Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Naturally 7 raises their voices
By Joy Childs
Published October 15, 2011

The septet supports CAAM’s education programs and performs at the 6th Annual Taste of Soul Festival.

Regularly opening for singer Michael Bublé has allowed Naturally 7 to travel all over the world — from their New York base to Hollywood’s Playboy Jazz Festival.  If you’ve gone to that festival either this year and last, you’re already a fan of this amazing vocal septet, which has a knack for leaving their audiences with mouths open in wonderment at what their ears are experiencing.?
For some, their sound can be defined as “a cappella,” but to the group, it’s known as “vocal play.”  What’s the difference?  While a cappella is defined as singing without instruments “vocal play” is singing as instruments and becoming an instrument with one’s voice..

This weekend, the group’s “vocal play” will be on display at two separate events in Los Angeles.  The 6th Annual Taste of Soul Festival (www.tasteofsoulla.org) brought to you by yours truly, the Los Angeles Sentinel, will be held on Saturday, October 15.  Naturally 7 will be performing live on the 94.7 The Wave stage.  The group will also perform this Sunday, in support of the California African American Museum (CAAM)’s education programs.  And it’ll be just them — all them.

Naturally 7 is the brainchild of Roger Thomas, who started the group back in 1999 in New York City, with his brother and five other men he knew from around the way.  We caught up with founder / musical director Thomas recently.  Through the group’s extensive website (www.naturallyseven.com), we were able to get to know the man behind the group’s arrangements who, like many of us, is a true student of the a cappella genre.  

So instead, we decided to go beyond that which this group does best — vocal harmony — and delve into other matters.  Like whether Thomas, or any of the others, has any aspirations beyond singing — like acting or doing film scores.

RT:  No one has ever asked that question … so I don’t have a prepared answer.

LAS:  Oh, good!

RT:  We’ve never as a group talked about anybody’s acting aspirations.  I would love for us to get into that industry … ‘cause I love it so much.  I would love for us some day to do a whole score for a movie.  I could see that, you know, if it was the right vehicle, then it would be a wonderful thing to do that.

LAS:  Now, when you say the “right vehicle,” can you even envision, as the leader of the group, what that “vehicle” might look like?
RT:  As you were talking, I was thinking about [the music in] one of my favorite Denzel Washington movies—it just left my mind—the submarine movie …

LAS:  With Gene Hackman?

RT:  Yes … [My favorite] scene in there, which is the best dialogue that I’ve ever seen on the screen, is Denzel and Hackman, just going back and forth … but what struck me was the soundtrack  … the soundtrack for the whole movie was choirs singing.  It was interesting because really, they were singing old hymns and it went really well with being underwater … and the average person that’s not listening to that soundtrack wouldn’t even think about it and that meant that it really, really worked.  

So what we’d wanna do is … do an all-voice type thing, and it would make it really, really interesting … but we’d have to find the right vehicle … Earlier in the movie I had started to hear a lot of the scoring and the music, big voicing — what was the name of this movie?!

JC:    Do you know of a group called the Hi Lo’s?

RT:  Yep!

JC:  And what do you think of them?  I’ll tell you why I ask in a minute.

RT:  Just so you know, I’m pretty much the only one in the group like that: I am like a musical historian when it comes to anything that is vocal-oriented.

JC:  The reason I ask is they’re my favorite a cappella group [and I grew up listening to them.] They’re probably my all-time favorite a cappella group.  That was kind of an early influence on my subsequent musical tastes … So it may seem like a leap, but I wondered whether you’re working with any young people, trying to enthuse them about [a cappella music]? … because these days, they’re so enamored of hip-hop, rap, gangsta rap—and this art form must be preserved …

RT:  We’ve had the fortune — and we wanna bring it back again —where we would spend a week or about 3 or 4 days in a city and we would have a concert, like  on a Saturday night, but we’d have a chance to go to about 8, 9 maybe 10 schools … from kindergarten up through high school.  And one of the blessings we would have is that the teachers would tell us that we were the first artists that the kids would sit still … and listen [to]! And we realized that — it wasn’t ‘cause we were so great — it was ‘cause they were interested in the human voice — like what we were doing.  And of course, when we got to older groups of children, we got to sit down with them and talk with them, and I realized, just from the questions they asked, that that 30 minutes or hour you get to spend with them, it contains what they think music is.  With what the kids are being totally exposed to radio-wise, it is really, really, really sad — and that’s one of our missions as a group —is to carry that flag … to bring music to young people …

LAS:  Just found it — it’s “Crimson Tide”!

RT:  It comes with a beautiful soundtrack because of the voicing.  Much of the time, not all the time, it was a cappella.  It was big voicing, big hymns, very fitting for the film — and that’s what I’d look for — where the voices go very well with what’s being portrayed on the screen.

After talking about other mutual favorite a cappella groups (the Swingle Singers, Gene Puerling, and the Singers Unlimited), we came to the inevitable comparisons of Naturally 7 to Take 6.  

Unfortunately, many people think of Naturally 7 as a hip-hop Take 6.
RT, however, put things in perspective.

RT:  If you go to our website, Take 6 and us, we got together for the first time.  We were in St. Louis … We’d never been in the same city at the same time … About 2 weeks ago … we weren’t at the same show. [Our] show … was done by about 8:30 p.m., and we went over to the club where they were playing and we decided to document it so you can see that on our videotape … me, pretty much speaking to Take 6 with the rest of the group.  Both groups are right there [on our website], and my intention was — I had never been able to publicly sing their praises!  And the key thing I wanted to say to them — which I got a chance — I was so happy to tell them — without Take 6, even though we’ve gone on to find our own style … I told them that without them doing what they did, we wouldn’t even have known that it was even worth following our dreams to do a cappella at all.  They’re the ones that brought to my attention that there’s a world out there beyond three-part harmony … They are, without question, my heroes …

When asked whether there was anybody they’ve not performed with — someone whom they respect, whose voice they love — whom they would take on as an [honorary] eighth member of Naturally 7?!, Thomas was hard-pressed to come up with anyone.  Eventually, he offered this gem:

RT:  We did do something at the North Sea Jazz Fest … We got on the stage with Bobby McFerrin, and we knew we were going to be on stage with him about a week or two before but we hadn’t heard from him—not ‘til we got there that day and we said [RT imitates a panicky voice], ‘OK, OK, we haven’t been able to catch up with you … What are we gonna do?’ And he’s like, ‘Do whatever we’re gonna do!’

So if you want to see Naturally 7 do whatever they’re gonna do and satisfy your passion for a cappella/vocal play/vocalese and throw in a  little altruism, it’s only natural for you to be at the 6th Annual Taste of Soul Festival this Saturday or at the CAAM this Sunday.  Remember, the Taste of Soul festival begins at 10 A.M. and ends at 6P.M. Doors open for the CAAM event at 6:30 p.m., with the show beginning at 7 p.m.  See you there!!

Categories: Music

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