You’ve probably never heard “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” the hymn written over 100 years ago, rapped before. That is, unless you attended the performance by UCSB a cappella group Naked Voices Friday evening.
Complete with beat box-esque voices providing the percussion underlying the basses, tenors, altos and sopranos in the group, the group far exceeded what this reviewer had in mind. The whole production-not just the music, but also the lights, the audience involvement, the emcee-was magnificent. The crowd itself was practically banging down the front doors waiting for the show; the ticket taker waiting inside captured the moment perfectly. “They crave a cappella,” she told her friend. And the emcee only whetted their appetites more after seating; the crowd was hyped and the energy was high.
The night opened with UCSB’s all-female a cappella group, Vocal Motion. From the very start, the ladies put on an enjoyable set. The fun began with their cover of The Corrs’ “Breathless,” then continued during their rendition of Christina Aguilera’s “Come On Over” with lots of pointing and giggling. The playful vibe took a turn with the more serious “Somebody to Love,” by Queen. The fifth song, India.Arie’s “Heart of the Matter,” was a farewell song for graduating senior Rachel Corrales. Lena Rakijian introduced Corrales by noting her small frame and saying “She got pipes!” Indeed, Corrales nailed the song, careful to not let her voice choke up despite the tears in her eyes. Then once again, VoMo went with a change of pace with ‘NSync’s “Tearin’ Up My Heart,” then finished with Mika’s “Happy Ending.”
If the audience thought Vocal Motion was any good (which it was), they were about to be amazed by the main act, Naked Voices, whose members sported t-shirts after the show bearing the slogan “We Do It Better Naked.” The crowd went crazy as soon as they took the stage. The hoots and hollers ensued with the first note of “Superfreak” and soloist Billy Lee’s singing and extreme dancing. Senior Raf Aguilar was the star of the following song, “Grace Kelly,” originally by Mika; he was spot on Mika’s signature yet difficult falsetto singing style. But it was Trevor Ditzler who stole the show with his solo in “All By Myself.” His powerful voice overtook the entire auditorium. Andrea Wang and Emily Rath were the soloists in the following two songs, “You Gotta Be” (originally by Des-ree) and Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” respectively.
The last three songs were dedicated to and sung by the three seniors in Naked Voices. Director Adam Kurihara performed a tearful “Chicago,” originally by Sufjan Stevens. There was probably not a more lyrically-appropriate song for the person who seemed like a mentor and best friend to the group; as Kurihara sang “If I was crying:it was for freedom:I’ve made a lot of mistakes,” the rest of the group sang, “You came to take us:to recreate us.” It was apparent that Kurihara is well respected by the group; fellow member Diondra Marchus introduced him saying, “He really pushed us to be the best we can be.” The song finished with soulful humming and obvious appreciation for Kurihara. The following song, Cake’s “Love You Madly” was a farewell to senior Jimmy Percival, “the best [beat boxer] in California, probably in the world,” as described by Ditzler. Finally, it was Aguilar’s turn for his final solo; he approached the microphone with the words “I’m nervous. I’m really nervous.” Indeed, he had to fight back tears along with his nerves as he performed Chris Brown’s “With You” with as much rhythm and soul as the original version; he was one of the crowd’s favorites.
Before the final song, the underclassmen presented a slideshow of photos accompanied by a beautiful song of blessing for the departing four (Corrales, Kurihara, Percival and Aguilar). You could not deny the family aspect of the group; there was obvious appreciation for those who have dedicated so much time to creating Naked Voices into what it is today.
Vocal Motion joined Naked Voices for the grand finale: the classic hymn “Joyful Joyful.” The group began with Kurihara conducting them like a choir and Corrales with the solo. The song gained speed and energy as it progressed, and it turned into a full-on stage production, with Percival beat boxing on the side, all dancing and singing, and a rap version of one of the verses.
Perhaps I will never figure out how a singing group with no instruments arranges and creates such beautiful music sounding, well, like they have instruments. Indeed, that is the beauty behind Vocal Motion and Naked Voices; both groups have created unique sounds that will be hard for upcoming musicians to match.
Above: A video of Naked Voices performing Mika’s “Grace Kelly” at their fall 2007 show.