February 28, 2006
Struck down by the flu
The evil flu bug has hit this household rather hard and little to no work has been accomplished these past few days. I hope to be back in full swing very soon and will resume blogging hopefully Wednesday. Now back to my warm inviting bed..
February 24, 2006
From Bald Spots to Broadway ballads
San Luis Obispo Tribune (CA):
The Bald Spots will be the first to admit it’s been a while since they went cruising down Main Street or shared a chocolate malt with a bobby soxer. They’re professionals in their 50s and 60s, men with expanding waistlines and thinning hair. But every so often, they squeeze into blue jeans and letterman jackets and belt out "Duke of Earl." "We’re a bunch of old guys trying to do songs such as ‘Teenager in Love,’ " the group’s self-proclaimed "elder statesman," Dale Wolff, said with a laugh. "There’s a certain irony about it that seems to appeal to people."
Whether they’re crooning "Duke of Earl" or breaking into some really bad jokes, the Bald Spots’ sweet-natured brand of nostalgia has thrilled Central Coast audiences for 15 years. They perform this weekend at the event that started it all for the band, the San Luis Obispo Vocal Arts Ensemble’s Pops Concerts. "(The Pops Concert) really is a chance to showcase the individual talents of people in the group and the ensembles," choir director Gary Lamprecht said.
Vocal Arts Ensemble members held their first pops concert in 1991 to raise money for a tour "behind the Iron Curtain" in Russia, he said. "We swore at that point that we were going to do this one time only," Lamprecht said. But popular demand brought back the concert again and again. This year, organizers sat through an unprecedented three hours of auditions before editing the show to two full-length variety-style concerts.
About 45 singers will perform songs ranging from the lighthearted to the lovely — pop hits, jazz standards and selections from musicals such as "West Side Story," "The Music Man" and Broadway’s latest hit, "Wicked." There’s even a tribute to the 16 coal miners killed in West Virginia earlier this year, Lamprecht said. The ensemble’s men will perform the folk classic "Sixteen Tons."
"One thing about the Vocal Arts Ensemble that’s really great is just the tremendous variety of music you’ll hear in any concert," said longtime member Craig Updegrove, who doubles as a Bald Spot. "With the Pops Concerts, it’s even more so that way." The Bald Spots got their start at the original Pops Concert as Gerry and the Pips, Wolff recalled. After founder Gerry Carnahan moved out the area in the mid-1990s, the group searched for a new identity.Somebody suggested the Bald Spots — a double reference to The Ink Spots, a popular singing group in the 1930s and 1940s, and to the men’s shiny pates. It stuck.
February 23, 2006
The Solomon Linda story
The Evening Birds, with Solomon Linda at the far left, in 1941. "He was the Elvis Presley of his time and place," Rian Malan says, "a shy, gangly 30-year-old, so tall that he had to stoop as he passed through doorways."
This is a story about numbers: 10 shillings, US$15-million, 70 years, over 160 covers and three centuries of continuous radio air play. It's the story of a song we all know, the impoverished Zulu migrant worker who wrote it, the musicians and record companies who raked in millions for it, and the almost 70 years it has taken for his family to see justice done.
The song is Mbube, produced by Zulu musician Solomon Linda in 1939. It's estimated that Linda received a total of 10 shillings for the song. Yet the tune went on to become Pete Seeger's runaway hit Wimoweh, then the Tokens' The Lion Sleeps Tonight, on to at least 160 covers, before ending up in the voices of Timon and Pumbaa, the meerkat and warthog characters in Disney's classic movie and Broadway hit The Lion King.
Last Friday, Linda's legacy finally received some justice. After a six-year battle his surviving daughters Delphi, Elizabeth and Fildah, who had claimed almost R10-million from copyright holder Abilene Music, settled their dispute for an undisclosed sum. The settlement involves back payment of royalties to the family and the right to receive future payments for worldwide use.
The basis for the family's case was the Dickens Provision, which stipulates that 25 years after a creator's death, all rights should revert to the heirs, who would then be entitled to renegotiate deals and secure better royalty terms. The Dickens Provision was inserted into the Copyright Act of Great Britain - and its former colonies - in the early 20th century after outrage that the works of Charles Dickens were generating huge profits for publishing companies while his family was destitute.
Enter Rolling Stone magazine
"The settlement came about as a result of pressure from various sectors of society, both in South Africa and overseas," family lawyer Hanro Friedrich told Business Day. It's unlikely that this pressure would have come to bear if it hadn't been for Rian Malan, South African journalist and author of the bestselling My Traitor's Heart.
In 2000 Malan delved deep into the story of Solomon Linda and his remarkable song for Rolling Stone magazine, producing a four-part expose that brought world attention to the song and the injustice done to Linda and his family. It was Malan who, after consulting widely with experts on music copyright, came up with the $15-million royalties estimate. "It is the most famous melody ever to emerge from Africa," Malan says of Mbube, "a tune that has penetrated so deep into the human consciousness over so many generations that one can truly say, here is a song the whole world knows.
Solomon Linda grew up in the Msinga in the heartland of rural Zululand. A typical rural kid of the time, he herded cattle and attended the Gordon Memorial mission school. But he was also strongly influenced by the new syncopated music that had swept across South Africa from the US since the 1880s, working it into the Zulu songs he and his friends sang at weddings and feasts.
In the 1930s Linda joined the stream of young African men who left their homesteads to find menial work in Johannesburg, a sprawling gold-mining town hungry for cheap labour. "Life is initially very perplexing," Malan says. "Solly keeps his eyes open and transmutes what he sees into songs that he and his home boys perform a cappella on weekends. "He has songs about work, songs about crime, songs about how banks rob you by giving you paper in exchange for real money, songs about how rudely the whites treat you when you go to get your pass stamped. People like the music."
