Acclaimed Australian group Coco’s Lunch wowed the audience with their a cappella act.

Coco’s Lunch is living proof that the world’s first instrument – the human voice – is still the finest and most versatile. An a cappella act comprising five Australian women armed with their voices and little else, Coco’s Lunch was in Kochi as part of their debut three-city India tour for The Hindu FridayReview ‘November Fest’.

The concert opened with a track that served as an introduction to a cappella for the uninitiated – a solid bed of vocal percussion layered by Libby O’Donovan’s neat solo. They then moved on to an instrumental piece, which rendered beautifully the band’s signature sound of a mix between Western jazz harmonies with South Indian konnakol by Lisa Young. Lisa is a student of mridangam maestro Karaikudi Mani, and has shared her learning with the team, many of whom are now fluent in the art.

Coco’s Lunch is 15 years and seven albums old, all along writing their own music drawn from varied musical influences and inspiring life experiences. The song ‘Psychedelic Rose’, for instance, featuring close, complex chord progressions, was written about a dying flower in the garden, ‘Lifelines’ was about changing fortunes with magically changing palm lines, and ‘Fugue’, from their latest album ‘Blueprint’, is an eerie haunting flute solo by Nicola Eveleigh over a powerful vocal base.

The band also has its quirky, fun side often revealed in its music for children – ‘She’s got a baby in her belly’ was a mini biology lesson with volunteers from the crowd making baby noises as the song progressed; and the closing track ‘Rat Trap Snap’ was an action song about a child plotting to rescue rats from the traps his mother has set for them.

Besides the konnakol, India features in Coco’s Lunch’s repertoire as the subject of its songs. Jacqueline Gawler wrote the song ‘Varkala’ as a stream of consciousness lyric moving to the rhythm of its words talking about Kathakali, the local market, the blue ocean and black volcanic sand. ‘Palani Princess’ relives the journey Jacqueline took down to the plains from the hairpin bends of the Palani hills.

Musically, Coco’s Lunch plugs into the world’s many music systems for its sound. From percussion ranging from the African djembe, cowbells and shakers to classical jazz techniques, their arrangements are reflective of the members’ music journeys.

Accomplished a cappella music is also marked by a wise choice of syllables which aptly represent the instruments being mimicked – a skill Coco’s Lunch has perfected. While that came through in their more modern pieces, the band also manages traditional choir-like four-part harmony songs, such as ‘Sister My Sister’, with ease. The band is blessed with a wide vocal range among the five voices from Nicola’s alto to Emma Gilmartin’s soprano.

They sing perfectly timed entries and exits, with sharp diction and united phrasing, embellished by group dynamics that are loud without jarring and soft without sacrificing clarity. As songwriters they display prowess in blending different genres, as singers they prove that the voice has no bounds.

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