Sing a Song! Sing a Note! Sing a Chord? My Take on Lalah Hathaway’s New Sound


Firstly, I have to apologize to all of my readers for being extremely late on this post. This should be about getting all of you the interesting music quickly, before mainstream takes over and ruins all of the fun, and I’ve failed here.

I watched the video below of Lalah Hathaway a week or 2 ago, and sadly, I’m just writing about it now. Nevertheless, it’s still important to highlight because she may just be changing the face of music as we know it today.

Snarky Puppy is a Brooklyn, NY based group led by Michael League that was formed in Texas in 2004. The band comprises nearly 50 musicians, many of whom were once students at the University of North Texas. They are not your typical band as they perform on a variety of instruments including guitars, pianos, woodwinds, brass, and percussion.

In March of this year, Snarky Puppy and special guests convened at the Jefferson Center in Roanoke, VA to record a series of live performances that would bring attention and benefit to the ongoing work of the center.

One of the performers was Lalah Hathaway, who needs no introduction. She stands at the edge of the stage as a conductor normally would—though a microphone takes the place of the typical conductor’s music stand and her voice takes the place of the baton. Each band member can see her clearly; they do not have music stands either, nor a single piece of sheet music.

Neo-soul, afrojazz, Earth Wind & Fire, grand improvisation, perfect crescendos and decrescendos are all words that come to mind while listening to this song (what comes to yours?).

And then Big band…

The number of talented musicians that grace the stage makes the process seem complex in and of itself. But the music may not be as complex as one may initially believe. In fact, it ‘s foundation is simple. The keyboard begins in half steps and initial transitions are in whole steps – maybe a jump or two in between (a 4th to be exact). Why? Well, check out minute 3. It’s all about the voice, the music creates itself around Lalah Hathaway, as if her voice is the tree, and leaves flow from the branches perfectly (or something).

And then the vibes…

4:40, the backup singers kick in, the band starts vibing, Lalah’s tempo takes off in jazz-influenced ad-libs.

And then the magic…

6:12, I don’t know what else to call it besides a chord – or maybe two simultaneous notes? Lalah sings simultaneous notes with her voice. I think. Is that even possible? Then she does it again. Really, how is that possible? Again. I think, it might be possible Again. IT’S POSSIBLE.

One blogger, Mal Webb had an interesting take on it, writing:

“…I’m fairly sure what she’s doing isn’t actually “overtones”, as in the air in oral cavities resonating to create another note (which are the high overtones or “harmonics” that the Mongolian/Tuvan singers do). Lalah’s is a vibration of the “false vocal folds” (also called “ventricular folds”), which are two fleshy parts either side of the vocal folds that can be drawn together to create extra notes (or noise!). It’s these that create the Tuvan/Tibetan/Inuit throat singing “growls”, as well as death-metal screaming and rock distortion. But what Lalah is doing is a much lighter, breathy contact”…

I’m pretty sure it’s a combination of overtones and the above description – along with two notes. Don’t take it from me though. Let your ears have a listen. 

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2 thoughts on “Sing a Song! Sing a Note! Sing a Chord? My Take on Lalah Hathaway’s New Sound

  1. I’m not entirely positive, but it’s feasible that she could be creating all three pitches using overtone singing. That said, the fact that she has the control to not only produce three pitches but also to make those notes match the song’s chord progression is simply astounding. Regardless of how she does it, her vocal control and expertise is simply above and beyond the average singer.

    • Hi! You may just be correct. I have to say though – I’ve never heard anyone use overtones to produce 3 simultaneous notes. Have you? It usually sounds a bit dissonant/more like two “notes” if anything. But here, Lalah sounds like she’s producing a full blown chord.

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