With the success of the Pitch Perfect movies and NBC’s The Sing-Off, a cappella has had a rebirth over the last five years, as the image of barbershop quartets and “old-fashioned” music has been wiped clean. Today’s a cappella stars often incorporate beatboxers, and provide infectious melodies and soulful harmonies to radio hits that younger listeners crave.
One of the world’s most successful groups doing this today is Gobsmacked!, a UK-based collection of six performers led by three-time, undefeated UK beatboxer Ball-Zee. The group sings everything from Queen to Amy Winehouse to Bruno Mars, and is currently on its first-ever U.S. tour, stopping at the Kennedy Center for five shows from November 24-26.
In addition to the acclaimed beatboxer, the show includes Marcus Collins, the 2011 runner up in the UK version of The X-Factor, Norwegian singer Monika Sik-Holm, UK stage actress Emilie Louise Israel, West End actor Nick Hayes, and two original Gobsmacked! artists, Joanne Evans and Ed Scott. Ball-Zee recently talked with On Tap on a rare day off for the performer.
On Tap: How did the group get together?
Ball-Zee: It was originally formed by Nic Doodson, who is a producer for this show, and he had this idea to start a modern, cooler, younger a cappella show. He asked me to come to the first auditions two-and-a-half years ago, and now we’re touring in America.
OT: What can newcomers expect from your show?
BZ: There’s a lot going on. We have an amazing set, sound and lighting design. We have a little narrative throughout the show, but mainly we have some amazing singers and really good musical arrangements, and it’s an hour-and-a-half of high-energy, world-class a cappella.
OT: What tunes can people look forward to hearing?
BZ: We don’t want to give away too much, but we start with a modern song by the Black Eyed Peas. We do some Beatles, James Brown and things a bit more edgy like Lady Gaga. There’s something for everybody. In a nutshell, we take different songs from different genres, and each performer showcases their talent in a different way.
OT: What was the selection process for Gobsmacked!?
BZ: I think it’s just talent. I was asked to join, but they had auditions for the other performers and more than 800 people came out and they narrowed that down to 10 and finally six, joining me.
OT: How do you transition from one song to the next?
BZ: There is a narrative, but I’m sort of the conductor, and everyone is almost under my control. I make certain things happen. There’s no words apart from the actual lyrics of the song though.
OT: You are world famous for your beatboxing skills. How did you first get interested in the craft?
BZ: I’ve been doing it for about 13 years now. When I started, I didn’t even know what I was doing was beatboxing; I just liked to replicate sounds. The closest thing I could compare it to is what Michael Winslow of Police Academy was doing. After maybe six or seven months of making sounds, my older brother played me a CD of a guy called Killa Kela, an amazing beatboxer, and it just blew my mind. I researched what beatboxing was and found out there was a whole community of it, and I became hooked.
OT: How will our Thanksgiving break be enhanced by Gobsmacked!?
BZ: In a nutshell, it’s amazing vocal gymnastics by cast members who perform some unbelievable songs from all different decades. People leave with smiles on their faces and a new appreciation for a cappella music.
Gobsmacked! will play Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Stage Friday, November 24 through Sunday, November 26, with shows Friday at 4 and 8 p.m.; Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2 p.m. For more information, visit www.kennedy-center.org.
The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: 2700 F St. NW, DC; 202-467-4600; www.kennedy-center.org