Linda's popularity grew, and in 1938 he and his band the Evening Birds - "a very cool urban act that wears pinstriped suits, bowler hats and dandy two-tone shoes" - were spotted by a talent scout. They were taken to sub-Saharan Africa's only recording studio - owned by Italian Eric Gallo, the founder of Gallo Records - to cut a number of songs.
In 1939, during the band's second recording session, Linda was "visited by angels", Malan says. He opened his mouth and produced a three-chord song with lyrics something like "Lion! Ha! You're a lion!", inspired by boyhood memories of chasing lions stalking the family cattle. The song was called Mbube, Zulu for "lion". "The third take was the great one," Malan writes of that recording session, "but it achieved immortality only in its dying seconds, when Solly took a deep breath, opened his mouth and improvised the melody that the world now associates with these words:
"In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the lion sleeps tonight."
At the time, payment for record deals was primitive. Unknown acts signed no contracts and received no royalties. They were given what the record company determined their work was worth and that was it. Malan estimates that Linda was paid about 10 shillings for the song. All the subsequent income Mbube derived - in its first incarnation - went straight into the pockets of Eric Gallo.
The song did pretty well for itself. Released on 10-inch 78rpm records, it went on sale as Hitler invaded Poland, and slowly picked up a sizeable following. By 1948 Mbube had sold some 100 000 copies in South Africa, requiring so many pressings that the master eventually disintegrated.
Solomon Linda became a local superstar in the world of Zulu migrants. "He was the Elvis Presley of his time and place," Malan says, "a shy, gangly 30-year-old, so tall that he had to stoop as he passed through doorways." Working at a menial job in Gallo's packing plant, he continued to perform until he collapsed on stage in 1959, struck down by kidney disease. He grew so sick he had to stop performing, and died on 8 October 1962 aged 53
February 18, 2006
Kinseys do Vegas indefinitely
High heels, beautiful voices and a little 'four'-play hit Sin-City, Las Vegas. That may sound like something that secretly 'stays in Vegas' -- but for the award-winning, all-male, a cappella beauty shop quartet, The Kinsey Sicks it's a new career high note they're ready to belt out to the world! Produced by veteran talent producers, Rich Super and Paul Reder, "Dragapella!™," launches March 3, 2006 as an unlimited engagement at the Las Vegas Hilton Shimmer Cabaret Tuesday - Saturday at 9:30 p.m.
The Kinsey Sicks are named for the top end of sexologist Alfred Kinsey's scale of sexual orientation. Their "Dragapella!™ " stage show-extravaganza is what happens when beauty magazine's vivacious divas of "fashion and hairdo don'ts" walk into a fierce comedy-musical vortex and end up in a magical entertainment wonderland that combines award winning a cappella singing, sharp satire and over-the-top comedy. The feisty foursome "Rachel"(Ben Schatz), "Winnie" (Irwin Keller), "Trampolina" (Chris Dilley) and "Trixie" (Jeff Manabat), inspired by the essence of idol, Bette Midler in concert, are sure to entertain, make you laugh and literally be the mother of all Vegas shows. The Kinsey Sicks have been called "one of the more uniquely original (and thoroughly fun and entertaining) acts we have encountered in years" (Billboard Magazine) and have been praised for their "voices sweet as birdsong" (New York Times).
"This is by far one of the funniest and most innovative shows we've seen come to Vegas in years and we're delighted to have it open at the Las Vegas Hilton for an unlimited run," said Ken Ciancimino, executive vice president of administration for the Las Vegas Hilton. "We feel that this show has every ingredient to make it a smash hit here in Vegas," he added.
"Dragapella! is gut wrenchingly funny and ferociously creative revealing tremendous political savvy in its use of wicked satire. We are honored to be a part of such a unique show and feel the timing is right for this as Las Vegas continues to set the standard in entertainment," said veteran producers Rich Super and Paul Reder.
Not just an act, but an enterprise -- The Kinsey Sicks™ are currently performing in Puerto Vallarta and have performed at legendary Studio 54 in New York City, The Roxy Theatre, Los Angeles and everywhere in-between. Their five music CDs include "Dragapella!," "Boyz2Girlz," "Sicks in the City," "I Wanna Be A Republican," and "Oy Vey in a Manger: Christmas Carols and Other Jewish Music." They're even poster-girls and have their own T-shirt in addition to their melodic and comedic recordings. But it's their finely blended voices and clever lyrics that literally drag in the interest, poised to speak about activism, family, theater, religion, politics, Gay culture and having a voice that's heard.
The Kinsey Sicks are the subjects of two impending feature films. One is a concert film of their long-running show, "I Wanna Be a Republican," and the other is a behind-the-scenes documentary.
February 17, 2006
The Lion Finally Sleeps Tonight
Relatives of the original composer of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" have dropped a lawsuit against Disney after settling for an undisclosed sum of money with a US music publishing house, their lawyer said Thursday. The family of the late Solomon Linda, who composed the original Zulu tune for the song, was claiming R10-million in damages from the entertainment giant.
Linda, who died with less than $25 (about R151) in his bank account in 1962, was a Zulu migrant worker who composed the song "Mbube" (lion) in Johannesburg in 1939 and recorded it with a singing group called the Evening Birds.
South African lawyer Owen Dean said the settlement was reached with New Jersey-based Abilene Music, which holds the copyright to "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" which in turn licenced it to the Walt Disney Corporation. "All of the parties to the litigation plus Abilene are part of the settlement and in terms of it all, the litigation will be withdrawn," Dean told AFP.
"The settlement involves a payment of back royalties to the family and the right to participate in the royalties in the future and that's on a worldwide basis," he said. The lawyer declined to disclose the amount paid by Abilene Music, simply stating: "We are satisfied with it."
The settlement ends a long-running dispute between Solomon's relatives and companies including Disney over the rights to the song, sparked by a Rolling Stone magazine article in 2001 which reported on Linda's family living in abject poverty in Soweto township near Johannesburg.
