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Talisman

Stanford University

Passage (2001)

5.0

October 31, 2001

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 5.0
Soloists 5.0
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 4.7
Tracks
1 Akwaba 5.0
2 Human 5.0
3 Beulah 5.0
4 Sixolele Baba 5.0
5 Famine Song 5.0
6 Soon Ah Will Be Done 5.0
7 Ë Hatta A Beta Apebba 5.0
8 Rafiki 5.0
9 Go Tell It On the Mountain 4.3
10 Pata Pata! 5.0
11 This Little Light of Mine 5.0
12 Kube 5.0
13 Eyes On the Prize 4.3
14 Woza Mfana 4.7
15 Going Home 4.3
16 Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing 4.7

Recorded 2000 – 2001
Total time: 62:25, 16 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Akwaba 5
2 Human 5
3 Beulah 5
4 Sixolele Baba 5
5 Famine Song 5
6 Soon Ah Will Be Done 5
7 Ë Hatta A Beta Apebba 5
8 Rafiki 5
9 Go Tell It On the Mountain 4
10 Pata Pata! 5
11 This Little Light of Mine 5
12 Kube 5
13 Eyes On the Prize 4
14 Woza Mfana 4
15 Going Home 4
16 Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing 4

Talisman has finally grown into itself, and oh, what a group it has become! In Passage, its newest album, the group pulled out all the stops for its best effort yet, a varied and excellently sung collection of songs from around the world.

On this recording, Talisman has reached beyond some of the qualities that have limited it in the past. It has chosen repertoire outside of the standard ethnic a cappella canon, a very welcome move. The group also has proven that it can leave behind its choral roots when it chooses, without losing the more charming aspects of a pure choral sound. Soon Ah Will Be Done comes off as a full-on classical rendition in intonation, dynamic range and tone. Yet the group also proves it can let that side of itself go, as on the sterling Akwaba that opens the disc. An Angelique Kidjo cover, the song rocks, especially in its opening strains and first solo wail. It's got an oomph that has previously eluded Talisman in almost all of its previous repertoire.

There are some sterling soloists on this album. Too numerous to name, the women have a smoothness of tone and breadth of timbre that allows them a great ensemble sound as well as a full complement of distinct solo voices. Each is distinct from the next, from smooth and luscious to that thin, edgy sound that you hear in many types of African pop music. The men are good too, but less of a prominent force. Outside a few nice tenor bits, the male soloists are few and far between. But without them, we would surely miss them — full, solid bass lines anchor nearly every song and round out the Talisman sound.

Talisman makes sensitive use of percussion, both vocal and external. I found all of it to be tasteful and appropriate. When drums are present, they accent the voices rather than overshadowing them, and they make a nice addition to the group's sound. Percussion is a thoughtful part of the arrangements, which are mostly full, complex and tailored to the group's skills and voices. I particularly liked the settings of Ë Hatta A Beta Apebba and This Little Light of Mine. The former is an elegant duet against a background of ocean sounds for its first three minutes, then expands into a smooth ensemble number with light percussion. The latter takes the original melody fairly far afield and is based on a riff by the now defunct, but still beloved, Vox One. The powerhouse arrangement on Akwaba also is worthy of mention, along with lovely setting of the first verse of Lift Every Voice and Sing.

It's a great album, one that should appeal to fans of world music both in and out of the a cappella world.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Akwaba 5
2 Human 5
3 Beulah 5
4 Sixolele Baba 5
5 Famine Song 5
6 Soon Ah Will Be Done 5
7 Ë Hatta A Beta Apebba 5
8 Rafiki 5
9 Go Tell It On the Mountain 5
10 Pata Pata! 5
11 This Little Light of Mine 5
12 Kube 5
13 Eyes On the Prize 5
14 Woza Mfana 5
15 Going Home 5
16 Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing 5

Once again, Talisman has put together quite an amazing album, full of the most beautiful African and African-American music you've ever heard. The Stanford University-based group has been together for over ten years and, truly, never ceases to amaze me. This group sings with more soul and confidence than any other college a cappella group I have ever heard.

