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Harmonizing Around The World


One unfortunate side effect of the pandemic is that group singing is not recommended, as it seems to be a very effective way to spread the virus. Like many others, my place of worship is now meeting on Zoom. Instead of singing together, we get to listen to solos from our choir director. I can sing along from the privacy of my couch and even experiment with inventing harmony parts, but it’s not the same.

I’ve been digging around YouTube looking for interesting examples of traditional group singing to enjoy vicariously. The world has an amazing variety of singing styles, and here are just a few to tide you over until we can sing together in person again.


Zolani Youth Choir - Hamb'yosebenza (Go to Work)

The Zolani Youth Choir is from the town of Ashton in the Western Cape of South Africa. They appeared on a morning TV show in 2018. At the end of the song, they talk to the host about some of their plans for 2020, which I suspect have been put on hold at this point.

Trio Mandili - Friendship Song

Trio Mandili is from the country of Georgia, in the Caucasus Mountains. The group began when three young girls taking a walk decided to film themselves singing a traditional Georgian song. Of course they put it on the internet, and within a few months it had millions of hits. They’ve since made two CDs and have toured across Europe. Their preferred video location is still walking through the countryside, but I suspect they’ve got a professional crew recording them these days. (Watch their first video “Apureka” here and note the shaky camera and the gravel crunching underfoot.)


Tenores di Bitti Mialinu Pira - Cantu a Ballu Seriu

The men of the Italian island of Sardinia have a unique style of four-part singing that uses overtones. The lyrics can be improvised, or they may be traditional poems. In this video, each of the four men introduces himself and demonstrates the part he sings, and then they put them all together.

Lady Maisery - Constant Billy, The Lie of the Land

Lady Maisery is an English folk trio consisting of Hannah James, Hazel Askew, and Rowan Rheingans. They play a number of instruments between them, and they also specialize in a capella singing. Here they perform a style called “diddling” or “lilting” which is singing a traditional tune using nonsense syllables.

Orlando Puntilla Rios & Nueva Generacion - Maiseboa

Drummer and vocalist Orlando Puntilla Rios was born in Havana and came to New York in 1981, bringing with him a wealth of knowledge of traditional music and folklore of Cuba. He soon founded the group Nueva Generación to pass along this knowledge, including religious chants in the Yoruba language of West Africa.

Karen Impola is the host of IPR's The Folk Tree