February 16, 2006
Barbershop quartet is tuned into love
San Diego Union (CA):
Cheryl Brugman was aghast. Before her stood four men in matching black suede vests and scarlet and white ties.
“Oh no!” she cried.
Colleagues began spilling out of their offices into the main lobby to get a look. Even a delivery man turned his head to stare. Then the Rollin' Tones barbershop quartet handed Brugman, 50, a red rose and Valentine's Day card, and launched into a sweet serenade.
By the end, she was in tears.
Across the country yesterday, thousands of singers performed similar barbershop-style serenades for red-faced recipients, said a spokeswoman from the Barbershop Harmony Society, a Wisconsin-based organization with 30,000 members. The silver-haired crooners of the Rollin' Tones belong to the society's East County chapter. Their 12 singing Valentines elicited applause, chuckles and teary thank-you's. Brugman, an engineering technician at Padre Dam Municipal Water District in Santee, was the first to hear the quartet's a cappella renditions of “The Story of the Rose” and “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”
Barbershop harmony is a style of unaccompanied singing with three voices harmonizing to a melody. The lead usually sings the melody, while the tenor, baritone and bass sing higher and lower notes to create a rich, distinctive sound. Barbershop melds African-American musical devices, European hymn-singing and an American tradition of recreational music. The style was first associated with black southern quartets in the mid-1870s. The first written use of the word “barbershop” when referring to harmonizing came in 1910, with the publication of the song, “Play That Barbershop Chord.” Was barbershop harmony actually sung in barbershops? Yes, and on street corners (it was sometimes called “curbstone” harmony), at social functions and in parlors.
With at least a dozen colleagues standing nearby, her eyes welled up around the line, “I'm in love with you,” in the second tune. The song, and the sentiment, came courtesy of husband Matthew. “He likes me,” she said simply.
The East County chapter, known as the El Cajon Music Masters, received nearly 100 calls in response to advertisements posted in local papers. The offer? Two “tender love songs,” a card and a rose for $40. Other society chapters around the county offer the Valentine's Day service, as do female barbershop quartets from the San Diego Chorus of Sweet Adelines and a local chapter of Harmony Inc. The Music Masters booked deliveries for 51 men and women on Monday and Tuesday, up from 35 last year. By Monday night, the Rollin' Tones schedule was so full that member Gary Mathews and his wife, Maggie, had to refer calls elsewhere.
All that serenading took some serious strategizing. Mathews, who is president of the East County chapter, used an electronic spreadsheet to chart times, locations and names of recipients, and mapquest.com to plot directions. He bought red roses and cards to present with each singing Valentine.
Maggie Mathews wasn't bothered by the phone calls, or the fact that her husband spent the most romantic day of the year singing to other gals. Teacher Betty Gonia reacted with hugs after being serenaded at Dehesa Elementary School yesterday. Her husband, Bob, arranged the special valentine gift.
“Barbershopping is a hobby they thoroughly enjoy,” she said. “And it's a lot less expensive than golf.”
The Rollin' Tones, who first formed in the 1970s, prefer Western-style garb or Hawaiian shirts to suspenders, stripes and straw boater hats. Gary Mathews, a tenor who is 70, is joined by baritone Gene Rague, 79, lead singer Jim James, 78, and bass Chet Farmer, 62. The four traversed East County in Mathews' blue SUV yesterday, leaving flustered but appreciative recipients in their wake. “There was a lot of fanning of faces with the cards,” Farmer said late in the day. Santana High School biology teacher Cindy Martin's reaction: “Did my husband really do this to me?”
The quartet sang in front of a class of about 30 students and other faculty members who gathered in a corner smiling and laughing. “He's never done anything on that scale before,” said Martin, 33, a mother of three, about her husband, Tom. “So that was pretty embarrassing. However I get him back, it's going to have to be pretty good.”
Juno Award nominations for a cappella
The 2006 Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent to the GRAMMYs) announced their nominations today and include two for a cappella artists. Toronto's Cadence is nominated for Best Vocal Jazz Album and is good company with other nominees in that category such as Diane Krall and Paul Anka. The recording is also nominated for Recording Engineer Of The Year for Dylan Bell and Adam Messinger. A cappella female trio Asani is nominated in the Aboriginal Recording of The Year for their Rattle & Drum release. Congratulations!
February 15, 2006
Member of Ladysmith Black Mambazo dies
Jockey Shabalala, a member of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, South Africa’s most famous a cappella ensemble, has died, the group’s record company said Tuesday. He was 62.
Shabalala, whose brother Joseph founded and still leads the ensemble, died Saturday of natural causes surrounded by family at his home in Ladysmith, said Mike Wilpizeski, a spokesman for the U.S.-based Heads Up International record label. He had suffered from various ailments.
Jockey Shabalala joined Ladysmith Black Mambazo in the 1960s and featured on Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album, which won the Grammy Award for album of the year in 1986. He continued to tour and record with the group until early last year, when they won a second Grammy for their recording “Raise Your Spirit Higher.” He then retired from international travel to spend more time with his family but continued to perform in South Africa.
The group, which fuses Zulu and gospel music traditions, was touring the United States to promote their latest release, “Long Walk to Freedom,” when news of Shabalala’s death reached them. Joseph Shabalala said they would not interrupt the tour.
“We must continue to spread our culture and our message of peace, love and harmony,” he said in the statement from Cambridge, Mass. “Jockey helped me and the rest of the group on this mission for almost 40 years. As we were performing tonight’s encore song, “Amazing Grace,” ... I could hear his voice, once again, as part of our harmony. I’ll always hear his voice, even as he is now with God.” He is survived by his wife and four children.
February 14, 2006
Washington Post (DC):
You don't go to a Ladysmith Black Mambazo show for innovation; you go to be reminded that the human voice is the most beautiful sound on Earth. Nearly 2,000 people had that thought confirmed when South Africa's premier vocal-harmony group performed at sold-out Strathmore on Thursday.
