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O Sister!

Crazy people, crazy people. Crazy people like me go crazy over people like you. Once upon a time jazz was all about having fun and that’s the way swing started out in New Orleans. A trio of sisters emerged to become the vocal jazz inspiration for Ella Firzgerald. A Sevilla-based band rescues the memory of the Boswell Sisters, pioneers of American popular music whose names have been forgotten with the passage of time. We got the chance to meet O Sister! in our Tertulias in EMASESA.


By:  Cecilia Bogaard
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Vocal jazz band inspired by 1930s swing from New Orleans
Founded: 2007
Location: Seville
Did you know? their main inspiration, The Boswell Sisters, inspired Ella Fitzgerald

The clothes, the hair, the close harmonies… Everything about O Sister! pays homage to another era. Even the title of their first album, the self-produced Crazy people (Sputnik, 2009), comes from the title of a song recorded in 1932 by Martha, Vet and Connee Boswell. The idea to set up a cover band performing tunes by this trio from New Orleans was the brainchild of Paul Padilla in 2007. “My father is a huge jazz fan and I discovered the Boswell Sisters thanks to one of his records”.

Paula proposed the idea to Helen Amado, based in Madrid, and Marcos Padilla. The idea was to meet and rehearse every time they were all in Seville. That’s how it came about that they joined their voices in elegant and witty harmonies. One year later, incorporating the guitar of Matías Comino, they gave their first concert. In 2009 they recorded their first album alongside various collaborating musicians, including Camilo Bosso (double bass) and Pablo Cabra (bass) who have been incorporated into the band.

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The close harmonies could almost be described as scat singing, a technique involving nonsense syllables and improvised melody that mimic the sounds of jazz instruments. Badadumda…. It’s also a throwback to Louisiana slang. In other words, instead of yes sir, why not say yowzah?

Goofy people, daffy people
Daffy people like me go crazy over things you do.

“We wanted to break with the norm. Sometimes it seems that if you perform complicated or “cultured” music, you end up having to be serious. Why should creating great music not go hand in hand with having a good time?”. A sound that was born on the streets of New Orleans, home of the Boswell Sisters, “was first played by black and later by white musicians”. In their concerts, O Sister! takes you back to the original context. Their aesthetics and vocal harmonies break down the differences in time and space. “You don’t hear this music very often around here. It seems that the audience likes to see us clowning around”.

Padilla explains that not many people know about the Boswell Sisters, even in North America. “They had their moment of glory in the 1930s, but for only a short space of time”. They produced twenty hits before splitting up in 1936, the biggest being The object of my afection only a year before they went their separate ways. According to O Sister!, the fame and fortune that should have been theirs went to the Andrew Sisters. “The worst bit is that they were a Boswell Sister imitation band!”.

When big bands were coming into vogue during the Second World War, the Boswell Sisters were on their way out. “When they were active the kind of music they made didn’t make it out of the ghettos of New Orlean. When it started to become more popular and hit Europe, they’d already split up. They also had a very bad manager. Add to that the fact that Connee was disabled and provoked prejudice in the music industry”.

Don’t mind if I rave a lot, sweet angel child
You’re just a habit I’ve got, you drive me wild.

Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Fred Astaire (whose songs they also cover), Django Reinhardt and Josephine Baker. If one had to mention five names, those would cover it. But the Boswell Sisters are the driving force behind the band. O Sister! creates their own versions of old songs, make a few changes and even dance when they get up on stage. “We look like kids, but we have a blast!”.

Vocal jazz, with its connections to gospel and blues, doesn’t just lend itself to fusion, fusion is part of its very origins. “There is a connection between the southern states of North America and southern Spain. The spirit of both places is very similar,” explains Padilla. Besides, adds Marcos, “it’s blues, French music from the last century, classical music… The influences are all there, mixed together to create a unique sound”.

As far as they know there aren’t any other vocal jazz bands in Spain. “There are quite a lot of bands performing swing, mostly in Cataluña, but they are instrumental bands”. After touring concerts and festivals all over the country, they want to travel further afield, maybe with their second album (2012). This second album will have more original tracks than Crazy People, while maintaining the unique style of the Boswell Sisters. “In reality we’re doing something that some might see as odd or unusual. People often come up to ask why we invest our time into performing covers if songs by a band from the 1930s!”

The Boswell Sisters had an easy answer:

Crazy people, crazy people
Crazy people like me go crazy over people like you
Waha, wa wa wa wa waaaa oooooo.

O Sister! is open to performing the soundtrack for Woody Allen’s next movie. There’s just one hitch: “Have you got his e-mail?”.

Video


42nd Street & Crazy People - O Sister! - Tertulias en EMASESA Cultural from Tertulia Andaluza on Vimeo.

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