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Zenizen and Madison McFerrin come to Gardner

Zenizen and Madison McFerrin will perform this weekend in Gardner Lounge. Artwork by Cassidy Christiansen.

By Kelly Page

This Saturday, March 10, a capella future soul singer Madison McFerrin and nu-jazz-influenced musician Zenizen will perform in Gardner Lounge. Doors will open at 8 p.m., Zenizen will begin her set at 8:15 p.m. and Madison McFerrin will take the stage at 9:15 p.m.

Brooklyn-based musician McFerrin creates soul music with barely any instrumentation. Instead, she constructs music using her voice and the snapping or clapping of her hands looped over themselves, with what the New York Times described as “wonderful vocal dexterity, deftly swerving from sharp, clearly enunciated staccato bursts to fluttery, free-form melismata.”

McFerrin is the daughter of Grammy-Award-winning jazz musician Bobby McFerrin, whose popular song “Don’t Worry Be Happy” is the only a capella song to reach number one on the Billboard Top 100. McFerrin follows her father’s legacy of inventiveness in music. After studying at Berklee College of Music, McFerrin released two EPs, “Finding Foundations, Vol. I” in 2016 and the second volume in 2018. Vol. I maintains joyfulness as McFerrin addresses ex-lovers and expresses the need to love yourself. Her more recent release, “Finding Foundations: Vol. II” extends some of the same musical motifs as Vol. I, experimenting even more with layered a capella harmonies. Her track “Insane,” in which McFerrin sings about her obsession with a lover, shows her feelings through increasing tension and urgency built upon layered staccato harmonies, which provide a background for McFerrin’s lyrics.

Since McFerrin started releasing music, she has been gaining attention from listeners and critics. DJ Gilles Peterson featured her song “No Time To Lose” on “Brownswood Bubblers,” his series of compilations of emerging talent. After that, she performed at the Arroyo Seco Weekend music festival in Pasadena, California.

In performance, she can be expected to pay tribute to the greats of music, like when she covered “Toxic” by Britney Spears at a recent show at Dartmouth College. She asks that the audience stand near her, to share in her music.

Also performing on Saturday is Zenizen, the musical project of Opal Hoyt. She is an Alaska native who has lived everywhere from Jamaica to Brooklyn, but records her music in Australia. The diversity of Hoyt’s past landscapes mirrors the variety of places her music brings its listeners. On the Zenizen Facebook page, Hoyt cites Minnie Riperton, Mariah Carey and London nu-jazz as her main influences. She also states that she “is committed to modern psychedelia, poetry and groove.” Zenizen’s songs are driven by melodic bass lines and hush drums, which provide a backdrop to her voice as it climbs and unfurls through her lyrics.

Her song “Follow the Leader” is based on her observations of a group of teenagers she saw in Australia. According to Pitchfork, “The song unfurls slowly and joyously, Hoyt’s voice lingering and echoing as she sings from the perspective of a group of friends waiting ‘with baited breath’ for a leader to guide their mischief.”

On a feature for Tidal, Hoyt lists five albums that have shaped her life, which included the soundtrack of Hairspray, “Spice” by The Spice Girls and “Black and White” by The Pointer Sisters. Though it might not be immediately obvious whether any sounds from these albums appear in Zenizen’s music, they are all reflected in Hoyt’s pleasing melodies, which pull listeners into her songs.

Zenizen and Madison McFerrin will perform this weekend in Gardner Lounge. Artwork by Cassidy Christiansen.
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