Deeply religious bandleader Joseph Shabalala formed the first version of Ladysmith in 1964 after having a dream about combining Heaven-sent harmonies with isicathamiya, the South African singing and dance style that developed in the country's mines during apartheid. Because of the band's singular devotion to Shabalala's vision, Ladysmith performances are heavily scripted: from the rehearsed song intros and the matching outfits (African shirts, black pants, red socks, white tennis shoes) to the vaudevillian shtick and staged banter among the singers. But no matter how many times you see Ladysmith in concert, if you close your eyes and just listen to the music, the gorgeousness of their collective voices override the deja vu.
Seven of the 13 songs Ladysmith performed were from "Long Walk to Freedom," a collection of rerecorded greatest hits featuring guest stars such as Melissa Etheridge and Natalie Merchant. It's been 20 years since Paul Simon introduced Ladysmith to the world with his album "Graceland," and on the new CD and in concert the band revisited Simon and Shabalala's "Homeless." While the song is still lovely after all these years, it was condensed by Ladysmith concert standards; the live versions of "Nomathemba," "Hello My Baby," "Rain Rain Beautiful Rain" and "Long Walk to Freedom" each ran well over six minutes.
Many of the tunes climaxed with the group repeating a phrase or two from the lyrics as Shabalala riffed through numerous themes and variations on the melody. When not using guttural noises, joyous whoops and Zulu-language clicks, Shabalala would complement the other seven vocalists' harmonies with ghostly tenor phrases just off mike. Be glad that the dream still haunts him.
A busy return visit by the King's Singers
Salt Lake Tribune (UT):
The King's Singers will once again hold court in Salt Lake City, a place they love to visit. "We're treated like royalty" in Utah, said baritone Philip Lawson in a telephone interview from his hotel in Connecticut. The British vocal ensemble makes the trip to Utah every few years, and returns next weekend to give four concerts. This sextet has performed seven times with the Utah Symphony, most recently in 2003 to sold-out crowds. The year before that, the singers joined the Mormon Tabernacle Choir as part of the Olympic Arts Festival at the Winter Games in Salt Lake City. "That was a very special time for us," said Lawson, who noted that three members of the group were able to attend the Games' Opening Ceremonies. Lawson said it's a pleasure to perform for Utah audiences because they have so much enthusiasm for choral music.
"Choral singing [in the United States] is not what it is at home," he said, crediting the American education systemfor keeping the choral arts alive and vibrant. Before joining the King's Singers in 1994, Lawson was a vocal teacher at an English boarding school where he had 75 minutes each week to work with students. "That was the time I had, no matter what I needed to get done." Compare that to choirs in many U.S. high schools, where students practice every day, he said.
The King's Singers was founded in 1968 at King's College in Cambridge. Since then, the group has had 19 members. The founders believed the group would dissolve as soon as one of them decided to move on. But when that day finally came, the singers had become so popular they had concerts booked for months into the future. The rotation of new singers into the ensemble has helped keep the group fresh, Lawson said. "It's usually a positive thing, even though we're sorry to see someone leave," he said.
The change always means new arrangements tailored to a new voice, and brings out works from the repertoire that might have sat on the shelf for several years. New members also bring their own favorite pieces, and the group will think, "This is a great piece. Where have we been the last 30 years?" said Lawson, who does much of the arranging for the King's Singers. After years of traveling the world, the group is still exploring new places. Last year, it performed in Latvia and Lithuania for the first time. Next year, it will make its Russian debut. "It's not a mundane job," said Lawson.
The current members - Lawson, countertenors David Hurley and Robin Tyson, tenor Paul Phoenix, baritone Christopher Gabbitas and bass Stephen Connolly - are fairly young. One is engaged to an American; another is married to a Yank. Many of them have small children.
Lawson said the group is fortunate to be able to balance touring with time at home. "It's a great life, actually," said Lawson, who can pick up his three young daughters, Sophie, Amy and Georgia, during the weeks he has off between performances. The group takes off the summer and time at Christmas and Easter. "If I worked at home in some kind of high-powered job, I might be locked up in my office all day," he said. The King's Singers will give four concerts in Utah next weekend.
February 11, 2006
Singers legacy goes back to slavery times
Flint Journal (MI):
It's not enough to sing slave songs. The 16 college students who make up the Fisk Jubilee Singers have to feel what they're singing. "They have to understand what they are singing about. They have to enjoy what they are singing about. It is only then that their messages (can) go forth and be received by the audience," says Paul T. Kwami, the Tennessee-based group's African-born artistic director. "Without (that), they would be faking the music. We work with those types of things in rehearsals. We do a lot of talking."
Kwami describes their repertoire of slave songs, better known as Negro spirituals, as "a body of music that was created by the slaves when they were on the plantations ... (it's) music through which the slaves expressed their emotions, their faith, their joys, but they also used this music to communicate with each other." Fisk University students who aspire to join the storied group must sing a spiritual in their auditions. Once accepted, members are immersed in the history of the music. "In our own rehearsals sometimes we stop singing and discuss the text of the music," Kwami says.
Fisk University was founded in Nashville after the Civil War by white Northern missionaries in 1866 as the Fisk Free Colored School, one of several schools established to satisfy freed slaves' thirst for knowledge. It became Fisk University a year later. The Jubilee Singers were organized by choirmaster George Leonard White in 1871. Its nine students were charged with preserving the music they helped devise as slaves - and becoming ambassadors and fundraisers for the school.
