Bobby McFerrin and Voicestra

Bobby McFerrin and Voicestra

One-hit wonders, by definition, have a lyrical or instrumental gimmick, and one that won't carry the artist any further than, well, one hit. Was it really possible for Hot Butter to top the electronic weirdness of its 1969 Moog-based hit, "Popcorn?" Or, in more recent times, would anyone want to hear any more trancey gibberish out of Crazy Frog (a so-called recording artist who originated from a British mobile phone ringtone)?

In 1988, Bobby McFerrin gave us "Don't Worry, Be Happy," an ironic paean to the benighted optimism of the Reagan years. In it McFerrin urged listeners to forget stress, his syncopated vocals underscored by percussion created entirely with his mouth, as well as an unforgettable (and slightly annoying) whistle. As with many artists who hit it big almost by mistake, the song didn't do justice to McFerrin's oeuvre. He was, and remains, renowned in jazzier circles for vocal virtuosity that puts most hip-hop beatboxers to shame. The vocal chords are his instrument, explored to full capacity with every inhalation, click of the tongue, or falsetto elision. Over the past three decades, he has collaborated with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea, and has collected ten Grammys (including a Song of the Year nod in 1989 for ... you know).

This Saturday he and his group, Voicestra, take the stage in the Knight Concert Hall at the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts. The space is near-virgin territory for acoustic experimentation, but still, like the group's other shows, the performance will be almost fully improvised. McFerrin is obviously a man who takes his own advice. — Arielle Castillo

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