Last night the audience at the Melbourne Recital Centre was treated to the glorious harmonies and pure tones of the British a capella group Black Voices. Their music is firmly grounded in the black oral tradition – unaccompanied voice and lively audience interaction. This style of performance is more closely association with gospel or jazz, but Black Voices choose to cover the full musical spectrum, including pop, reggae and folk.
Black Voices have been touring the world for over 25 year and last visited Melbourne in 2007; the current line up has been together for thirteen years. Not surprisingly they have developed a style that is distinctively their own, rich harmonies complement songs of sorrow, hope and freedom. Two original members of the collective, Carol Pemberton MBE and Sandra Francis, are joined on this tour by Evon Nelson, Celia Anderson and, the youngest member, Shereece Storrod. Carol and Celia provide a rich, deep base tone that grounds the other voices as they play around them. Their voices provide all the accompaniment that is needed and are so intricately intertwined that it is impossible to single one singer out from the others.
After introductions and some banter with the audience – we were warned that we would be expected to actively join in during the second half – they launched into a moving version of Fragile, written by Gordon Sumner (Sting). The first act was a mix of traditional African and English songs, interspersed with two songs by South African composer/arranger Kgomotso Mosbugi written especially for the group, Silent Music and The Value of Life. The act finished with an up tempo version of a traditional spiritual, Gotta Do It Right, the group playing with the audience, taunting them by introducing long pauses which elicited enthusiastic applause before they'd finished the song.
The second half brought a change of mood. It included songs by Carole King (Way Over Yonder), Bob Marley (Redemption Song), and a stirring version of Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water. The audience were no longer allowed to be simply spectators; instead they were encouraged to join in as back up singers on some of the songs. There was little hesitation when we were asked to stand – “you can't sing and dance whilst sitting down” – and join in with hand claps (some of us had more trouble than others with the tempo). The performance concluded with Nina Simone's I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free. This was followed by an enthusiastic standing ovation with the audience was clearly determined to elicit an encore. They were not disappointed as the group returned to sing Sam Cooke's Change Gon' Come.
The Recital Centre was the perfect venue for this wonderful group of singers. The acoustics ensured that we were able to fully appreciate the vocals and, together with subtle lighting effects, we were transported through a range of emotions, from sorrow, to joy, to hope. An emotional and ultimately life-affirming experience which brought us together in a genuine mood of celebration.
Venue: Melbourne Recital Centre
Date: Thursday 30 October 2014 7.30pm
Bookings: melbournerecital.com.au or 03 9699 3333
Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre
Date: Friday 31 October 2014 7.30pm
Bookings: bass.net.au or 131 246
Venue: City Recital Hall
Date: Sunday 2 November 2014 3pm
Bookings: cityrecitalhall.com or 02 8256 2222