The group's first U.S. tour 135 years ago was financed from the school's meager savings, but it quickly was embraced by American and European audiences. The ensemble performed for the likes of President Ulysses S. Grant, author Mark Twain and Britain's Queen Victoria. Those first tours helped fund the school's Jubilee Hall, now a national historic landmark. Kwami first became aware of the university as a music teacher in his native Ghana. He enrolled at Fisk in 1983 and joined the group that year. He graduated two years later, then earned his master's degree in music from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo ("My very first day I stepped on campus, I fell in love with the beauty of the place," he recalls.)
He returned to the Fisk singers as an assistant director in 1993, becoming its full-time director later that year. As a living link between the slaves' native continent and the country where they were forced to live, the director has moved the repertoire beyond the European-style arrangements that once dominated to include, Kwami says, "flavors of African-American music, such as very strong rhythms, and one can get a feel for gospel music in some of (the) arrangements." He's also raised the group's profile. In recent years, it has been the subject of a PBS documentary, "Jubilee Singers: Sacrifice and Glory," was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame and earned a Grammy nomination for 2004's "In Bright Mansions" CD.
The challenge now, Kwami says, is to stay true to the mission while adapting to the times. "The Negro spiritual is a body of music that carries a message of faith and hope and encouragement to people," he says. "We've been in situations, in concerts where people would write to me after the concert and tell us how they were touched by the music and felt blessed by the music and how much it ministered to them. "We can look at the historical aspect, but the question is how much can you use the music today," asks Kwami, whose group will work with a group of local students in an afternoon workshop Saturday.
One opportunity came last year when legendary rocker Neil Young tapped the group to perform some Canadian concerts with him. The group also joined him in last summer's Live 8 concerts to fight hunger and poverty in Africa.
"Even though the music we performed is not what I would classify as Jubilee Singers music, I consider it as an opportunity for us to explore, and, of course, take advantage of the opportunity to work with other people," Kwami says. "Even in doing that, I am very careful to make sure that my students and myself still understand we have a responsibility of performing Negro spirituals, maintaining the Negro spirituals for which the Jubilee Singers are known." He pauses, then adds: "I'm hoping one day to get him (Young) also to sing our music."
February 10, 2006
Black Umfolosi mines a rich cultural heritage
Ever-opinionated rapper Kanye West isn’t the only artist asking the world to think about where their diamonds come from. Performances by Zimbabwean group Black Umfolosi always include a dance called the Ingquzu, which, like West’s “Diamonds From Sierra Leone”, has a political edge to it. Based on the vigorous stamping and smacking of miners’ footwear, it is accompanied by complaints about low wages and bad working conditions.
“Ingquzu is believed to have originated when the miners were slapping their boots to remove the dust and mud, and discovered that it could be a form of entertainment for them,” says Thomeki Dube, one of Black Umfolosi’s founding members, reached in Bulawayo, where he and the band are based. “The South African mines attracted workers from as far away as Malawi, Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana, and Zimbabwe, who took the Ingquzu back to their respective communities,” he continues. “Today people do the dance in pubs, and at receptions and parties. It’s become a kind of traditional dance, and is found all over Southern Africa.”
But as much as Ingquzu is a crowd-pleaser, Black Umfolosi is best known for singing rather than dancing. Its members are masters of a style—mbube—that grew out of the hostels where miners and other workers lived in the early 20th century. Known in the west chiefly through the work of Zulu band Ladysmith Black Mambazo, mbube is characterized by a sweet, high lead, four-part a cappella harmonies, and a predominance of bass voices.
Black Umfolosi, whose members come from the Ndebele people closely related to the Zulus, is the leading mbube group in Zimbabwe. “In Bulawayo, where we all live, people now sing this way whenever there’s a wedding or a party or a new baby is born—or just to entertain themselves in the beer gardens,” reveals Dube. “Anybody can start singing and others will stand up and join in or start dancing.”
Black Umfolosi last came to Vancouver, in 2001, as an eight-piece outfit. However, when the group returns next Wednesday (February 15) at the Capilano College Performing Arts Theatre, it will be as a quintet. “We work a lot in Britain and we found that many bookings were in venues with stages too small to accommodate all our dances, which are very vigorous,” Dube explains. “The eight-piece group still exists, but for touring it’s much more practical for us to be just five. We can expand our show for a big stage or restrict it for a small one.”
While a scaled-down version of Black Umfolosi is on tour overseas, the other members continue to do small-scale performances at home, and to work in the community arts centre the group established in 1994 in Bulawayo. “We are planning a number of new things there because next year is our silver anniversary,” says Dube. “We’re hoping by then to have our own theatre and amphitheatre, and a studio for both audio and video creations. With the Zimbabwean economy in disarray at the moment it’s very difficult, but we’re still trying to make some of those goals.”
Children’s Choir nabs two Grammys
NSO Music Director Leonard Slatkin's work on an album with the University of Michigan Symphony Orchestra and the Michigan State University Children’s Choir won four Grammy Awards last night.
MSU Today (MI):
During a local Grammy Awards party at the University Club last night, members of the Michigan State University Children’s Choir cheered and celebrated when they heard that they were joint winners of two Grammy Awards: Best Classical Album and Best Choral Performance for a compilation CD entitled “Songs of Innocence and of Experience,” by Pulitzer-Prize winning composer William Bolcom.
The 40-member children’s choir was among more than 400 musicians who performed the song cycle at Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor when it was recorded in April 2004. The young singers, fourth- through 10th- graders, share the award with their director, Mary Alice Stollak, composer Bolcum, performance conductor Leonard Slatkin, as well as other conductors from the University of Michigan. “I am so proud that our children were asked to be part of a work of this magnitude,” said Stollak, the choir’s founding director.
The Children’s Choir was invited to be a part of the enormous production along with nationally known soloists and choirs. Stollak worked with the youngsters rehearsing the music for two months before handing them over to conductor Slatkin for the 2004 performance, which was in collaboration with the U-M School of Music and University Musical Society. Slatkin is the music director of the National Symphony Orchestra.
