COVID-19 has forced many businesses and organizations to adapt and find new ways of doing things. You can count Bravo Niagara! Festival of the Arts among these.
This week, Bravo Niagara! released their first ever music video as a response to the pandemic.
Bringing together past Bravo Niagara! performers along with some on the organization’s wish list, and teaming them with children’s choirs from Chorus Niagara, Laura Secord Secondary School and Fern HIll School in Oakville, a brand new version of We Are the World was premiered via their Facebook page and website Tuesday, May 12.
Seeing many virtual concerts taking place since the world went into isolation, Bravo Niagara! founder Christine Mori felt now was the perfect time to take on the one song that she’s always wanted to be a part of one of their live concerts.
It began during talks with bass player Bakithi Kumalo. He had performed for their Voices of Freedom Festival last year, and was beginning to plan for his return to Niagara for his tribute to Paul Simon’s Graceland album. In this concert, the South African native, who played the iconic bass lines on that landmark record, will gather young musicians and singers to back him up while playing Graceland in its entirety, sharing stories about the recording process along the way.
When the pandemic hit, the focus of the talk changed to their shared admiration of We Are the World.
“It’s a song that I have loved for so many years,” Mori says. “When I read the lyrics again, to me it was almost as if Lionel Ritchie wrote it for COVID-19.”
Her next conversation about the song was with Measha Bruegerggergosman, via text. The Canadian singer committed immediately. Then, Mori heard through the grapevine that Ritchie himself had been considering recording a new version of the 35-year-old song to respond to the pandemic. But Mori decided to push on with her plan, putting a Bravo Niagara! spin on the song.
Through her vast number of contacts, she was able to line up musicians and singers such as Emily Bear, Dominic Mancuso, Eric Bazillian, Brooke Blackburn, Jenna Weir, Alanna Brigewater and Quincy Bullan. She also brought in the Powerhouse Fellowship Soul Choir featuring Shawn Cotterell, and the One People Band, which includes guitarist Biodun Kuti who, like Kumalo, has performed in the past with Paul Simon.
All in all, more than 150 singers and musicians appear in the video, each having recorded their parts at home while in self-isolation during the pandemic.
For Laura Secord music teacher Katryna Sacco, it was a natural fit for her students.
“We have fostered a partnership with Bravo Niagara! over the years, and all of our involvement with them has given our students the opportunity to collaborate with world-renowned artists,” she says. “We were very happy when they asked us to collaborate because, as you know, we can’t be together right now making music in person.”
About 50 of Sacco’s students can be seen and heard in the video. They were given a rough cut of the musical backing track and asked to record their vocals separately. Those tracks were all sent to producer Guillermo Subauste of Toronto, who was tasked with mixing all of the audio tracks together.
Subauste also took on the job of meshing together the hundreds of video files, and painstakingly synchronizing the video and the audio into a professional-quality product.
The finished video looks and sounds amazing. The combination of the voices and the musicians is powerful, uplifting and joyous. In this age of Zoom meetings and family gatherings, the multi-split-screen technique will be familiar to many. But to get an idea of how great this video looks and sounds, take the quality of a Zoom call and multiply it by a factor of about 100.
Getting to see each of the participants in the comfort of their own homes, each recording their parts separately, adds a new twist to the message of the song. It’s about unity, and the phrase that has been repeated so often during self-isolation: we are one, and we are all in this together.
“This project is so timely,” Mori says. “This is really what lifted my spirits (during COVID-19). Every time I listened to the tracks of all the children, I was sitting in tears. What makes it so unique is that every single one of those musicians did it with real love and heart, and you can see and feel the deep emotion in it.”
Bikithi Kumalo laid down his bass parts for the song in his home studio in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He is amazed at how quickly and how well the whole project came together.
“Everybody just jumped on it, and it’s beautiful,” says the musician, who is also working on his own new CD during the pandemic. He was still living in South Africa when the original song was released, and related to the song’s message then as he does now. “The singing, the musicians, all the time they took to put the project together, I’m just so proud to be a part of it.”
We Are the World kicks off a new video series called Bravo Niagara! Amplified. Mori and her partner, daughter Alexis Spieldenner, are already planning the second in the series. Video number two will call on classical musicians and be a partnership with the United Nations Refugee Agency.
Though she is eager to get back to live performances, Mori is philosophical about the last two months.
“This is what has come out of COVID,” she says. “It pushed us to find a different way to be able to share music, a way that we never would have been able to do. It pushed us, challenged us, and made us work harder, and we learned a lot from it.”
To see the We are the World video, visit the Bravo Niagara! Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/bravoniagarafestival/. You can also find a link to the video on YouTube on the website bravoniagara.org.