"The more you refuse to hear my voice, the more I will sing." It's a line from the song 'Something Inside So Strong' and features on the Black Voices Australia website. Here just recently for an east coast tour, the a cappella quintet from Birmingham UK, wowed Melbourne audiences with their impressive vocal abilities and emotional resonance. Black Voices are comprised of founder and musical director Carol Pemberton, and singers Sandra Francis, Evon Nelson, Celia Anderson and Shereece Storrod.
On their second trip to Australia after seven years, the girls lamented the lack of downtime to audiences in Melbourne, having heard about our cities notoriously good shopping precincts. It was met with erupting laughter and nodding heads, Melburnian women understand this only too well. Fashion woes aside, the internationally acclaimed group, showcased just what it is that reduced Pope John Paul to tears when he saw them. Their biggest concert to date was for the Pope in Italy, with director Carol Pemberton telling the Birmingham Post, "We met him afterwards and he gave us all rosary beads, even though we are not Catholic, and said he cried when he heard us, we were so moving."
"[There's] originals and arrangements and all sorts of things, [but] no other instruments whatsoever. Just the five voices." Laughing she advised, "you might get some percussion, but that is to enhance the song, it doesn't take away from the voices in anyway." Anderson is reflective of the group's jovial nature, " it really is the voices, we do a lot of imitations of instruments [though]!"
The show comprises two acts, with the first a foray into more traditional styles of African music and even a rendition of 'The Water is Wide' and old English folk song. Two stand outs were 'Silent Music' and 'The Value of Life' both compositions from Soweto musician Kgomotso Moshugi, with the quintet deeply cognizant of bringing forth the lyrics of singer, who does not have the opportunity to spread his message this way. Their harmonies are supremely enthralling, though they may not be a gospel choir – there is an angelic element to the rich melodies and heartfelt delivery. I don't doubt there was anyone in the audience impervious to this. Glancing around, guests were riveted, struck by the depth by those five voices, not instruments, can create.
Before a quick break, we were advised, "no alcohol, that isn't good for the vocal chords, just lots of water" and cheerily informed we would be embarking on a group performance. My friend and I sneakily relished a red wine, and affirmed that our dulcet tones would be camouflaged by fellow guests reverence. Whilst the quintet didn't indulge in the 'Motown Medley' listed on the program, [compilation of five songs from Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye etc.] we did partake in 'Freedom Now' [civil rights song] – with every guest up, singing and clapping – it was remarkable and powerful to see.
Bob Marley's iconic 'Redemption Song' was the highlight of the show for me, an incredibly touching and evocative cover to be privy to. It was at this point; Anderson's words were ringing in my ears. As I closed my eyes and savoured the moment, I understood the immersion and transformation people experience. We'd discussed music being like medicine, and Anderson wholeheartedly agreed, "Definitely, something will resonate that people didn't know."
For those who weren't able to catch this experience, the quintet performed for Radio National [I've included the videos]. Both songs were in the shows repertoire and will provide a first-hand experience. In the joyful words of Anderson, I urge you to listen and "just come along with an open mind." Their songs are designed to highlight culture, history and the girl's glorious backgrounds. My friend, who attended with me, expressed that she experienced a significant shift over the next couple of days. She went from stressed out, to revitalised. Herein lies the power of soulful music that can sit with you for days, even a lifetime afterwards.