“It was a great educational and musical experience for the children to work with Leonard Slatkin and perform the music of William Bolcom along with such an impressive collective of fine musicians,” Stollak said.
“Songs of Innocence and Experience” is based on the poetry of William Blake. The recording, which was nominated for four Grammy Awards in all, also was awarded the Grammy for Best Classical Contemporary Composition. When the Community Music School opened its doors for services in 1993 as an outreach program of the MSU School of Music, a children’s choir was one of its most important priorities, said John Martin, former director of the Community Music School.
February 8, 2006
No GRAMMYs this year for a cappella but it was represented in the show when Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys sang a cappella "Higher Ground" dedicated to Coretta Scott King. Winners of Best Choral Recording is :- Bolcom: Songs Of Innocence And Of Experience - Leonard Slatkin, conductor; Jerry Blackstone, William Hammer, Jason Harris, Christopher Kiver, Carole Ott & Mary Alice Stollak, choir directors (Christine Brewer, Measha Brueggergosman, Ilana Davidson, Nmon Ford, Linda Hohenfeld, Joan Morris, Carmen Pelton, Marietta Simpson & Thomas Young; Michigan State University Children's Choir, University Of Michigan Chamber Choir, University Of Michigan Orpheus Singers, University Of Michigan University Choir & University Musical Society Choral Union; University Of Michigan School Of Music Symphony Orchestra)
February 7, 2006
Big opportunity for singing groups.
NBC has announced plans to launch a Web-only music competition series, StarTomorrow, on NBC.com this summer. StarTomorrow will be an American Idol-style show that allows viewers to vote for bands or singing groups based on a series of performances. The winner of the competition will receive a record deal with former Sony Music Entertainment chairman Tommy Mottola, whose company is producing the series.
NBC plans a nationwide search for musical talent prior to the show's launch, ultimately to nail down a list of 100 performers or groups to appear on the 16-week series. Fans logging onto NBC.com will be able to sift through roughly 20 audition tapes each week before voting on who should stay or go. Interesting for a cappella groups is that the show's website says "The nationwide search will ultimately narrow the field down to approximately 100 of America's best groups (singers with no instruments) and bands that have been screened for entry into the competition. "
Besides the musical auditions, viewers will be privy to the performers' interaction with Mottola as well as several unnamed guest celebrities.
While cable networks like Comedy Central have been aggressive in rolling out several original online-only series, StarTomorrow marks one of the first examples of a major broadcast network launching an original series exclusively on the Internet.
"StarTomorrow is an important project for us," said Jeff Gaspin, president, NBC Universal Cable Entertainment, Digital Content and Cross-Network Strategy. "This is the first time NBC will be distributing a network-quality program exclusively online," said Gaspin. "We want to give consumers a new viewing experience and digital content enables us to give more scheduling and programming latitude to them, truly allowing viewers to create their own show."
NBC has lined up production talent from several of its recent reality hits to oversee StarTomorrow. Dave Broome of The Biggest Loser and JD Roth and Todd Nelson of both Loser and For Love or Money will serve as the new show's executive producers. More information here.
February 6, 2006
Choral music has it's own NPR show
Winston-Salem Journal (NC):
"Here is music based on Mary's song of praise to God: The Magnificat," says Stephanie Wendt, her smooth, crisp voice beckoning from the radio. "'He has put down the mighty from their seat and has exalted the humble and meek.'" Ethereal voices then fill the airwaves, rising and falling in a rich melody written by Flemish Renaissance composer Nicolas Gombert, and, thanks to Wendt, in some context.
Wendt is the host of Sacred Classics , a choral-music program that National Public Radio began offering to its affiliate stations on Jan. 1. Sunday-morning listeners can revel in haunting motets and cantatas that span the centuries and learn a little something about what inspired them.
"It's not about a lecture," said Wendt, an Australian chamber pianist with 15 years of radio experience. "It's really the music that's doing the talking." But she's excited that a general audience can now hear and learn about sacred choral music, some of the earliest surviving music of the Western world. "They feel like it's an oasis," she said. "We're bombarded by images of violence, power, money and sex. People need something that feeds them in the opposite way."
Human voices, especially in combination with other human voices, she said, are nurturing and evoke the spiritual. Though the music was often written with a specific religious purpose, Wendt said, its power is not necessarily based in theology. "People with all kinds of beliefs, even lack of beliefs, have a sense of the holy."
Most of the music on the show is Christian. The church had the resources to write down and preserve its compositions even in the 11th century. But the show's producers keep an eye out for recordings from other traditions, Wendt said. She recalled "some beautiful Yiddish music" she played on a special preview show Dec. 25, the beginning of Hanukkah last year.
The decision to go national marks a major increase in the show's distribution. Before January, only 51 NPR stations aired the program through an agreement with Classical Public Radio Network, which produces the series. Now it's available to all 815 NPR affiliates throughout the United States. "NPR is constantly looking for new programs," said Eric Nuzum, NPR's program and acquisitions manager, "to expose new people to public radio."
Expanding the distribution of Sacred Classics was not so much about a modern trend toward the spiritual, he said, but about quality programming. When you look at classical music, he said, "the most significant music has been sacred." Learning about the music's religious history infuses the listening experience with context and depth, said Nuzum, two things he calls "the defining principles of public radio."
One of the greatest things that can happen for a listener, he said, is when someone presents a piece of music in "a way that permanently changes the way you listen to it." The smallest "tidbits" of information, he said, illuminate a song.
Fascinating tidbits abound on the show. In introducing "Regina Coeli," Wendt tells her audience that Wolfgang Mozart "absorbed some characteristics of Italian opera into this sacred work. You'll hear the prominent solo soprano part and the rich and elaborate instrumental writing. The words begin 'Queen of heaven, rejoice, hallelujah.'"
