Voices that strum and drum

At vocal quintet Mezzotono's concerts this weekend, the audience will hear mandolins, drums and guitars, but they will not see a single instrument on stage.

The Italian ensemble is one of the highlights of this year's lnternational A Cappella Festival Singapore and will perform at the festival's opening free concert on Saturday.

The evening features more than 100 Singapore and international singers at the Singapore Botanic Gardens' Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage.

The festival has been organised annually by charity group The A Cappella Society since 2008 and this year has seven international acts from Asia and Europe, plus Singapore groups including TAS Voices, Acappuccino, Tropicappella and new kids on the block, Asia Pacific Youth Choir For Peace.

The 10 concerts lined up mostly at the Aliwal Arts Centre range from funk to swing and body percussion, while Kuala Lumpur-based quartet Shades are showcasing the music of P. Ramlee in their performance on Oct 26.

The International A Cappella Festival has grown in size and influence since it began in 2008 with a few performances at The Arts House. There are now a dozen-odd concerts every year and last year's event attracted at least 1,500 concertgoers.

The buzz appears to be attracting performers as well.

The A Cappella Society's founder Angelina Choo, 38, says: "We have always relied on teams travelling to the Taiwan A Cappella Festival or the Korean Festival to make a stopover here. This year, we have had to work with teams coming direct to Singapore."

Among them is Mezzotono, a five-member touring group based in Bari, Italy, which have performed in Taiwan and Malaysia but are coming here for the first time. Their visit is sponsored by the Italian Cultural Institute in Singapore.

Mezzotono founder and tenor Fabio Lepore, 37, is taking online lessons in Malay and Mandarin to warm up the crowd here. "We are preparing gags in Mandarin and Malay because we know people speak Mandarin and Malay in Singapore," he says in a Skype interview.

Physical and vocal comedy is a big part of Mezzotono's act, with the singers often asking members of the audience to join in.

The singers also see themselves as ambassadors of Italian culture, with a repertoire including the famous 1962 Italian bossa nova pop song Quando Quando Quando (When, When, When) as well as the Neapolitan favourite Tu Vuo Fa L'Americano (You Want To Be American), made popular by actress Sophia Loren in the 1960 Hollywood movie It Happened In Naples.

Other groups showcasing their culture through song include Danish vocalists Basix and South African ensemble Africa Entsha, who sing soft tribal chants and soulful modern R&B numbers.

This year, the festival is also organising beatbox workshops for the first time, with masters of the art of vocal percussion, who use their lips, teeth and tongue to imitate drumming sounds. Aspiring beatboxers can sign up to learn from former Swingle Singer Tobias Hug, Finnish beatboxer Felix Zenger and French musician Habib Julien, who is a one-man band.

Ms Choo says: "You should not miss the acts this year or any year simply because these singers, although not commercial chart-toppers, have never failed to awe and inspire our audience."


Book it

International A Capella Festival
Where: Various locations
When: Saturday to Oct 26
Tickets: $35 from https://tickets.eventclique.com/a-cappella
Info: Go to www.a-cappella.org.sg or www.facebook.com/intacafestsg

Opening concert: International A Capella Festival
Where: Shaw Foundation Symphony Stage, Singapore Botanic Gardens
When: Saturday, 6 to 8pm
Admission: Free

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