Singapore’s ‘Vocal Avengers’ Assemble – Kick-Ass Harmonies Guaranteed!
Oftentimes in vocal groups, you get a mixture of one or two lead singers and other voices who “fill in the gaps”, so to speak. That doesn’t seem to be the case with The Island Voices, a local dectet (a group of 10 musicians) which made its debut in NDP 2022, and will be part of the NDP 2023 Show at the Padang this year. In this group, each singer not only displays his or her strength as a soloist, but also blends seamlessly into harmonies that are tighter than your grip on those precious Taylor Swift Eras Tour tickets.
In 2022, Owen Li was tasked by award-winning producer Don Richmond to put together a small choir to support singer Taufik Batisah in the NDP 2022 song, “Stronger Together”, which Don composed.
“I was so excited to get the opportunity to form Singapore’s version of ‘Vocal Avengers’, and it was with great joy to call every one of my best singer friends to take on this journey together,” says Owen, the The Island Voices' leader and director.
The vocal band also includes Izzathy Halil, Narysal, Amirul Jamil, emmeline, RHAUN, Aaron Bunac, Jayesh Melvani, Keona D’Souza and Elsa Mickayla, most of whom are in their 20s. Some are professional musicians and vocal coaches, one’s a lawyer, another’s a professional bouldering route-setter and instructor. There’s also an art teacher, a gym instructor and a business development specialist.
We speak to baritone Aaron about a new medley, “Evolution of NDP Songs”; doing national service (NS) with the Music & Drama Company (MDC) with fellow band mate Jayesh; and the group's plans post-NDP.
This is the second time The Island Voices are appearing at the NDP. What’s it like performing in such a large-scale national event?
It’s been quite a surreal experience - you never fully get used to the rush of running out into a crowd of 27,000 people and we’re just so blessed to be doing this two years in a row!
The arrangement of “Evolution of NDP Songs” is complex and sophisticated, and you guys have such tight harmonies. How often do you rehearse, and what’s a typical rehearsal like?
We have many rehearsals leading up to NDP. That really helps with the vocal muscle memory in our intricate parts.
In a typical rehearsal, we would be gathered in a space. Owen, our vocal director, would already have sent us the score of his arrangement, and all of us would come in, having practiced our parts. We would then sit through a few hours of tightening our sound and working specifically on blending [our voices].
We have a great relationship of openness and growth and we go to [those of us who are vocal coaches, like emmeline, RHAUN and Narysal] for tips on vocal technique and vocal health, to make sure our vocals are in tip-top shape.
What are some of the biggest challenges and also advantages of singing a cappella (without any instrumental accompaniment)?
One of the challenges would be the fact that the structural integrity of the whole song depends on how blended and in tune our voices are, and that takes a lot more group practice than you would typically need with a band that played instruments.
An advantage would be that, as long as we’re all in the same room together, we would all be performance-ready without needing instruments!
A few of you (like Jayesh, Narysal and yourself) did your NS in the Music & Drama Company, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year!). How did serving the nation in MDC inspire you and impact what you’re doing now?
MDC was such a monumental stepping stone in our careers as singers as it accelerated our musical growth by putting us in a conducive place – concentrated with the very best musicians, singers, actors and dancers of our national service batch!
What’s in the pipeline for The Island Voices?
We have gigantic plans to grow as an artist group, one being the fact that we have a runway of original releases that we’ll be working on post-NDP and more!
We just got news a few days ago that we are the only Singaporean competitors in an international a cappella competition - Taiwan Choral Music Competition from 21 to 23 Oct 2023. We will be taking a break from the national stage to represent Singapore on an international one!