Wendt even throws a little gossip into the mix. Before playing "Vespers of 1610" by Claudio Monteverdi, she dishes, "He dedicated this to the pope with hope that he'd find employment in Rome, but nothing came of that." Though the focus is on the classical, the show plays modern recordings from such contemporary vocal ensembles as Anonymous 4. The female quartet has sold close to 1.5 million albums of medieval sacred music and some early Americana.
Member Marsha Genensky said that the group had an immediate fan base in the core community of choral-music enthusiasts. But she has noticed that as more people are exposed to their music, the group is attracting some unexpected devotees. Her favorite was a young man of college age. "I used to be a deadhead," she remembers him saying. "Now I'm a four-head."
Not being raised in a religious tradition herself, Genensky relates to the way that sacred choral music can stir the spiritual - in the listener and the singer.
"I feel that I am moved by what faith inspired someone to write a song that I'm singing," she said. For as many traditionally religious fans as Anonymous 4 has, Genensky has seen just as many that are agnostic, or "seekers." With this new show, NPR welcomes all types of sacred-music fans to its secular stations.
"Every week, millions of Americans join their voices together in a fellowship of song in choirs in communities, colleges and houses of worship," said Benjamin Roe, NPR's director of music initiatives. "With the acquisition of Sacred Classics, NPR will be able to extend that fellowship throughout the nation's airwaves."
The program will be free to NPR's affiliates for a short time in hopes that the listener base will grow and fans will support the program with contributions. There is no way of knowing yet how many stations will choose to air the show.
Wendt said that it's about time radio responded to the need for sacred vocal music and its restorative possibilities. Bishop Ambrose of Milan had it right in the fourth century, she said, when he wrote that singing "makes friends of those at odds, brings together those who are out of charity with one another." "For some reason on radio we've ignored this for so long," she said. "It's a matter of dusting something off."
Be sure to let your local NPR station if you would like to listen to the show
February 4, 2006
Naturally a cappella
Syracuse Post Standard (NY):
When watching Naturally Seven perform, it's important to focus all your senses. Otherwise, your ears will deceive your eyes. Naturally Seven, an acclaimed a cappella singing group, will perform 8 p.m. Saturday at Syracuse University's Goldstein Auditorium. The seven male vocalists use their elastic voices to imitate the sound of a fully equipped band, creating a deceptively rich and intricate sound.
If two is company and three's a crowd, then seven seems as if it would be chaos, but that number isn't an accident - it's vital to the Naturally Seven sound.
"Seven actually works out to be almost a perfect number to get what we want to do done," said Rod Eldridge, a founding member of the group who grew up in Syracuse.
After forming in New York City in 1998, the group created its sound by listening to other a cappella groups and dreaming up ways to sing outside the box. "Bit by bit, we started working ourselves to be less of an a cappella group and turning ourselves into a vocal band," Eldridge said.
A vocal percussionist keeps the beat while the bass vocalist bellows the low notes, and the remaining five members alternate between singing lead, harmonizing and mimicking instruments including a violin and turntable scratching. Their love of vocal experimentation gives them access to a conceivably endless supply of instruments.
"It's something that most people probably have done or try to do at some point in time, when you're listening to the radio and your favorite song comes on and there's a guitar riff, and you're screeching away trying to do it," Eldridge said. "We have said, you know, let's really try to do it, not for something that we're doing in the shower."
The group's sound tugs at many threads from the tapestry of black vocal music, including jazz scatting, traditional gospel and beat-boxing. Their diverse style made them a natural choice to perform as part of SU's Black History Month celebration. "I thought it was most appropriate to invite them," said Paul Buckley, SU's associate director of multicultural affairs. "They are such a phenomenal group, and I thought they would be a great choice to represent black music and black culture."
Naturally Seven plays about 100 shows per year, but Saturday's performance will be only the second time Eldridge has performed in his old stomping ground. The band's last Syracuse performance was also at SU in 2001. Eldridge said he and his band are thrilled to be returning to SU, especially to take part in Black History Month. "There are so many good and positive things coming out of black culture and the black influence on music, culture and art," Eldridge said. "We're happy to be a part of it."
February 3, 2006
Coolest a cappella ad ever!!
A cappella has a long tradition in TV and radio commercials but the latest ad from Honda UK has been causing quite a stir in advertising circles. This has to be the coolest use of a choir and the human voice ever in an ad. Check it out here . The rehearsal clip is fun also.
A Good Idea of A Cappella
The Australian :
James Morrison has called the Idea of North the country's leading exponents of a cappella singing, and the quartet have been attracting international attention recently, winning a number of awards in the US. After a decade together, the group know their voices and their material backwards, making for an assured live performance that is on a par with or better than their four recorded albums. The bass line is the foundation of a cappella singing and the Idea of North are well served by Andrew Piper, whose percussion effects are spot on. Naomi Crellin (alto) and Trish Delaney-Brown (soprano) are adept with jazz phrasing and tone, and Nick Begbie (tenor) brings strong vocals and comic timing to the less serious songs.
Early on in the two-set concert at the Governor Hindmarsh, Begbie told the audience the group were working on their next release, a gospel-based album: a natural progression for a group that have long performed a number of hymns and songs of faith. They sang a few songs that are in the running for a spot on the album, such as an excellent version of the Curtis Mayfield civil rights anthem People Get Ready and a smooth, languid arrangement of Van Morrison's Days Like This.
Songs such as Just a Closer Walk With Thee, Sweet Sweet Spirit, and the Bee Gees' Staying Alive (with a bravura falsetto from Piper) are fan favourites and are usually penciled into an Idea of North setlist. However there are always enough new offerings to satisfy old and new audiences.
While they have the energy to carry off bouncy pop songs, their voices were often displayed to best effect on sadder, slower songs, none more so than their styling of the late-era Abba ballad When All is Said and Done. Delaney-Brown's Agnetha Faltskog-like upper register leads the number, backed by Crellin, Begbie and Piper. While they can't hope to match Abba's studio-enhanced layering on stage, their version more than did the song justice.
