World Beat

An a cappella group with global roots takes its positive message to an ever-larger audience.
October 1, 2014

Women of the World (from the left): Giorgia Renosto, Annette Philip, Ayumi Ueda, and Débòrah Pierre

Ro Rowan

“Since I was a child, I dreamed about working with people from all over the world,” says vocalist and founding member of the a cappella group Women of the World (WOW), Ayumi Ueda ’10. “I knew that there were so many things we could share and learn together.” Along with fellow core members Giorgia Renosto ’09, Débòrah Pierre ’13, and Berklee faculty member Annette Philip ’09, Ueda and WOW were named the 2014 national champions of the Harmony Sweepstakes A Cappella Festival competition, the premier American showcase for vocal groups.

Ueda, originally from Japan, attended various shows as a Berklee student, and like a baseball talent scout, she noted other gifted students, including Renosto from Italy, Philip from India, and Pierre, an American of Haitian descent. The core members often perform with six instrumentalists, including Canadian drummer Patrick Simard ’13, the group’s only male member.

Forty alumni from Paris, France gathered for a July 2 reception hosted by Berklee today editor Mark Small at Duc des Lombards jazz club where Lalah Hathaway was performing. From the left: Thierry de Micheaux ’95, Chester Lukas Harlan ’96, Denis Jusseaume ’97, and Patricia Setbon.

Mark Small

“We find a lot of like-minded people at Berklee,” Philip adds. “It’s such a multicultural institution with people that think the same way: music for a purpose.” WOW performs many different styles of music in 25 different languages. “We learn throughout our practice together, we understand about each other’s cultures and differences and common things,” Ueda adds. “I think it is a step toward creating a peaceful community to show your understanding and embrace each other.” In describing the performances, Renosto continues, “We do the music from our countries, including Indian and Italian music. Most of the time, we choose our music by the message of the song or just because we like it. Our music can talk about nature, about women, about many things, I believe we are carried by the beauty of the sound.”

WOW has collaborated with many renowned artists including Bobby McFerrin, and the Boston Pops Orchestra led by Keith Lockhart and has toured in Japan and North America with performances at Carnegie Hall, Boston Symphony Hall, and the Beantown Jazz Festival.

“We use global folk traditions as the foundation of our music and we try to give it a new twist,” Philip says. “We might do a Japanese song with a lot of Indian rhythms. Right now we’re doing a samba written by Giorgia and we’re actually using some Senegalese rhythms. We learn as much as we can from each culture and then incorporate that into a new sound that is emerging and evolving as we grow together as musicians.”

Interns, alumni, and industry folks got together at Berklee at Bareburger, hosted by the offices of Experiential Learning and Alumni Affairs in New York's West Village. From the left: Lisa Sinapi '09, Kory Glattman '10, Tansu Akman-Duffy '10, Andrew Devine '09.

Rudy Martinez

Pierre recalls her time at Berklee and the value of ensembles and diversity, she adds, “It was an amazing feeling to be around people that have a passion for what they do,” she says. “This ensemble truly epitomizes that passion and gives a voice of strength to women everywhere.”

The group made a return to the famed Blue Note Jazz Club in New York City this past spring for the debut of the club’s Midnight Series. “We had sold out a show at the Regattabar a few years ago, and the same booking agency handles both clubs,” says Renosto, who handles a lot of the booking and publicity for the ensemble. “We first approached the Blue Note about a show and CD release party in 2012. They booked us to perform a few more times at both venues and then asked us to take part in a new series.” 

WOW looks forward to performances in the fall at the Morris County Arts Workshop, the Music Cafe at the Hive in Chester, NJ, Word*Rock*& Sword: A Musical Celebration of Women’s Lives at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City and a tour in Japan in March 2015. With a cast that mirrors a cabinet of the United Nations, this group carries the message of diversity, empowering women globally, and delivers the message beautifully through music. Learn more at the Women of the World website.

Michael Gaskins is Berklee’s director of Alumni Affairs.

This article appeared in our alumni magazine, Berklee Today Fall 2014. Learn more about Berklee Today.
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