Music from another planet

Music from another planet

Talking about life, celebrity status and other-worldly sounds with Voca People creator, Lior Kalfo

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Beat boxing with the Voca People (photo credit: Daniel Laufer)
Beat boxing with the Voca People (photo credit: Daniel Laufer)

Lior Kalfo would not be swayed. I cajoled and begged, pleaded and whined, but he would neither confirm nor deny whether the members of a cappella ensemble Voca People are indeed human, Israeli and probably Jewish. In fact, Kalfo doesn’t ever discuss why he invented a mythical planet — Voca — whose inhabitants believe that music is the most powerful source of energy in the universe, and whose aliens perform worldwide dressed in their trademark, blindingly white suits and faces. But as a lover of a cappella and beat box vocals, as well as a comedian by trade, it’s entirely possible that Kalfo was onto something when he created this alien group.

When chatting with Kalfo, there is no choice but to join him in his affectation, to assume that he — and Shai Fishman, the composer, musical director and arranger of the group — may just be one of those people who can communicate with entities from outer space. Perhaps the Voca People are indeed aliens born with white faces and red lips, wearing white hoodies under white polyester suits (rather than an Earthly musical ensemble that incorporates its audience into its songs as it performs at home in Israel and, over the last three years, to some acclaim in the US and Europe). It is possible that the ensemble can’t speak anything but song, regularly performing a mashup of the history of music — from “The Sound of Music” and Beethoven to Abba, Queen, Madonna and even trance. And so, for a brief period on Thursday, both prior to and at their performance at Zappa Jerusalem, I went with the concept. If you can’t beat ’em, you might as well join ’em.

A chat with the creator of the Voca People.

The Voca People are Israeli, right? I know you live in Binyamina and the performers have Hebrew names. Or is it that you prefer not to admit that the Voca People are Israeli, so as to avoid any political issues on tour?

It’s so simple, Jessica, much more simple than that. They’re not Israeli, they’re from the Voca Planet. They just chose those [Israeli] names, because they like how they sound.

So did their spaceship land in Israel or in the US?

It landed in New York, on the Upper West Side (where Kalfo was living at the time and working on a musical). They were friendly; they didn’t eat us or attack us.

In their dressing room before the show (photo credit: Daniel Laufer)
In their dressing room before the show (photo credit: Daniel Laufer)

How do the Voca People handle the different languages they hear while on tour?

They speak Vocish — it’s a mixture of gibberish and music — and luckily they’re vocally balanced: There with three females who are, respectively, alto, mezzo and soprano; and three males who are, also respectively, bass, baritone and tenor. But they have this ability to mimic different languages from the galaxy: They sing mostly in English, but with local slang thrown in.

They do seem to have a particular facility for Hebrew; I thought I heard them chatting in Hebrew when I was heading backstage to speak to them before their Thursday night show.

You must have heard the company manager speaking to someone. Hebrew is actually a very tough language for them to learn. but they do love hanging out in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in between world tours.

Singing out (photo credit: Daniel Laufer)
Singing out (photo credit: Daniel Laufer)

What’s the Voca People’s reaction to their worldwide fame?

They’re just sweet aliens; they take it in stride. From the moment we put them on YouTube — where they had 6 million views in just a few months — it didn’t bother them, because they didn’t know anything about YouTube. They’re literally from another planet.

They’ve been performing together for more than five years, including a 15-month run on Off Broadway. That’s a long time.

Time is different on their planet; five years is like a minute. They’re, like, a few hundred years old each and there are at least two spaceships of Voca People touring around the world, hitting a different city every day.

Are they in touch with any other aliens? Do they know the Jetsons?

I don’t know who the Jetsons are, but they’ve played on Mars and Pluto; in fact, they have some bizarre stories about Martians. They also have made contact with some superheroes: There may be a song about that in the next few months, because they’re really musical superheroes.

Will they ever return home to Voca?

It’s hard to say. For them, music is life and life is music.

The Voca People will be touring Israel in November and December, appearing in Jerusalem on November 21 at the Jerusalem Theater. More information available on the Voca People website.

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