Saturday, 13 June 2009

Naturally 7 gig: review - London June 2009

For those who’ve not heard of them, Naturally Seven (official site, European site) are a very unusual 7-man a capella / beatboxing group who, as well as singing, can emulate a full band by mimicking drums, bass guitar, lead guitar and keyboards etc with uncanny accuracy.

They call it “vocal play”. Think the next evolutionary stage on from the great Bobby McFerrin; "beatboxing" just isn't enough to describe how good they are. Superlative, magical, you just have to hear them for yourself.

To quote from their site: "A cappella is defined as singing without instruments. Vocal Play is singing AS instruments, and BECOMING an instrument with the voice. What makes Naturally 7 special is that every instrument sound that they sing is created from the human voice. There are no actual drums, guitars, horns, flutes, or any other instrument that is heard when listening to them perform; it’s the band members playing each of their vocal instruments."

Based in New York (though one member is from Watford and two were born in Stoke Newington), their roots lie very much in gospel, RnB and hip hop (they said that they started singing together in church in about 1999). But they can cover a huge variety of music - in their Barbican Center concert on 10 June 2009, the two brothers said (I assume this is true) that when they were young the only non-secular recordings in the house were by John Denver, Cliff Richard and Simon & Garfunkel!

The songs performed at their Barbican concert were mostly hiphop / R&B but they also sang other music from Beatles to Simon & Garfunkel to gospel, Motown and Phil Collins’ In the Air Tonight - probably their most well known song (just check out their amazing rendition in the YouTube video above). To be honest, I prefer their earlier, more gospel / pop-style music, as I’m not the biggest hiphop / R'n'B fan in the world.

These guys are absolutely superb vocalists and musicians, and you can tell that they’ve sung together for years, they were so tight and well-coordinated (and yep, with no conductor!). Lest you think I’m being undiscriminatingly fawning about them, in one song the lead vocalists were a bit sharp – but still, no one cared. If I could sing with a group as good as that, I’d die happy. (As an aside, there are tons of choirs / music theatre groups for amateur classical / musicals singers, why aren't there vocal groups for people who want to sing pop / rock etc just for fun - not just barbershop groups, whose style of harmonising somehow sets my teeth on edge?)

I first heard of them when a friend sent me a link to the video of their TED performance of Fly Baby last week – shown below - and, surprisingly, when I tried to book for the Barbican gig there were still some tickets left!

Having listened to samples of their songs online, I have to say that I think they’re a group who are much, much more enjoyable live than on recording. You can’t quite believe that you’re hearing human voices rather than band instruments unless you see it for yourself.

For one thing, they do fun stuff in concert, like demonstrate the different drum sounds that their drum guy can do. And another guy did the Hendrix Star-Spangled Banner guitar solo – I kid you not (really accurate electric guitar sound!). And they also demonstrated the harmonica in the Beatles’ Love Me Do. Not to mention the bass in Stayin’ Alive and Thriller, and various trumpets, flutes, pipe organs etc. Not to mention DJ scratching. (See their bios for the full information on who "plays" what instrument.)

I guess the Tube strike didn’t help, but at the concert almost a third of the Circle seemed empty. Which is a big shame – people don’t know what they’ve missed. It’s not too late though – there are a couple more UK dates coming up in their current tour so if you live in the North or Scotland, catch them if you can. (Then they’re doing France, US, Switzerland and Germany.)

Here are more samples of their songs, to keep you going for now:

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