A cover of Phil Collins' "In the Air Tonight," performed live on the Paris Metro and then posted on YouTube, was the first introduction for many North Americans to the a cappella phenomenon Naturally 7. These experts of "vocal play" may hail from Brooklyn, N.Y., but its opening spot on Michael Bublé's tour is its first cross-continent showcase.
Formed in 1999 to participate in a U.S.-wide gospel competition, the group has taken Europe by storm, charting hits in Germany, France, Italy and -- recently -- the UK. Four albums are out, three on EMI Records.
It seems about time to come home.
"In a way, it seems like a slow burn to get here and, in another, a fast burn," says founder Roger "N'glish" Thomas. "We began as a straight a cappella group and then got into recreating instruments and, just last year, coined the phrase 'vocal play' to describe what we do."
Thomas sings baritone and raps. Brother Warren Thomas is the human drum machine. Tenor and harmonica come courtesy of Garfield Buckley while Jamal Reed provides keyboards, tenor and baritone. Armand "Hops" Hutton drops in funky bass riffs and harmonies. Rod Eldrige sings trumpet and tenor. The only solo vocalist is baritone Dwight Stewart. It's amazing to hear them cut loose and sing band, vocals and orchestral hooks all at once. The closest comparison would be Grammy winners Take 6-meets-Rahzel.
Plus, they can do it anywhere.
"Someone from EMI noted that and said, 'hey, why not go into the Paris Metro at rush hour and record you singing. At the time, we didn't think much of it. As far as we can tell now, millions and millions have seen it. Far more than the hit video we did."
"In The Air Tonight" is just one of the radio charting tunes on the group's fourth CD, Ready II Fly. N'glish says that the plan is to release the album across North American and world markets to coincide with the tour. Mostly, it's about the live show.
"When we open our show, it takes two or three songs before people realize it's only vocals. Then we totally blow their minds."
Rave reviews accompanied the septet's opening slots on Bublé's European tour.
© The Province, by Stuart Derdeyn