This is a long album, especially for an a cappella group. Sixty minutes (16 tracks) is a lot to fill, and Talisman does it confidently and smoothly. The album is very even; there are no weak or filler tracks thrown in, just good singing throughout. The soloists are superb and really sound very advanced for their ages. Many collegiate soloists suffer from musical-theater-oversinging-syndrome, where solos are sung with no feeling and feature way too clear enunciation.

Talisman's tuning and blend are wonderful. The recording quality is top notch. I really liked the addition of ambient sounds (e.g. ocean sounds) on track #7, Ë Hatta A Beta Apebba. The group uses hand drums (conga and djembe) on several tracks, but they seem very appropriate for the songs they were used in. You will not find a better recording of this genre of music, aside from maybe SoVoSó or similar professional groups. Talisman just keeps getting better and better. I can't imagine how they could ever top this album. If you're looking to be blown away, pick up a copy of Passage. You will not be disappointed.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Akwaba 5
2 Human 5
3 Beulah 5
4 Sixolele Baba 5
5 Famine Song 5
6 Soon Ah Will Be Done 5
7 Ë Hatta A Beta Apebba 5
8 Rafiki 5
9 Go Tell It On the Mountain 4
10 Pata Pata! 5
11 This Little Light of Mine 5
12 Kube 5
13 Eyes On the Prize 4
14 Woza Mfana 5
15 Going Home 4
16 Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing 5

Talisman's fifth full-length CD, Passage, is a beautiful tapestry woven of hypnotic rhythms, compelling melodies, tight harmonies, powerful soloists, and a soulful attention to musicality. The liner notes say that say they're moving forward "with blends of urban soul and contemporary African rhythms...toward an unknown future armed with songs of struggle and celebration". There is no doubt that they mean this. It's the real deal.

The liner notes alone prepare you for the professionalism of this disc. Not only is there an eloquent description of the group, its history, and its message, but they also provide appropriate background information and translations (when necessary) for each song.

Where to begin? Do I mention their tuning? Sure: their harmonies are tight and locked-in, from laser-beam unaccompanied duets and trios to the sultry sound of the women-only track (Human), to the butter-smooth blend of the men-only track (Going Home), to the full ensemble's united sound (Famine Song, Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing). Do I mention their soloists? Absolutely: every female soloist is just awesome, and almost every male soloist is, too. What's most impressive about this is that fifteen women and eleven men have a turn at soloing, avoiding detriment to the spectacular sound and energy of the disc.

Should I mention the arrangements? How could I not? Some are dazzlingly complex (Rafiki), some are simpler (Famine Song). But none bore. How can you breath new life into a simple Negro spiritual? Talisman's frequent answer is to layer multiple melodies. Spirituals, folk songs, contemporary R&B — all; are fair game here. Beulah weaves three spirituals together seamlessly. Rafiki takes the already intricate, hip-hop infused Zap Mama tune and mixes in some Mariah Carey, adding a new dimension to the original. It's refreshing to see a group taking exciting music and building on it, instead of simply striving for a passable duplication.

Highlights are tough to choose; it depends on what gets you going. Rafiki is probably the most similar to mainstream collegiate a cappella (in arranging style, not in presentation), and could be a standout on BOCA. Ë Hatta A Beta Apebba sets a pensive, haunting tone with an extended first section — just two women and the sound of waves and seagulls — before landing in a stirring, rhythmic, ensemble portion. Both parts are compelling and, well, wonderful. But I almost feel bad singling these two tracks out when the rest of the disc is so strong.

Passage has earned a remarkable distinction — it is the first collegiate a cappella CD that I play in front of my non-a cappella friends without prefacing it or warning them. There's as much need to warn about this disc as with Zap Mama or Ladysmith Black Mambazo. It's not because some tracks have real percussion. It's just good music.


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Ordering Information

For complete ordering information, see Talisman's web site, send email to noahp@stanford.edu, or write to

Talisman A Cappella
PO Box 17829
Stanford, CA 94309

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