Take 6: The American harmonising group

Tuesday 1st February 1994

Acclaimed the world over as the greatest acapella group, reports that TAKE 6 were leaving the voices-only arena have shocked their huge bevy of fans. George Luke investigated.

Take 6
Take 6

The last time Take 6 spoke album, and started recording it." to this magazine (see CR9) they assured us that
they were not leaving acapella. Now, here I am, sitting in a little office at the headquarters of the Warner Music organisation with Alvin Chea from the group, just hours before the London date on their 'Farewell Acapella' tour! One hates to use the term 'U-turn', but...

"I don't know how that got out," Alvin says, somewhat defensively. "We didn't say it was our farewell acapella tour." The tour's title, it appears, is a misnomer; the group will be using instruments on their next album and will be touring with a band, but, as Alvin reassures me, "acapella is what we do best, so we'll never depart from it. We've had some fans who heard that this was our farewell forever, no more acapella ever concert and they've fervently come up to us, but there are a lot of new acapella songs that we do, on this tour and on the new album. We won't leave them out."

In the two years between their last album, 'He Is Christmas', and this tour, the group have been on a sabbatical. "Last time we were here," says Alvin, "we'd done quite a few things; changed members, recorded a Christmas album, did tours of the States, Europe and Japan, and that kinda just burned us out, so we took a little break, caught our breath, wrote and collaborated with each other and got material up for the new album, and started recording it." They are now only one or two tracks away from finishing it, and Alvin is very excited about it.

The new, as yet untitled, album (OK, I'll come clean - I forgot to ask what the title was) features an interesting array of special guests. Stevie Wonder, their 'big brother in the industry' and bulk buyer of their albums, co-wrote and sings on one track, while another features R&B originator Ray Charles. Rising soul star Brian McKnight (Claude's brother) contributes a track, producing as well as co-writing it, and rapper Queen Latifah also makes an appearance. However, Alvin is quick to point out, this is not a 'collaborations' album. "It's primarily going to be a Take 6 album, but we've hooked up with a couple of people we felt we just needed to have on the album to pull it off."

As well as recording together as a group, they have also been involved in a number of individual ventures. Cedric Dent, for instance, is pursuing his PhD in Musical Arrangement (instrumental and vocal). Most of the other members produce other acts, and Alvin is getting into doing voice-overs for television commercials. He says that although they would like to devote more time to their other interests, they can't, because of the amount of time it takes to "nail down" the vocal arrangements for Take 6's material.

Although most people think of Take 6 as a gospel outfit, most of their recent work has been in the mainstream jazz arena. "We haven't done anything in the gospel music industry recently," says Alvin. They had come under fire in the past for working with people such as K D Lang and Spike Lee, but, Alvin says, "that doesn't bother us because our music is not for church people. It's to reach people who wouldn't ordinarily listen to Christian music, and give them something positive.

"Just like anything else in this world, there are a lot of problems in the gospel industry; you find when you get below the surface that some people aren't always what they appear to be, or are supposed to be. We don't let discouraging words get us down; we just know what we're about, what we're here for, sing what we have to, pray that our ministry means something to someone, and get out of there."

One country that has left a lasting impression on the group is Japan, which Alvin describes as "very, very interesting. We've done exhaustive tours in cities there which don't see Americans, let along black Americans," says Alvin. "Even if people don't know what we're singing they can sing along, because they've heard all the songs. We ran into an acapella jazz sextet that had our arrangements down cold. A lot of black gospel groups do go to Japan, and in the New Year we'll be going there again."

The concert, which was held at the Labbatt's Apollo in Hammersmith, was well attended, and one of their best performances so far. There was as much appreciation from the audience for the new songs as there was for the older material from their first two albums, and "David & Goliath" was a particular favourite. One song was accompanied with signing for the deaf. One highlight was an instrumental (not the right word, but it'll have to do) tribute to the late Miles Davis, on which the group perfectly reproduced the sound of trumpets vocally. After the show, Nu Colours and their manager Del White presented the group with the International Crystal Award for excellence in gospel music. The award was presented in memory of the deceased gospel promoter Ralph Weekes, to whom Del White paid tribute in her presentation speech.

The first single off the Take 6 album will be released in America at the end of January, followed by the album in February. The UK release date for the album should be sometime in March, and the group will be touring to promote it. Alvin can hardly wait to make the return visit. "We kinda have a blood relationship with England," he says. "Fans here are very excited when we come, so we'd like to come back. We'll be here many times in the future." CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About George Luke
George Luke is music editor for the black arts magazine Artrage and lives in London


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