Make the music with your mouth, etc.Dec 15, 2008
A week ago I attended the First International Body Music Festival, hosted in San Francisco. I wanted to catch the Friday night sampler show since it included the most varied acts from around the world, but it sold out before I got a ticket. I didn't expect so many other people to be making such an oddball choice on a Friday night. But I did make it to Sunday night's "In the Americas" show.
In simple terms, it was a lot of artists making music using just their bodies. This was a refreshingly unusual and creative show, with acts including singing, rhythmic stomping, human beatboxing, finger snaps, hand claps, body and face slaps, tongue clicks, mouth pops and more.
You can check out all the body music artists--including those I didn't see--if you're curious, so I'll just review my personal highlights:
Most likely for me to pay to see again: Slammin All-Body Band. This was easily awarded due to geography, but this local group from Oakland puts on a good show, with a really nice jazzy sound. Each member is talented at his/her specialty, including singing, beatboxing, body music and vocal instrumentalization (I don't know if that's what they call it, I just threw that term out there). The male lead singer left me particularly impressed, with a great voice and range, and even some cool scat. No, not the poopoo kind. That'd be weird... but would technically qualify as body music too, I reckon.
Best use of mouth harp: Barbatuques. Coming all the way from Brazil, this group incorporated all types of body and mouth sounds. I liked the throaty bass lines and, although not strictly body music, the infectious use of what I believe was a Jew's harp (I actually owned one at a young age, just long enough to remember that questionable nomenclature). Check out Baiana to see what I mean.
Most cutely demonic-sounding: Celina Kalluk & Lucie Idlout. These two women are cousins from Canada; but not just north of the border where I've been told all Canadians live. They're from Iqaluit, Nunavut, which is beyond the Hudson Bay, out where the nation breaks up into islands and we figure it's just glaciers melting and polar bears hiding their eyes with their paws so they can sneak up on their next meal. Anyway, these Canadian women demonstrated Inuit throat-singing, which involves them standing close together and singing into each other's mouths to create sounds that probably shouldn't ever come out of human beings. It was very interesting to watch and hear. A notable aspect is that they would be working together on a sound or a song, then suddenly break into laughter. At first it was cute because it was unexpected and they have the charming Bjork-ish accents, but after a while when it kept happening it just seemed unprofessional. They explained that it's part of the tradition to see who will crack up first. Well played, Inuit.
Another unique aspect of the show was the degree of crowd participation. Throughout the show, performers brought audience members on stage or led the audience in making various sounds and rhythms. Many people in the crowd were eager to try some body music for themselves. It was nice to see so many people actually getting into it. And heartfelt applause came in the form of foot stomping, which was new to me. Of course, it was a different story when the overenthusiastic felt an apparently-irresistible urge to experiment with their own unsolicited body music during the show. If you just have to stomp your feet and slap your face, maybe I'll do the same, if you understand my meaning.