Up close and personal with Voice Print
By Chamitha Kuruppu
The large gathering of an unknown wedding ceremony did not bother us at all. We had arrived early for the interview, so we could listen to them sing. And just like we expected the church was filled with their mesmerising voices. The choir and their breathtaking singing was no doubt the highlight of the evening.
‘Voice Print’ is the latest singing sensation in town. Although they have been in the industry since 2006, the seven-member band came into limelight following their cover of ‘Geyu Gee’ that has been climbing charts ever since its release.
Daily FT caught up with these busy lads to talk about the birth of Voice Print, the secrets behind their success and future productions.
A matrimonial start
“This is how we started – singing at weddings,” says Joe, as we sit down for the interview following a very entertaining photo shoot of the band.
Proud products of St. Benedicts College Colombo – Michael Sathasivam, Dilan Irugalbandara, Eshan Anthony, Sashi Perera, Joseph Rodrigo, Naresh Sathasivam and Damian Fernando were past choristers from different batches.
In 2006, Michael needed a choir for his wedding. “We got together for the first time for my wedding and that is where we started our journey,” recalls Michael who is also the Band Director of Voice Print. The very same year, the choir put together a concert titled ‘Up Where We Belong’ at the Lionel Wendt and for that event they renamed themselves as ‘Voice Print.’
“Technically a voice print is a graphical representation of a person’s voice. We wanted to leave an impression with people who listen to our kind of music, so we called ourselves Voice Print and the name stuck,” explains Michael.
Since then, Voice Print has been working together, starting off by singing at corporate functions and concerts but it was their victory at the World Choir Games in 2010 that moved them into a different league. Voice Print represented Sri Lanka at the Sixth World Choir Games in China, contesting in two categories – Pop and Sacred Music.
They bagged a silver medal in the Pop category and a bronze medal in the Sacred Music category, competing against nearly seventy five other choirs. “It was only after this victory people started getting to know about Voice Print. The World Choir Games did lot of good for us. Today we have gone into our own recordings, putting out singles and performing with all the big artistes in Sri Lanka,” Michael said.
The only acapella band in Sri Lanka
Voice Print boasts of being the only acapella band in Sri Lanka. “We have created a name for ourselves as a ‘cool’ acapella group which does cool and funky things as opposed to the traditional choral type of music. Even today when we sing at weddings, we give all the hymns our own twist. We try to bring a current contemporary feel to it. That’s why people like us. That’s what we do in our music as well,” Michael further explained.
It is no doubt that although it is an old music style practiced all around the world, acapella is a novel experience to most Sri Lankan music fans. According to Dilan, the Music Director of Voice Print, the void for a proper acapella band in Sri Lanka pushed Voice Print to try out this unique style.
“But from the very beginning, we wanted to give our own touch to it. That is why we introduced beat boxing and vocal play,” asserts Dilan. “We do not want to limit ourselves to acapella. Although it is our specialty, we constantly try out new styles.”
“We all like harmonies. We like listening to just the sound of voices. Some of our biggest influences were Boys to Men and Naturally Seven, the groups which did only things with their vocal capacity. So what we brought in was not only vocal acapella, we brought in drums and base guitars – all accompanied by just our voices.
“That’s what’s taking us into a different league. Today we have been able to take it from the western classical music lovers right out to the mass market audience. We kind of made a crossover,” Michael noted.
A grand feeling
Voice Print added that in most of their concerts, they have orchestras and bands backing them. “We like to bring in that grand feeling to it.” According to Michael, a production from Voice Print in near future will have a rock band and an orchestra backing them.
“So while we play a pop song, we will incorporate a bit of acapella and give our own touch to that song. Whatever we do we make sure there is a signature Voice Print touch to it. If you take the song ‘Rambari’ which is a sinhala baila song, when we sang it, we started the opening with hardcore acappella.
When Shankar Mahadeven came to Sri Lanka, he was very impressed with our work. He commended Voice Print for their work and especially their music arrangements. “We find that people highly appreciate what we do and we find established artistes telling us that this was a void that we have plugged in the Sri Lankan music industry. We are proud that we were the first band to do that.”
The secret behind Voice Print’s success is that they do not depend on music for their day-to-day living. “This is only a hobby for us. We don’t take too many gigs. We meet twice a week to practice. We like what we do and because we all like accapella singing, we tend to come back. It’s our kind of stress reliever from our hectic day-to-day life,” says Michael.