Another impressive new number in the set was the Beatles' Eleanor Rigby, in a haunting, slower arrangement that reinforces the sadness of the lyrics. he Idea of North are due to enter the studio this month to begin recording, with a release later this year. On this evidence, it will be an album worth waiting for.
February 1, 2006
Choir locked out, sues city
New York Sun (NY):
When the administrative staff of the Boys Choir of Harlem arrives for work this morning, the doors will be locked and security will be forced to turn them away.The Department of Education refused to back down yesterday from its demand to evict the choir from the free space in the Choir Academy of Harlem that it has allowed them to use since 1993. The choir is now faced with the reluctant duty of locating a new home. However, in a desperate last-minute effort, representatives of the choir filed a lawsuit in the Manhattan Supreme Court to stop the eviction.
"We have been talking" with the Boys Choir of Harlem "since last week, over the weekend, and up until we discovered they filed a lawsuit," a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, Kelly Devers, said.
In a letter sent December 22, the Department of Education stated the choir would no longer be allowed to use the space and would have to vacate the premises by yesterday's deadline date. The choir's lawsuit was filed on Monday, a day before the deadline.Yet officials with the Department of Education remained firm in their decision to oust the group as planned.
"We can't continue to work with a group that does not have the best interest of the children in mind. We expect them to be out and to drop the lawsuit," Devers said.
The choir contends the Department of Education illegally broke their lease. They claim school officials did not properly notify them of the eviction and they are entitled to stay in the free space until June.
"I thought the negotiations were going in a very positive way," Rep. Charles Rangel, a Democrat of Manhattan, told the New York Sun. "Deputy Mayor Walcott was orchestrating everything. Now Walcott says that they will not talk further until the choir is removed from the building and they drop the lawsuit."
"The kids did not do anything wrong," Mr. Rangel said. "Adults did this, and the adults should work it out."
The Boys Choir of Harlem is currently facing a $5 million debt that supporters are looking to eradicate. Mr. Rangel and Mayor Dinkins have been instrumental in helping to raise money and awareness for the group's cause. According to a spokeswoman for the choir, Robin Verges, the public attention has had some negative consequences. Police presence at the school has significantly increased, and one female student of the Girls Choir of Harlem was reportedly arrested for assaulting a teacher.
"This has a devastating effect on the kids," Ms.Verges said.
The parents of the students are having a rally this morning at the Choir Academy of Harlem, at Madison Avenue and 127th Street.
St. Olaf choir 'shines and transforms'
Des Moines Register (IA):
There seems to be no limit to the musicianship and the ardent expressiveness of the 75-voice St. Olaf Choir, nor to the canniness and the committed expertise of director Anton Armstrong, who has been at the choir's helm for more than 15 years. The choir began its current winter tour of the Midwest Saturday evening with a generous, 2 1/2-hour concert at First Christian Church in Des Moines.
What Saturday's near-capacity crowd witnessed was a thoughtfully designed program performed with stunning sensitivity to a wide variety of musical styles and emotions. Choral blend - unanimity of tone color, attack and release - was there, of course, but so was clarity of texture - constant, loving attention to the ebb and flow of individual phrases - and all in the service, to quote Armstrong's goal, of letting the music "shine through and transform the lives of those who make and hear it."
The musical/spiritual journey started with a thrill to the ear as a brass quartet and the church's handsome Holtkamp organ, played by guest organist John Ferguson, professor of organ and church music at St. Olaf College, joined the choir in Jacobus Gallus's antiphon "This Is the Day."
In Henry Purcell's "Hear My Prayer" (a work heard here just a week ago performed by the Nordic Choir), the St. Olaf singers seemed to use their whole beings to underline the intense dissonances that express the emotion of the text. Heinrich Schuetz's big motet "Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied" ("Sing to the Lord a New Song") was the centerpiece of the set, as the choir's ample sonority rose to fill the sanctuary's fine acoustical space.
The Gloria from Daniel Pinkham's 20th-century, neo-Renaissance Christmas Cantata was a natural sequel to the concert's pre-Classical beginning, and it served as a rhythmically brassy relish before Mozart's exquisite late motet "Ave verum corpus."
Horatio Parker's gorgeous, high Victorian setting of the late-Latin Ambrosian hymn "Light's Glittering Morn" was just as effective as the 250th-anniversary Mozart, ardently and movingly sung by the choir despite the elaborate windiness of its poetry. The concert's first music of our century was a very effective setting of Psalm 126 by Abbie Betinis, an already highly accomplished composer (and St. Olaf graduate).
The wealth of magnificent music-making continued, including a section from Kenneth Jennings stirring "The Lord Is the Everlasting God," a pair of movements from F. Melius Christiansen's handsome and lyrical cantata "Celestial Spring," and Z. Randall Stroope's "The Conversion of Saul" in a performance less furious than the Nordic Choir's last week but every bit as effective.
This section ended with three separate works (by David N. Childs, Robert A. Harris and Frank Martin) that Armstrong has set side by side to create "In Remembrance: A Musical Lament," a response in particular to the natural and human-made disasters of recent years. Here the concert seemed consciously to intensify from thrilling the ear to thrilling the heart as well, and this feeling grew through the evening.
The concert's final section again featured a diversity of music, each performed with the utmost stylistic sympathy. "The Darkling Thrush," commissioned for the choir from St. Olaf graduate Timothy C. Takach, was pretty but smart; Jennings' setting of "Norge, Mitt Norge" ("Norway, My Norway") was proud and elegant; and three gospel-influenced songs were absolutely irresistible: the Louis Armstrong standard "What a Wonderful World," Josephine Poelinitz's arrangement of the spiritual "City Called Heaven" and Jeffery L. Ames' amazing gospel-shout "Let Everything That Hath Breath." It was a concert to remember and enjoy for a very long time.