“Music is so powerful, it needs to be used for some kind of redeeming work. To lift people’s spirits, to lift their souls.”
He’s a bare-footed man with a microphone, using only his body for an instrument. Dreadlocks bounce and sway as he slaps his chest for rhythm, singing a groovy bass line, haunting melody, and ear-tickling sound effects – seemingly all at once.
Boasting ten Grammy awards and a feel-good hit from the 80’s (Don’t Worry, Be Happy), Bobby McFerrin has redefined the voice as an instrument. More importantly, he has redefined, or perhaps reclaimed, how we experience music in concert.
Seconds into a performance, Bobby will have you smiling. But after you recover from the initial thrill of his virtuosity and stage-presence, you’ll be laughing, dancing, and best of all, singing along.
A trademark of Bobby’s live concert is inviting the audience to become part of the music. You’re no longer a passive listener, politely observing the artist on stage, but a participant of the fun – singing on cue, clapping, and sometimes joining in on an improvised duet.
“I like to use the audience as my colour palette, my instrument,” he says.
It’s unconventional, captivating, and apparently – good for you!
Music’s redeeming power may be due to the fact that singing releases endorphins, the “feel good” chemical in the brain. It also prompts deep breathing, adding oxygen to the blood, and stimulates full-brain activity – all of which helps reduce stress.
“If I can bring joy into the world, if I can get people to stop thinking about their pain for a moment… then I’ll be successful.”
Music can further promote health by simply bringing people together. Social engagement boosts brain functioning and helps to prevent dementia.
In 2010, Bobby joined leading neuroscientists in a panel at the World Science Festival to explore the human response to music. They explained how our ancestors used music as a force for social cohesion – a way of bonding emotionally, raising morale before a hunt, or “synching” with visiting tribes so to better cooperate. People gathered together, pounded on drums, and moved their bodies to the rhythm.
These were the first concerts, an experience that included everyone. No separation of performer from audience.
Bobby’s concerts reclaim this powerful experience. Everyone’s welcome to join in, and you can’t help but feel great when it’s over. You’ll sing more, slap your chest in rhythm, and as a result – feel better.
In a song from his 1995 album Bang! Zoom, Bobby sings, “Freedom is a voice.” For those hungry for redemption, freedom from their pain – or just a smile – he seems to be offering a simple cure: sing along.