Members of Coco’s Lunch, both individually and as an ensemble, kept the audience engaged with their stream of consciousness pieces, says Anil Srinivasan

There are some evenings that are so soaked in charm and are delightfully refreshing. The evening featuring Coco’s Lunch, presented at The Hindu Friday Review November Fest was one such.

To an audience accustomed to heavy-duty accompaniment and several layers of redundant sound, this was an event with a difference. Understated, joyful and appreciative of the beauty of simple sounds — vocal percussion and subtle harmonies.

Laudable effort

The group of five women — Lisa Young, Jacqueline Gawler, Libby O’ Donovan, Emma Gilmartin and Nicola Eveleigh — is prodigiously talented, both individually and as an ensemble. The idea of using an a cappella soundscape to convey so many streams of consciousness is to be lauded.

Coco’s Lunch has been widely acclaimed as one of Australia’s best exports. The biographies of each of the performers stand testimony to their accomplishments, training and backgrounds. Each of them has blazed trails, but the energy of what they create together, each mindful of the other and ‘in harmony’ sets them apart as an innovative ensemble.

Starting their rendition with ‘A Sort of Looking’ with beautifully stylised harmonies, Lisa Young captured the imagination of the audience with ‘Tunga’, using sollukattu syllables as the bed of sound on which the remaining harmonies sat perched. Lisa works with Karaikudi Mani on elements of Indian percussion, so this particular composition (with detailed korvais en suite) impressed the audience. Following this was a series of compositions, some old and some new, many taken from their successful albums A Whole New Way Of Getting Dressed and Blueprint, among others. The title track from A Whole New Way of Getting Dressed stood out for interesting use of moving bass harmonies, while ‘Thulele Mama Ya’, performed with traditional percussion instruments and the djembe drums recreated the African savannah on the stage. Interesting use of polyrhythmic accompaniment, improvisational texture and a very natural manner of presentation endeared the quintet to the audience.

‘All The Wild Wonders’ (easily one of their runaway hits, and with lyrics by author and poet Elizabeth Honey) was perhaps one of the most moving compositions heard at the Fest so far. Humour in the form of the lyrics to ‘Palani Princess’ (by Jacqueline Gawler), composed on a train from Palani, and ‘Varkala’ (yes, the beach) lightened the mood of the evening.

I suppose the only drawback to the evening was the sheer length of it. A cappella concerts probably work best for a 60-minute set, after which a degree of ennui creeps in to the audience.

I would have perhaps liked to hear this group in a smaller, non-proscenium setting. Also, the many ‘streams of consciousness’ presented on stage (including the introductions to some of the pieces) were charming and inventive, but bordered on an overdose as the evening wore on.

Happy audience

Judging by the shrieks of delight that accompanied ‘Rat Trap Snap’, one of their biggest hits, especially among children, Coco’s Lunch was definitely a welcome addition to the November Fest roster.

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