It’s the voice. Remarkable, special. Four pure, beautiful octaves that create magic and fly over grooves in virtuoso performances. But Gino Sitson has never been an ordinary singer. He’s a musical adventurer who uses his voice and body percussion to straddle continents and style. And with his sixth album, Voistrings he takes his most daring steps yet.
Watch the 'Suite for John video now
“I love many styles of music,” Sitson explains. “When I was writing this record I originally wanted it to be just my voice and strings.”
That idea is certainly there on cuts like the title track and “Suite For John” and “VoCello,” where cello and viola form a loving, beautiful counterpoint to Sitson’s remarkable voice. But in the end he decided to include his longtime band on most of the sessions, even writing “The Gathering” for them on the night before they were all due in the studio.
It’s a disc that draws on Sitson’s musically nomadic life. He was born and raised in Cameroon, which shines through in the upbeat “Youp Kwi” and the closer “Katcha,” where his voice plays and the melody, with body percussion providing the rhythm parts. But music was always there: his mother was a singer and choir director, and his family comes from the musical line known as ‘Ntontas,’ or players of horns. Living in a city, he was exposed to all manner of music; not just from Cameroon, but the blues, jazz, and classical music that filtered in from around the world. But the legacy of his home comes through on much of Voistrings, even if it’s refracted through a prism of time and distance.
“When I write in 12/8, it sometimes feels as if I’m writing music from my parents’ region,” Sitson says. “But when I compare it to old recordings, I can see it’s different. Because I’m different. I’m very nomadic. I live free. I don’t know where we’re all from. We’re not stuck in one place. And emotions are universal. Often I sing in Medumba, one of the Cameroonian languages. Then sometimes I just sing onomatopoeia. People can feel what’s behind the sounds even if they don’t understand the words.”
His own travels have taken him first to France, and then to America – although he regularly travels to Paris where he’s completing a Ph.D. in musicology at the Sorbonne. Along the way Sitson’s voice has graced many movie scores and he’s appeared in a PBS documentary with like-minded singer Bobby McFerrin, as well as performances and CDs with his own ensemble that truly showcase his phenomenal vocal range and curiosity.
Although he composed most of the pieces on Voistrings, two tracks illustrate the breadth of Sitson’s musical love. His take on Fauré’s “Élégie Opus 24” happened after he heard his daughter playing it on CD.
“I’ve heard a lot of classical music, but just catching the Fauré again and thinking of how she was listening to it, I realized I loved it and saw how I could do it with my band,” Sitson says. And in his hands it truly does become elegiac.
The other non-original is his breathtaking version of the Herbie Hancock jazz standard “Maiden Voyage.”
“I grew up listening to him,” Sitson remembers. “Herbie’s always been one of my favorites. There are so many colors and harmonies in his music, and it’s my way of respecting what he’s done as a musician and composer.”
Sitson goes where his music carries him. Voistrings is an album without rules. It’s not a disc that chases an audience or tries to predict what people will want. It’s music from the heart that clambers over the barriers without styles. It understands that the pigeonholes of genre are artificial constructs and that at the heart there’s simply music. And that’s what makes Voistrings, and Gino Sitson, very special.