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As technology makes recording, mixing, and production tricks increasingly powerful yet less expensive, the debate rages on and on: at what point do studio effects make a song no longer a cappella?

Don’t get excited, this isn’t the question I plan to address in this article.  The natural vs. effected production argument is another talk show entirely.  I’m more interested in a different kind of vocal music, music that certainly can’t be called a cappella but has still clearly been influenced by techniques that are, at their core, purely vocal based.  What is this strange and unknown form of performance?  I’m speaking, naturally, about “kindacappella.”

Bad puns aside, kindacappella is the name I’ve come up with to describe the music of those artists who mix vocals from the a cappella world into other instrumental tracks.  It’s…kinda...a cappella, except that it isn’t.  The range of artists performing this music is surprisingly large, and usually defies categorization into specific genres or performance styles.  There are some easy examples that come to mind right away, like the early use of human beatbox in 80s hip hop, or the Nylons’ occasional use of a drum set.  Then there’s also normal instrumental bands who make use of contemporary-style vocal harmonies in their usual repertoire while also occasionally sojourning into the purely a cappella realm.  Moxy Fruvous’s Gulf War Song and the Reel Big Fish’s cover of New York, New York are two of my personal favorite examples of this.  Other practitioners of kindacappella though, just come straight out of left field.

Take, for example, Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer’s recent release Banjo to Beatbox.  The folk/roots duo has collaborated with beatboxer Christylez Bacon to produce a kid-friendly fusion of traditional Americana and vocal hip/hop.  I’ll admit, I haven’t heard the whole album, but even from the clips available online, this music really is…kinda something else.  It’s a completely unexpected fusion of totally different genres, but, strangely enough, it seems to work.  Bacon’s solid rhythmic patterns haven’t been noticeably produced at all, keeping with the acoustic folk vibe of the album.  Even with other percussion instruments on the album, the vocal beats don’t sound out of place.

Banjo to Beatbox represents the power of kindacappella and its importance to the a cappella community at large.  It provides an easy introduction into what might be an otherwise exotic and unfamiliar world.  It’s a little bit like hot dogs made out of, say, crocodile meat.  Plop a croc steak in front of someone, and he or she might be reluctant to try it.  Present it as something a little less foreign, and people become more likely to take a bite.  Also, if you can get the next generation hooked on croc... er…a cappella at an early age, then so much the better for the continued growth of the art form. 

Even though it might mess with your iTunes genre classification headings, add some kindacappella to your playlists. You won’t regret it.

See also:

All About Buford - "Rocket Bride"
Moira Smiley and VOCO

About the author:
Nick Hamlin is the former Musical Director and General Manager of the University of Rochester Midnight Ramblers.  As a member of the Ramblers, he has toured both across the US and internationally and helped preach the gospel of vocal percussion to thousands of students, most recently in New Orleans schools still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.  His solo on Ben Folds’ “Army” is featured on the singers’ recent release, Ben Folds Presents: University A Cappella album.  After four years of singing with the Ramblers (oh yeah, and doing all that other undergrad academic stuff), he’s returned to UR for an extra year to study ethnomusicology and world religion as part of Rochester’s unique “Take 5” program.