the bodies were literally floating in the water in New Orleans. And here's this music talking about the waves, and this daughter calling to her dead mother, 'Can you come to me, can you come to me?' And the mother is saying, 'I cannot cross. There's earth in my lungs.' We've had a couple of rehearsals where everyone just stops in wonder."
Even before Katrina hit, Kitka saw the project through an environmental lens, conscious of the fact that many of the songs hail from villages stricken by the world's worst nuclear accident. "The region where Rusalki are still alive in the Ukraine is still affected by Chernobyl," says Sadovska. "Kitka and Ellen's intuition that the project had to be connected somehow to the environment was right. The oldest pre-Christian rituals are from this place that neither fascism nor communism managed to destroy, but was devastated by ecological disaster." Rather than devise a linear narrative, Chang felt that "The Rusalka Cycle" could be carried by the emotional force of the music. With lighting by Jack Carpenter, spare sets and evocative costumes, the production is designed to travel light, so that Kitka can take it on the road. The women's voices will be accompanied by minimal instrumentation of cello and percussion.
The ensemble, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last month with a gala concert featuring some 30 former Kitka members, established its international reputation by bringing a contemporary perspective to the sumptuous harmonies, striking dissonances and angular rhythms of songs from Slavic, Balkan, Baltic and other Eastern European lands. "Part of the impulse of this project was to make a piece about Kitka, who we are as American artists doing music from the other side of the world, that isn't necessarily our native folk music, but speaks to us really strongly," says Cion. Seeds for the "Rusalka" project were planted when Cion heard a 1997 Cal Performances program "A Russian Village Festival" that included one song about the Rusalki. The powerful imagery and music stuck with her, and after years of grant writing and several false starts, an international search for a composer led to Sadovska.
Now living in Cologne, Germany, Sadovska spent a dozen years doing field research in Ukraine, gathering songs and rituals in rural villages. Once she signed on with Kitka, Sadovska insisted that Chang and the group travel with her to Ukraine to experience the music and rituals firsthand. There's been a revival of interest in Ukraine's dwindling folk culture since the nation gained independence with the Soviet Union's breakup. When the Kitka entourage arrived in the village of Havronshchyna for Provedu Rusalok, a ritual in which the old women of the village lead the Rusalki back to their underworld homes, they joined a throng of observers, including a TV crew from Kiev and several ornery ethnomusicologists.
"There were a couple of times where I thought about Zora Neale Hurston saying that when the anthropologists arrive, the spirit departs," Chang says. "I kept having the feeling that now that we're here, the Rusalki have gone back under the earth. But as the evening went on and the eight grandmothers started singing, it was magic."
Thousands of women across the region used to participate in the Provedu Rusalok ritual, but the passing of the old generation and the evacuations forced by the 1986 Chernobyl disaster meant that the Rusalka songs were on the verge of fading into memory. Kitka's arrival seemed to bolster the grandmothers, as Sadovska had taught the ensemble several of the Rusalka songs. "That was part of the miracle which makes Kitka different from all the tourists," Sadovska says. "Even though Kitka came from far away, from America, they knew the songs. As the grandmothers were ending a verse, they were so thankful and happy their voices were supported with these young voices."