As I mentioned in passing a couple months ago, I first encountered Talisman A Cappella [link updated in 2015] when I was wandering around Stanford Shopping Center back in, oh, '92 or so, with Kam. I was in a foul mood for some reason--no idea why. And then I heard these voices. Rich deep basses, singing in a language I didn't know. Incredibly soothing. I followed the music into an African-stuff store, where they had a CD playing on their in-store stereo system; I listened to the rest of the song, and my mood evaporated. The performers turned out to be a multiethnic (and mixed-gender--it's not only basses) Stanford a cappella student group called Talisman, and the CD was called no murmurs, no zealots. I bought it immediately. (And even now, when I get too tense and stressed, sitting in a dark quiet room and playing that song, "Hombe," at high volume through my earbuds calms me down. Though sometimes I have to play it a couple times.)
I played the CD for friends, who also liked it a lot; various of us went to a few Talisman concerts on the Stanford campus. They did a mix of African music, a cappella standards like "Zombie Jamboree," Christian stuff like "Go Tell It on the Mountain," Caribbean-flavored stuff like the Melodians' "Rivers of Babylon," spirituals, and so on. (One of my very favorite songs is their rendition of "Shut De Do'," with syncopated handclaps peeking out from between the notes.) But I wasn't as thrilled with the group's second album, and I gradually stopped paying attention to their concert schedule.
And then early this past October, something prompted me to go look up their albums online. And I found that the group is still going strong. They've got a website (linked above); most of their albums are still available for ordering. So I dropped a note to their manager (email address on website), and ordered all the albums that are still available, including the last copy they had of no murmurs (because that was one of the CDs that disappeared when I was visiting Mary Anne in Salt Lake City some years back). I now have all of their albums except for Held in Shining (out of print) and Anthem (which I think is just a compilation album). And I picked up Shine, which is a two-CD compilation album that contains most of the songs from their first four albums as well as a few songs that haven't been recorded elsewhere. So I have almost all of their recorded songs now.
At this juncture, if you want to listen to some of their music to see what you think, visit their album list page, which has free downloadable MP3s of two songs from each album (except the latest album). [Link updated in 2015, but unfortunately the MP3s are no longer available. You can hear some of their music on YouTube.] You can also listen to samples of the first album (most of the songs from which are also on Shine) at CD Baby [no longer available on CD Baby in 2015], though I don't believe they're right that they'll have the album back in stock soon. If you like the early albums, I strongly recommend Shine; not only does it have most of the early songs, but the versions on Shine mostly sound a little better than the original versions to me. Same recordings, just a slightly richer sound.
After listening to all the albums, I still like the music quite a bit. no murmurs is still my favorite of their albums, but some of the recent stuff is also quite good.
My favorite song from the newer albums is a bonus track on The Quick Day Is Done (their latest album). This particular song, "Baba Yetu," is a striking departure from their usual style: it's performed with full orchestral accompaniment. (Note that they previously recorded a song called "Baba Yetu"; that one's also good, but it's an entirely different tune.) It turns out that it was written by a Talisman alum named Christopher Tin and recorded by the group to go with the opening titles of the computer game Civilization IV. An online Civ forum has an extensive thread about "Baba Yetu"; apparently the lyrics are a somewhat scrambled version of the Lord's Prayer in Swahili. See discussion and translation of the lyrics from a Swahili speaker; also see the current last page of that thread for some further notes. You can listen to the whole song via Flash on Christopher Tin's samples page; apparently available as a free download if you sign up for his mailing list. (I also like several of Tin's other samples; he's written music for a bunch of movies and games.) Or you could buy the Talisman album. Or Civ 4, of course.
Anyway, I also like a bunch of the other songs on newer Talisman albums. Which brings me at long last to the ostensible point of this post:
Talisman is having their winter concert today (Sunday 9 December) at 2:30 p.m. at Stanford. According to the announcement email, the concert has moved from its original location to Toyon House lounge. (I think that's the same as Toyon Hall, which appears to be between Arguello Way and Buckeye Lane on the Stanford campus.) $8 general admission, tix available at the door.
Not sure whether I'll make it to the concert, but hoping to. Sorry for the short notice. If you want to be notified earlier of their future shows, sign up for their mailing list. Very low-volume so far.