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Review: GALS R Us

Tue 1 Dec 2015 In: Performance View at Wayback View at NDHA

Gals R Us Saturday November 21st, Freemans Bay Community Hall, Auckland Matinee performance If I wanted to review just the GALS R Us show a couple of weekends ago I could have done that within a day or so of the performance. But stuff began to nag away in the deeper recesses of my mind as the matinee performance unfolded, and with the benefit of a week and more to mull it through I can now make some sense of it. The GALS R Us concert was, in essence, fine. There was lots of melodic,  group singing, especially in numbers like Fix You, Anthem and Soneto da la Noche. There were items which rose a little above the relentless sweetness, such as Ka u ki Matanuku and Dancing Queen, but not many. It's that unrelenting refined-sugar sweetness of most of the GALS offerings that is starting to pall. Even the forthright Titanium seemed to have had the life force sucked out of it, replaced by a lo-cal sweetner. It lacked its inherent conviction. Defying Gravity didn't anywhere near live up to its name... it should have soared. And even the novelty numbers, We're the Choir and Gay vs Straight Composers, delivered in a competent if studied manner, seemed lacking in vivacity. Perhaps it's because of the internationalised musical format and idiom which GALS continues to follow, in keeping with similar choirs around the world, some of whom will be featuring in Auckland at the Out and Loud international choral festival in February. Perhaps its a lack of sufficiently confident voices? Or perhaps they just need to loosen their stays, take a deep breath and let rip sometimes. There needs to be less niceness, more guts. Less sweet, more sour. Less tea and cucumber sandwiches and more puha, taro, curry, lemongrass and chilli... all washed down with a necked swig of Hokonui whiskey. Year after year GALS takes to the stage, an almost unbroken landscape of middle-class white faces. In a city and country as diverse in its ethnic origins as Auckland and New Zealand are, so well-rooted in pakeha, maori and pacific influences, GALS seems increasingly too homogenised in their singers and their song selection. And as other ethnicities and life experiences become blended into our glbti communities the choir is somehow frozen in time. Don't get me wrong, GALS does what it does quite well and occasionally to stunning effect. But it's lacking New Zealand-ness, and therefore perhaps relevance. Over and above the usual 'one or two Maori songs to acknowledge te tiriti' there have been a few attempts to widen things out, but these have been few and far between, tainted with tokenism and sometimes cringe-worthy. I still recall with a slight shudder their white suburban singing in cod-black African accents, without benefit (I am picking) of a single actual ethnic black African person to help them feel their way into the reality of the piece. By chance, the GALS R Us concert unintentionally threw this into focus by showcasing the Ahakoa Te Aha glbti maori performance group. The contrast between hosts and guests couldn't have been more revealing. In the few numbers they performed, blending maori and pakeha motifs and flavours, this small and comparatively new group by comparison with GALS nailed it with fire, power, passion, sincerity and personality. Their traditionally-performed karanga which opened part one of the show was impressively harmonised and confidently delivered. They filled the hall with their voices and presence. Their main performance, a medley at the start of the second half, was energetic, cohesive and lyrical. They were a force of nature, unabashedly New Zealand nature at that. Bodies, hearts, minds and LIFE were brought to bear on their songs and the result was by turns a confident and rousing tsunami of rich, balanced and vibrant voices, and a hushed, poignant and deeply human calling of the human and glbti spirit. GALS sang from the songbook, Ahakoa Te Aha sang from the soul. - Jay Bennie [A late ps from my notes: The basses in this concert were generally terrific... resonant, ballsy with plenty of grunt.] Jay Bennie - 1st December 2015    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Tuesday, 1st December 2015 - 9:07am

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