As the African drum resounded in Cochran Chapel, Women of the World, an all-female quartet, gestured for the audience to stand up. Looking at one another, the audience members rose in confusion. Eager to get the crowd moving, one of the singers, Annette Philip, taught the audience simple dance moves while the rest of the quartet sang captivating harmonies.
Women of the World returned to the Cochran Chapel last Friday night for the first time in three years. The performance showcased a variety of songs from Bulgaria, Japan, Hawaii, Italy and many other places, as well as music from a band and some dancing.
Ayumi Ueda, the founder of Women of the World, said, “We all met at Berklee College of Music, and this was my biggest dream. I wanted to play music with people all over the world. I was always dreaming because when I was a kid in Japan, there [weren’t] many opportunities to see music from other countries… when I came to the United States, it was my dream place. Now I have Indian friends, friends from Haiti, Italy, Canada, Brazil.”
To commemorate their trip to Hawaii a month ago, Women of the World singers performed “Makana.” According to Ueda, “makana” means “gift” in Hawaiian. Opening with a sweet melody, Ueda led the song in verse. The rest of the singers joined in harmony and invited the audience to sing the chorus with them. Following an instrumental section, the singers split into two parts: one group repeated the chorus and the other sang a different rhythm.
Eventually, all four slowed down to sing the final word, “aloha,” in unison.
“[This song was about the] beautiful gifts and message we received in Hawaii… We wanted everyone to be part of it,” said Ueda.
Later, the group sang “La Tibonit,” a folk tune from Haiti. The piece began with a steady beat from the African drums, as Deborah Pierre, a member of the group, softly hummed dynamic notes. The rest of the singers joined in with soft, background chords. By the end of the song, Pierre’s voice soulfully projected above the background vocals.
“I felt it was necessary to choose [La Tibonit] and liberate it in a way. To bring back hope, to bring it to now, to the present… I am a child of the diaspora, and I’ve had much more opportunity than [the people in Haiti] have, and I still carry that in my genes, I still carry it in my blood. So I have the ability to give hope back, so it’s not just damaged, it’s still hopeful through singing,” said Pierre.
One of the highlights of the night was “Kafal Sviri,” a Bulgarian song. Opening with loud, powerful, harmonic chords, the song provided contrast to the rest of the performance’s repertoire.
These intensified chords were offset by sudden quiet notes at the end of every verse. Halfway through, the piece took a major turn with a sudden moment of silence that preceded a dramatic increase in both speed and sound. The song then reached a more joyful state before ending on strong chords.
“I really love all Bulgarian music because of the harmonies. They’re so close together, all in seconds, and there’s a lot of dissonance. I really enjoy the resolution and tension and in terms of vocal technique, since it is really unusual… [Bulgarians] do a lot of odd rhythms so it’s tasty, it’s fun to eat that up,” said Philip.
The singers performed a range of songs from over eight different countries, each song having a unique, personal story behind it.
In an interview with The Phillipian, Philip explained the process Women of the World goes through to select these songs.
“[We pick songs based on] whatever inspires us, whatever is exciting or challenging or very difficult or very simple. It could be anything that makes us feel something, or makes us want to learn something new. Sometimes it’s a rhythmic aspect, sometimes it’s the difficulty of the melody, or of course, most importantly, the message behind it. That’s really important, if there’s a great story to tell,” said Philip.