The Songs of Zion
OK, when you put on “Silence”, you’ll want to relax, and put your feet up on a Sunday afternoon. While you let the soothing vocal harmonies wash over you like ocean waves, let me set this up for you…
I’ve been seeing, more and more lately, some artists come out of the urban genres. You know, R&B, hip hop, house… It’s coming from artists like Alex Boye, Thurl Bailey, and, of course, Gladys Knight. It’s pretty exciting to see on lots of levels. One is because it lets the world know that we are a diversifying community. We’re not just white folks any more. And that really excites me.
TOA is a group of Polynesian singers that are helping to build that R&B and soul wing of the LDS music hall. I’m not sure where they are from (like, which island), but the CD’s credits show that it was recorded in Hawaii. Their website, though currently under construction, says that TOA means: “An ancient Polynesian term meaning “Warrior”, with the associated qualities of leadership, strength, courage, endurance, patience, strategic thinking, adaptability and collectivity.”
What follows as you listen is some seriously smooth R&B gospel singing. The vocals that these five guys put out amazed me and lulled me into comfort while giving me an encouraging gospel message. There’s a couple of songs toward the end that tried to get a little more up-tempo, but not by much. This is a sit-down-and-relax CD, not a get-up-and-boogie one. Unless, maybe, you want to slow dance with your honey on a Sunday afternoon…
Three of the tunes really stood out to me, especially. One was the title track, “Silence”. There were some really cool rhythmic things happening in the track, and the way the vocal layered over it sounded almost reggae. It was completely fresh.
And it just kept on being original and new. Another one of my favorites was their rendition of “The Lord is My Shepherd”. It’s the same traditional melody we sing in Sacrament Meeting, but with R&B harmonies. Still respectful of the text, though. There was nothing sacrilegious here. There was a guest singer on this one, too, a girl with an incredible voice. It didn’t outshine the boys, though. They hold their own.
“One Song” was one that grabbed me right away. It had an easy minor feel to it with a melody that drew me in right away. This one had a very “Boyz II Men” urban sound to it.
There were a couple that were sung in one of the Polynesian languages. One was a version of “I am a Child of God”. Not knowing the language, it felt odd to hear it that way. The other was titled, “Lo Ta Nu’u”. It felt as if it had been originally written in the language, rather than forcing translated syllables into a traditional melody.
When I first saw that they had done “Never a Better Hero”, my first thought was, “do we really need another version?” But this one had some cool variations in the vocal harmonies that I’d never heard before. I like that they were able to explore new ground on an old standard of the LDS culture.
Overall, I was impressed. It was soft and smooth, but not dull and trite. It was different from what we normally get as LDS pop goes. Well worth checking out.