Not a single manmade musical instrument exists that can be as colorful, inspiring and versatile as the human voice. Granted, such a voice is rare and must be capable of conveying intense emotion coupled with pristine melodies, harmonies and the subtle nuances that amount to the difference between fine singers and enormously gifted artists. Multiply that formula by six and you've got Sweet Honey in the Rock. Simply put, they sound like a miracle—a cappella angels who adorn their songs with brilliantly colored wings, giving them flight and then sending them soaring overhead in a rush of fantastic harmony and reverent soul.
The story began some 30 years ago when Bernice Johnson Reagon formed the all-female African American group on a foundation that consisted of equal parts gospel and jazz, intertwined with traditional West African folk music, and spun with a heavy dose of the blues. The result, despite numerous lineup changes over the years, has been music that is vibrant with the spirituality of hymns, yet conveys concerns as varied as civil rights and AIDS. And for Reagon and her fellow singers, the songs and intricate harmonies come as surely and effortlessly as the sunrise.
Accompanied only by hand drums and scant few other percussion instruments, Sweet Honey in the Rock rely on the precisely honed dynamics of their individual voices to spread their word. Together, they become a singular, immensely strong voice of freedom, survival and the sheer joy of a soulful existence. Their songs are musical stories purposefully designed to insure that their rich and remarkable past—as African Americans and as women—lives into and positively affects the future. The singing itself is perfect enough to make them a must see, but the vital messages they put to music are what make them a national treasure. Sisterhood has never been so lovingly defined or passionately delivered.
Sweet Honey in the Rock perform Friday, Jan. 21, at the Lensic Performing Arts Center (211 West San Francisco) in Santa Fe at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $21, $26, $29 and $35. Call (505) 988-1234 to order.