Review: BarberSoc’s A Cappella Extravaganza

BarberSoc's Extravaganza was a night of sharing the heartfelt pleasure of singing

A group of young people stand in two lines on stage, lit by stage lights. The man at the front on the left is holding a microphone and is beatboxing while the rest sing. The Accidentals, one of the three BarberSoc ensembles. Photo: Kimberley Wright

On Friday night, BarberSoc hosted its end of semester concert, A Cappella Extravaganza. Hosted in the Seymour Centre’s jazz club-esque Sound Lounge, it was a well-paced and diverse exploration of the a cappella style.

Barbershop singing occupies a weird niche in the world of musical genres, being simultaneously alternative and vested in homely traditions. A common crutch for a cappella groups is to rely upon covers of pop songs in order to garner mainstream appeal, but Extravaganza aimed to explore more of the genre’s possibilities. The show began with a bluesy reinterpretation of Lorde’s ‘Green Light’, with melancholy lyrics and jazzy rhythms that suited the atmospheric Sound Lounge and reminded us that barbershop is more than lighthearted, campy love songs.

That said, this wasn’t an experimental concert, but rather one grounded in more mainstream hits like ‘See You Again’ and ‘Demons. Original? Not so much. Heartfelt and fun? Definitely. The heartfelt feeling was certainly complemented by the casual introductions to pieces, the singers’ grooving along to the songs, and a rather hilarious semi-choreographed turn reminiscent of a primary school performance. It seemed that BarberSoc wanted to showcase the informal and accessible side of barbershop music, and did so quite successfully.

The highlights came when the group embraced the more individual qualities of a cappella singing, rather than replicating existing works. The heartfelt ‘Amazing Grace let us revel in the melody and cleanness of the voices of talented singers, and the thread of beatboxing throughout the night was an inspired touch. But the most memorable piece of the night was the closing songBaba yetu’, drawn from the Civilisation IV soundtrack. A Kiswahili language piece reminiscent of gospel choir, it captured that unique power of hymns to evoke something simultaneously epic and personal, connecting the audience to the traditional rhythms of the piece.

Extravaganza may not be the best word to describe the evening. It wasn’t a larger-than-life spectacle; rather, it was a peek into what the group had been working on all semester, aiming to share the pleasure of singing with the audience. It seemed to be a thoroughly enjoyable evening for all the singers — and it was for the audience too.