In 2012, they released a full acapella Christmas song called Christmas Print. Each Christmas they try to bring in three to four new songs. In addition to their older songs they bring in something fresh every Christmas. During the Christmas season they sing carols for the college and do a couple of other gigs. It is generally a busy season for the acapella choir Voice Print with lots of corporate events.
Voice Print, was a part of St Benedict’s College carols that took place on Tuesday, at the St Lucia’s Cathedral, Kotahena. They performed one acapella song, Namo Mariyani, the Sinhala version of Ave Maria. They also performed contemporary versions of the carols Hark the Herald and Unspeakable Joy to a musical arrangement.
“This time we have learnt four new songs including an acapella song,” says Michael Quyn referring to their Christmas plans. Naresh Sathasivam elaborated that their songs for Christmas includes existing songs and carols adapted to acapella style. “The difference is that we make the version more fun and enjoyable,” he says.
Nicole Liyanage explains carols that could be sung as acapella pretty much depends on people who are singing it or arranging it. “Any song, if it’s done without music and in harmony, is considered acapella.”
Voice Print initially started as the old boys choir of St Benedict’s College. Initially there were 30 members in the choir. Then due to the restrictions on number of members who could participate in international competitions, the number decreased. Currently they are a group of six, including Naresh Sathasivam, Dilan Irugalbandara, Eshan Anthony, Michael Quyn, Nicole Liyanage and Ryan de Mel.
Voice Print won the bronze in spiritual category and the silver in pop category at the World Choir games 2010, in China. The choir started going commercial in 2012, with the release of songs, Gayu Gee and then Pem lowa. Quyn attributes the group’s success in the commercial market to uniqueness of acapella music and the particular musical arrangements and singing employed by them.
“Acapella music is our identity as a group or band. It’s a mix of vocal play harmonized to bring out the musical elements,” he says. Voice Print sings pop, reggae and all genres except jazz.
“We love this so much. It’s basically a hobby that has been taken to the next level,” says Nicole. They knew they had something different which is what made them go commercial in the first place. “After we released our first music video, many artistes in Sri Lanka got to know who we are, what we do and what we can do. They encouraged us. We especially wanted to reach the Sinhalese market. When you say acapella, no one knew about it. We brought it into the market with a local twist,” he recalls.
Acapella music is a way of singing. It is singing without any instruments or an orchestra, using only the voices and the harmonies. “The chords bring harmonies similar to keyboard-like effect, the bassist mimics the base guitar and the beat box mimics the drums. We also impersonate lead guitar, trumpet and DJ sound effects,” shares Sathasivam. These harmonies can be done in different ways, with the vocal play.
When it comes to a song, basically there is a melody line, which is the main key line where one sings with the words. To support that, there are the harmonies. “If you take a musical chord, melody line has three supporting harmonies, with base line and the beat. In terms of technicality, basically what acapella, in simplified terms, is singing without any musical instruments, taking only the key.”
Music arrangements for Voice Print are mainly done by Dilan Irugalbandara. Along with Eshan Anthony, he brings in all the musical twists. “Eshan does a lot of lyric writing. The song, Nodani Apage Pathum, which we did in collaboration with Nirosha Virajini is one such song he wrote and Dylan and he together made the melody. We also did a song for 150th anniversary of St Benedict’s Collage. Eshan wrote lyrics for that as well.”
Quyn admits that they are more comfortable singing acapella than singing to a backing track. “Personally I feel I am more in control of what I am doing when I sing acapella, since from a young age we used to sing it. So we know what to do and what not to do.”
They do a lot of Sinhala, Tamil and English songs. “It was a hit when Gayu Gee came out. It was a new discovery for the Sinhala market and they wanted to know how we were producing the sounds. When we were actually performing live, they learned the difference, since it was a different way of listening to the song. That excitement and that difference of not using instruments brought us a long way,” says Quyn.
According to him, the English speaking segment in Colombo was somewhat familiar with acapella, but they offered something different by bringing in more pop elements into the acapella industry. “The way we do acapella is different from the way others do acapella here.” If instruments are used alongside, it’s not acapella. “But if a band or a track is backing, sometimes we do harmonize alongside,” he says.
He explained that acapella or unaccompanied singing has been there since the 1500s or even before that. “Gregorian Chant is one such example. Babershop quartet is an example of contemporary acapella,” he says. Quoy explains that Africa was the cradle of acapella. In the ancient times, Africans used to sing without any instruments. From there, acapella went to United States where it became more commercialized and the style evolved and spread to other parts of the world.