All In The Voice

16 May 2012 | 7:06 am | Michael Smith

More Naturally 7 More Naturally 7

Last in Australia last year supporting Michael Bublé, their second visit here with the Canadian jazz singer, seven-piece a cappella group Naturally 7 are returning for their second headlining tour to showcase their latest album, VocalPlay. Famous for their remarkable ability not only to harmonise across everything from gospel to doo-wop to hip hop, but more impressively to recreate the sounds of drums, guitars, synthesisers, brass and string instruments with their voices – hence their description of their music as Voice Play – with this latest album, they've moved away from popular covers to predominantly original material.

“We love doin' covers, sing people's favourite tunes – that way people can see exactly what we're doin' to them,” founder, musical director, arranger and first baritone Roger Thomas explains from on tour in South Korea. “But of course with the original tunes, we really get to pretty much start the process out yourself of how the story's goin' to be told musically and lyrically, and that's what our audiences react to is a lot of our original material, which is kind of exciting.

“I come from an inspirational point of view. There's always a message in the music – there's always a political point to make, there's always a religious point to make – and at the same time it doesn't have to be something battering your head; it's just kind of subtly there. Most of the music comes from just something that I've experienced in life and I want to tell it in a way where some people are gonna get it directly and some people indirectly and some people not at all.”

While there are the odd hip hop elements here and there, the music of Naturally 7, which includes Thomas' younger brother Warren, who provides the “drums”, along with Garfield Buckley, Rod Eldridge, Napoleon Cummings, Dwight Stewart and Armand Hutton, most of whom have been singing together since they were kids, is very definitely melody – and of course harmony – driven.

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“You know, we learned that from the time we were children that melody is key,” Thomas tells. “That's the first thing that I believe people hear, so as much as I love harmony, melody comes first, and as much as I love lyrics, melody comes first. So the beat is important, the bass is important, all that stuff is important, but melody first.”

The Thomas brothers grew up singing in church, so the idea of singing gospel harmonies came pretty naturally as they got older, but when Roger Thomas started entering the group of friends they'd started singing with in a cappella competitions and they were winning them, there came a point where he had to decide whether to add musicians or stay a cappella. As it turns out, Warren Thomas had figured out how to make up for his parents not buying him a drum kit by recreating the sounds of a kit with remarkable accuracy. That got Roger to thinking perhaps the other members could recreate other instruments, and Vocal Play was born.

“Five of us out of the seven have been together for a long time and didn't know that we had these talents,” Thomas admits. “So this was something that once we decided this direction, I was very interested. Could we become a band using only our voices? Once that idea came to me, I kind of just went to each guy to see what they might be able to bring to the table and they were able to bring all sorts of things, it was really a blessing. So there wasn't the auditioning for parts; these guys that were my friends were there – it's happenstance.”