According to Eshan, Visual Director of Voice Print, many artists come into limelight and disappear within a short period of time mainly because their only focus is to become famous.
“They don’t care much about the music but we are different. We pay lot of attention to our work. We spend lot of time with our arrangements. We have a wide range of musical taste. We took over six months to complete ‘Geyu Gee.’ And we see the result today,” he notes.
Difficulties and obstacles
“Music in this country, especially western music is not a high paying job,” claims Naresh, Operations Manager of Voice Print. “When we want to do a concert, we find it difficult to attract sponsors. Unlike sports, most people in this country don’t understand music and because they don’t understand music they are reluctant to back it. There are only a few corporates who regularly back western music. And we should be thankful to them.”
They recall the difficulties and obstacles they had to overcome during the World Choir Games in 2010. “When we had to go to China we found it difficult to get sponsors. Until the last moment we were not sure whether we were going to make it to China. It’s the same when it comes to a concert; a quality concert will cost you at least one million rupees.
“We can’t cover this cost just by selling tickets, because people don’t want to spend more than Rs. 1,000 for a concert ticket. This is why we say sponsors play a very important role. Unfortunately sponsors are more willing to bring down an artiste from India and have a song and dance show than helping out a local artiste,” observed Michael.
He further points out the difficulties the organisers of the upcoming Colombo Music Festival have to go through arranging the event. “Although it is a national event, the organisers are finding it very difficult to find the money. They even have to pay for the venues. They are putting their own money. We are taking part in this concert and we had to put our own money for the video and the song.”
“All these years have been tough for us,” says Naresh “We just stick to one set of clothes for all our concerts – we keep only changing the shirts. When we perform at corporate events, sometimes they tell us what we should wear. But when we give them our quotation, they ask for a discount from us.”
“Some of the key things that we are looking forward getting into right now are finding someone to sponsor our attire and also sponsor our sounds. We are very particular about our sounds. That would be our main goal right at the moment,” they emphasised.
Concert at the end of this year
For all the Voice Print fans out there, here is the good news! The band will have a concert by the end of this year. “We have a concert planned. Originally we wanted to do it in August or October, but now with our schedules being really crazy we have to push it back to December. If it’s December, we will base around a Christmas theme,” said Naresh.
The band is presently working on two more songs. One is another cover version and the other will be an original. “‘Geyu Gee’ got us known among people. Now they are expecting another song. We want to do another cover version. And when people get to know us more may be we should do an original,” says Dilan. “I feel that the actual masses still don’t know us. We want to do another song and redo which could be more viral than Geyu Gee.”
“I believe due to the style of music we follow, rather than doing a original, we can show others the difference of an original and what we can do with it using our style. It is not that we don’t do covers because we are not capable,” added Damian.
“Hopefully if everything works out the way we expect – we might release another song or two before the end of this year. That’s what in store for this year. Hopefully, next year we will go overseas one more time. We have been invited to perform in New York and London quite a few times. But we were asked to look after our own air fare and expenses – which we would not afford.”
What do they feel about the sudden popularity? “Actually, people now recognise us. When we go to a movie theater or a public place, people come running up just to talk to us. This popularity is quite interesting and it is fun. And yes, we are getting use to it,” said Michael.
According to Dilan, the most interesting fact is that they find people who only listen to English music loving ‘Gayu Gee.’ “And people who know nothing about English music and listen only to Sinhala songs also like this song. So we feel it’s a crossover.”
“We had the first such experience when we were in China. During the Choir Games we literally had hundreds of fans lined up to get our autograph. And we actually felt like rock stars. There were some fans who volunteered to carry our bags and stuff from the hotel to everywhere traveled,” recalls Dilan. Even at the World Choir Games, Voice Print was known as the only rebel group. “There were choirs with 50 to 60 people standing in one place. Then there we were singing ‘Rambari’ dancing around the stage. But people liked that change. We were a crowd favourite.”
Voice Print appreciates all the people who supported them before the release of ‘Geyu Gee.’ “We always had people backing us because of our talent and musical capability. We want to thank all of them. We want to thank our families for the support. If it wasn’t for their courage and understanding we wouldn’t be here today,” echoed all seven of them.
Listening to their music and watching them perform is indeed a treat but there are no words to explain what it was like to spend time chatting with these amazing young men. They had stories to tell, jokes to share and dance moves to keep us entertained. The wit and humor of these young men kept us laughing all the time. Listen to them once – let them leave their imprint in your hearts forever!
– Pic by Upul Abayasekara