The Voices of the Spirit IV Concert Features Gospel A Cappella Group The Soul Influence

The Soul Influence, one of the groups performing at the Voices of the Spirit IV concert this weekend, is a five-man African American a cappella gospel quartet. Yes, we got that right, a five-man quartet. The group sings in four part harmony, hence the description. The concert also includes performances by Pandit Suman Ghosh, performing a Hindustani music known as Mewati Gharana and a group of Venerables or nuns from the Chung Mei Buddhist Temple in Stafford chanting. Each style captures the rich history and variety of sacred music as practiced by local Houstonians.

Singer Marcus Barnum (seen above far left), a founding member of The Soul Influence , says while the music sounds different, each style has one important common element: "It's meant to express our spirituality." As an a cappella group with a sound that recalls early doo-wop, The Soul Influence's repertoire includes what's known as "The Old One Hundreds" in black congregations along with contemporary Christian songs arranged by Barnum and other group members. "When we're arranging we challenge ourselves, how can we make this sound as orchestrated as we possibly can? We demand a lot of our voices, a lot of power and integrity. We try to not get too complicated to the ear and really stick to the power of our voices."

The group was started when two of the founding members met at a wedding. While riding in a car together they began singing. "We had an instant chemistry," says Barnum. More members were added and the group began to perform publicly. The group sings, sans musical instruments, building on the spirituals tradition eventually developing a style that most closely resembles early doo-wop but clearly reflects gospel, Christian and secular music influences.

"We've designed our group in such a way that we can speak to a wide audiences. There are a lot of sub-genres in the Christian-gospel [category]. We are fortunate enough to be able to speak to a variety of those subgroups. We speak to the gospel community, the inspirational community; we have elements of pop, of R&B ... we haven't quite gotten the country gospel sound down, but we're trying," he laughs.

The Soul Influence hasn't selected the exact program to be performed at Voices of the Spirit, an annual concert presented by Houston Arts Alliance's Folklife + Traditional Arts Program and Asia Society Texas Center. "We decide what to sing based on the audience and the room, so out program isn't set yet ... but it's going to be some down home gospel, you can believe that!"

While the program is presented in a variety of languages, Barnum isn't worried that The Soul Influence's message will be lost on non-English speakers nor that English-only speakers won't understand the performances other performers on the schedule. "Music is music. it's the universal language," he says. "People can understand the message even if they don't understand the language. Music can speak in a way that just words can't. It can get the meaning across clearly regardless of the language differences."

7:30 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Asia Society Texas Center, 1370 Southmore. For information, visit houstonartsalliance.com. $10.

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