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Saturday, December 13, 2008

Boyz II Men are coming to paint Kampala with love


When Boyz II Men perform in Kampala next weekend, it will be a time to reminisce for the high school "kids" of the first half of the 1990s, when songs like End of the Road, I'll Make love to You and On Bended Knee were hugely popular. They will be reminded of the "squeeze" dance during "socials" and the grooving that crowned inter-school debates and seminars.

Boys coupled with girls and slow-danced to Boyz II Men's enchanting "love cuts" on memorable evenings. One day during holidays, my elder brother told us how he had serenaded the most beautiful girl from Bweranyangi Girls School, bringing tears of love to her eyes! End of the Road was the magic!

He knew all the Boyz II Men songs word for word and the wall above his bed was plastered with a mega poster of them with sharp boxy haircuts that every high school lad at the time loved to sport. Masters of the romantic song, Boyz II Men's lyrics played a prominent role in the love letters wooing the stunning girls in the neighbouring school.

The passionate choruses that made their smooth harmonies were unforgettable and lovely to sing along to, which made it easy for the school show-offs that loved to mime their songs. R&B and new jack swing was in vogue and Boyz II Men were a young and stylish act with great vocals that had many try to replicate their style. No doubt it will be a memorable day to see them perform live in Kampala.

They are now older than the four adorable smiling young men on the poster in my brother's room back in the day that we all wanted to be like, but they are still Boyz II Men. If the four-time Grammy award-winning, chart-topping, record-breaking, most commercially successful male urban soul artistes that have sold more than 60 million recordings are truly coming to Kampala, then it's amazing!

You have to delve into history to fully appreciate the magnitude of their talent and acclaim. Marc Nelson, Nathan Morris, Michael McCary, Shawn Stockman and Wanya Morris first hooked up in high school in 1988 under the name Unique Attraction.

"Boyz II Men were put together by Boyz II Men," Wanya Morris told Shane Gilchrist of Otago DailyTimes Online in a May 2008 interview. "There was nobody standing off to the side saying 'I want to put together a group'. Music put us together – that is our mother. Music is our mother."

When the quintet sneaked backstage at a 1989 concert and impressed a former New Edition singer-turned producer, Michael Bivins, with an acapella version of New Edition's Can You Stand the Rain, they had no idea a miracle was about to happen; Bivins offered them a recording deal on the spot! They immediately changed their name to Boyz II Men, an altered version of Boys to Men, another song by New Edition, the group they idolised that brought them good luck.
Suddenly, Marc Nelson quit; leaving other members dispirited but determined to move on. Their first album, Cooleyhighharmony was released in 1991 and became an instant hit, winning them the 1992 Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
It was followed with the alluring End of the Road which confirmed the notion that Boyz II Men were "crooning Cupids." The ballad was no.1 on the music charts for 13 weeks, breaking the earlier record of 11 weeks set by Elvis Presley's double-titled single Don't Be Cruel/Hound Dog.

In 1994, they released their second album simply titled II. It went up and on to sell over 12 million copies in the US alone. This album has timeless harmonies like On Bended Knee, Water Runs Dry and I'll Make Love to You. The latter enjoyed a record 14 weeks atop the charts, ending End of the Road's 13-week reign. It was later overthrown by On Bended Knee and Boyz II Men joined Elvis Presley and the Beatles in music books as the only artistes to replace themselves at number one.

In 2005, they scooped two Grammy Awards for Best R&B Album for II and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for I'll Make Love To You. They had become legends and are said to have started the "boy band craze" with groups like Take That, Soul for Real, 98 Degrees, Blackstreet Boys, All 4 One, Jagged Edge and Backstreet Boys; who tried but miserably failed to imitate the inimitable style of Boyz II men.

Their uniqueness lay in the avoidance of the trend of the time where other groups would have one or two lead singers and a choir. A music critic observed: "The multiple-lead arrangements became a Boyz II Men trademark, and it became typical to hear Wanya Morris' vibrato-heavy tenor, Shawn Stockman's smoother tenor voice, Nathan Morris' baritone, and Michael McCary's deep bass (often used in spoken-word sections of many Boyz II Men hits) trading bars in each song. Their flawless four-part harmonies blend so smoothly that most of the general public would be hard-pressed to name any of the group's individual members."

Most of the early songs by Boyz II Men are groovy and funky; a style related to new jack swing style, which they christened "hip hop doo wop". They later carved out their niche in soulful ballads which a Ugandan night show radio presenter would later call "the right music for all the lovers in the house!"

The next album, 1997's Evolution didn't meet much success but gave us the sweet and heartfelt A Song for Mama which today is arguably the number one dedication to mothers. The follow-up album three years later also sold few records but the class and passion on a couple of its songs such as Pass You By and Thank You in Advance helped confirm that Boyz II Men are the true manufacturers of romantic music.

These Philadelphia natives last year released the LP Motown: A Journey Through Hitsville USA, with songs originally performed by greats such as Marvin Gaye (Mercy, Mercy Me), Just My Imagination by the Temptations and the Commodores' Easy, to honour the legends that "paved the way with their style of music, their lyrical content, just the spirit of those songs actually gave you another vibe… those artistes became the soundtrack to our lives."

Boyz II Men are bringing with them a 20-year music experience and songs that millions of people worldwide have loved and related to. Will it be the groovy and funky types like Beautiful Women and In The Still of the Night (I'll Remember) or will they take it slow throughout the concert, resurrecting their Midas touch on classics like End of the Road, Doing Just Fine and Dear God?

Or will they put Kampalans in a Christmas mood with The Christmas Song and with their version of The First Noel? It may not be the same without Michael McCary, who retired from the group in 2003 because of back problems, but when Boyz II Men do step up on the stage, many will remember and cry over the golden days when music was still real.

--Sunday Monitor, November 30, 2008