Imprinting a new sound

Himal Kotelawala meets Voice Print, as the all-male 10 member group gets ready to take on world choirs at the World Choir Games, in July.

Why does the rain fall from above?
Why do fools fall in love?
Why do they fall in love?

They sang to me, as the rain was really falling down hard on the St. Benedict’s College Main Hall roof. It felt like something straight out of a cross between a 1950s musical and a’70s cult hit. I found myself tapping my foot in time to the music as the Voice Print boys did their thing – singing the Frankie Lymon hit in a way it was probably never sung before on Sri Lankan soil.

It is this very music that will be taking centre stage in China come July 15, when Voice Print take on some of the world’s greatest choirs at the World Choir Games, 2010 – an annual event considered by many to be the Olympics of choral singing.

This ten member choir, backed by a four-piece band, will take part in two rounds at the Games, namely Pop and Sacred, comprising four songs each, and, for the grand finale, will do a medley of some of the music industry’s biggest hits including those by the King of Rock & Roll and also the King of Pop.

The organisers were so impressed by their talent that, after listening to their demo tape, they recommended the boys be promoted straight to the Champions Competition, bypassing the initial Open Competition. What’s more, the outfit has been handpicked to perform with just 10 other choirs from a total of 320 at the main event.

An Old Benedictine group named after the graphical representation of voice on paper, Voice Print go back a long time. As we sit down for a chat, the group’s music director Michael Sathasivam recalls how it all began at a wedding (his wedding, to be precise, as his colleagues quickly interject).

“We formed the group in 2006 when we sang for a wedding. I was the most senior. Some of us had left school, some were still in school. Even while we were still in College, we were involved with the College Choir; and once we came out, we all got together and started singing, informally. Straight after the wedding we decided to do a concert,” he recalls.

Thus Voice Print were born and they teamed up and put together a concert titled Up Where We Belong – a sell out, two night event at the Lionel Wendt. Established artists like Bertram Charles and Rukshan Mark helped them out with the recording and also offered the fledgling group kinds of tips and tricks.

Then came Mariazelle Goonatilleke, who requested the group to sing with her at her 40th anniversary concert. Their popularity as an Acapella group gradually increased as the new singers got to mingle with popular, successful artists, and as they made it to local radio with their own hit songs, radio jingles, corporate gigs, ads and… wait for it… political campaigns soon followed.

“We got invited for various shows and recordings by artists like Mariazelle and Rukshan Mark, and that also opened the door for us to do a lot of corporate jingles. We’ve done jingles for pretty much all the telecom operators. We have also done ads for various other people, and have also done music for political campaigns – including President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s campaign at the last presidential election,” says Michael.

If you remember that ad with the little children, featuring jaw-dropping aerial shots and hauntingly beautiful backing vocals – yes, that’s the one.

Oh, and they were also invited to perform at the Temple Trees Christmas Party last year.
They haven’t forgotten their roots, though. Voice Print can still be heard singing their hearts out at friends’ and colleagues’ weddings.

Getting back to the Choir Games, the boys plan to sing four popular songs including a six part Acapella version of Lahiru Perera’s mega hit Rambari (backed by the band The Rebels) at the Pop round. The other three tracks will be Don’t Stop by Queen, I Want You Back by Jackson 5 and, of course, Why Do Fools In Love by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. At the Sacred round, the group will sing Ave Verum Corpus, a piece by Whirlwind, Nearer My God to Thee and a Sinhala version of the Lord’s Prayer written by Father Marcelline Jayakody.

The music arrangements were handled by the group’s music director Dilan Irugalbandara, ably assisted by beatboxer Julius Mitchelle (yes, they have a beatboxer).

“The arrangement will be modern. There will be new beats added. We are trying to add some vocal instruments as well – that’s basically mimicking and reproducing the sound of an instrument with one’s mouth. Julius can do about three instruments, and I can do two – mainly techno sounds,” says Dilan.

Julius the beatboxer, a relatively quiet young guy has mastered the art of beat boxing by watching clips on the internet.

Sri Lanka has no shortage of choirs and acapella singers, but Voice Print stands out from the crowd for one very important reason: variety. From Rambari to Metallica covers to Michael Jackson and even contemporary hits like Down by Jay Sean, Voice Print have really struck a chord, so to speak, with the growing number of Acapella fans of this country.

“While we would like to keep our whole Western music, western choral singing aspect intact, I think the best way to reach the masses right now, is to try out something new – like Sinhala Acapella, for instance, which I believe nobody here has done yet,” says Michael.

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