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The Finalists

 

At last, after a lot of deliberation by our international panel of music experts, here are the finalists for the Next Big Thing 2007:

  • Hraun

  • Yunasi

  • Maya McCallum et La Toy Factory

  • Jeremie Johnson

  • Vrelo


  • Listen to these top five and all nominations for the longlist

    Choosing the finalists

     
    Our Global Panel were asked to score all of the acts on three categories: songwriting, performance and originality. In songwriting they were asked to look at arrangement, lyrics and theme. Under performance they were invited to judge musicality, verve and style. And for originality they were looking for production, new ideas and creativity. The scores that our panelists came back with were compiled and we've taken the five highest scoring acts forward into our final.

    Here's what the panellists had to say about their favourites:

    Tori Amos

     
    Tori's three top-scorers were Jeremie Johnson, Sherieta Lewis and Yunasi.

    Anoushka Shankar

     
    It was extremely difficult choosing [from amongst] such wonderful songs. I was amazed at the quality of all the music, but the following three acts stood out to me for combining impeccable musicality and depth with originality and a certain touch of sensuality, fun and magic.

    Maya McCallum embodied in her voice and vibe a lot of what I've always loved about the music of France, but the instruments used in the arrangement were beautifully unusual, the rhythm is magnetic, and there is a lovely dark and sexy vibe through the whole song.

    The Noam Faingold Orchestra blew me away! The strings are gorgeous, the lyrics and arrangement are wonderful, and I absolutely love how dramatic the choruses are. I also love how many turns and twists this quirky, delightful song takes.

    My third choice is Vrelo, and again, I was totally amazed by this song. The combination of tribal-sounding voices with that dark, insistent rhythm and metal guitar-work is nothing short of stunning. The electronic production is slick, and a lot of power comes across on this commanding piece of music."

    Caspar Llewellyn Smith

     
    There wasn't a single weak entry this year, and it really was hard to pick three favourites. The final decision has to be largely subjective, but I also wanted to mix and match from the range of styles on offer. There were a couple of really strong contenders from America, but I found myself returning most often to the beautiful sound of Hraun, the absurdly raucous Wicked Aura (who knew Singapore was such a hotbed for Brazilian talent?) and the deeply intriguing Maya McCallum.

    Paul Stokes

     
    Hraun was my favourite band in the list. I admired the way they managed to mix the best of their own Icelandic music traditions with a wider world view without showing the edges. The result is a song that possesses both the sunshine of west coast America but also the mysterious introspection and smoky energy of a lava pool in Iceland. Yet the song never gets too esoteric and so it proves a soulful and vital listen.

    Maya McCallum also impressed: managing to create a dark, noir blend of triphop but without the usual cliché of sampling old records and bolting on beats. Instead the song weaves itself around a hypnotic and compelling clarinet part, while McCallum's own breathy vocals gently flirt then drag you into the song's night-time world.

    Finally The Noam Faingold Orchestra stood out. Sharing a world view with the likes of (I suspect) Wes Anderson and Arcade Fire, the song's kooky classical arrangements were impressive because they never out-muscled the simple vocals, creating a delicate yet compelling balance between innovation and soul.

    J Cee, Fangu and Instiga deserve honourable mentions, too.

    Ilka Schlockermann

     
    The mix of traditional African sounds with poetry and hip-hop works perfectly for Tshila. Half the song is performed in her native language, the rest in English. Overall a conscious, upbeat vibe, and the most original song in this competition.

    Think large orchestras, musicals, Rufus Wainwright, Queen, Antony & The Johnsons, and you almost have Jeremie Johnson's sound. This is a theatrical performance and I would love to seem him perform it live.

    Yunasi deliver a catchy track, fast, danceable with strong vocals. One of the band members, a French woman, plays accordion which may sound odd on paper but actually compliments the East African instruments very well.

    Miranda Sawyer

     
    King Tut is by far my favourite: strange, oddly festive, creepy, but uplifting, great use of samples as well as live performance. This is a fantastic, esoteric track.

    Though Axis's references are clear (Blur/Radiohead), their song-writing is very strong as is their playing and their bold performance lifts. This song way above the average indie fare.

    Jeremie Johnson is ace! Camp, sentimental, yet sincere, managing to reference Justin Timberlake as well as Queen. This is pop music with ideas way above its station.

    Ben Hudson

     
    My winner by a nose is Hraun, with a beautiful song - I'd love it if we could get a translation. Loads of atmosphere and a great performance. Almost let down by being underproduced, but for me it was the most convincing performance.

    Maya McCallum comes in second place for me. It's dramatic, unpredictable. I didn't have time to get my French dictionary out, but the arrangement and production are excellent. It's eclectic and theatrical.

    In third Jeremie Johnson - the chap singing falsetto is excellent - the only problem being the slightly too-clean production. If Dr Dre actually produced this it would be very cool.

    Nickens Nkoso

     
    It is an honour and a privilege to be among this special global panel. Wicked!

    I listened to the 20 tracks all day. I set my alarm at 4am when the world was asleep to listen to these fabulous songs again and again.

    I came up with these three original and well-interpreted songs. I have found them very easy to listen to. I trust my ear and I hope it wouldn't lie to me this time.

    I believe these guys deserve to be among the finalists: Yunasi, King Tut and Hraun.

    Rodrigo Sanchez

     
    Rodrigo's top three are Jeremie Johnson, Vrelo, J Cee.

    Nina de Man

     
    First of all, I had great fun listening to all the demos. How interesting to listen to what the world has to offer. At the same it was tough, as I like all kinds of music and the quality level of all entries was surprisingly high. Here's a couple of words that sprung to mind when listening to the tracks:
  • King Tut: nice atmosphere / interesting combination of musical elements

  • Wicked Aura: great energy, something tells me you're a great live band?

  • Hraun: If this is the sound of Iceland, I should start planning a visit! Beautiful!

  • Instiga: I have no idea what you're singing about, but there's an interesting hook to your song. It's rock, but it's fun. Great "natural" energy.

  • Ha Ha Orchestra: I think you should get in touch with my hero Emmylou Harris? Timeless. Great stuff.

  • J Cee: the new voice of Jamaica? Your country has a great story, a powerful history, spread the world, girl! Powerful. Let's dance!

  • Maya McCallum: as far as I know the French market, you're not exactly making it easy on yourselves. Congratulations with a very sexy, intimate, dramatic track.

  • The Noam Faingold Orchestra: orchestral. Grand but highly personal at the same time. Yeah, I'm a fan.

  • Penny Broadhurst: interesting twist in the beginning. I love being surprised. Very clear sound. Contemporary. Chart material. Find yourself a record deal - or at least people who recognize a good thing when they hear it. Asap.

  • Psy'aviah: definitely a daring entry. Powerful. Sound of the future. The new Anne Clarke? I'm sure our paths will cross? soon. Good luck, fellow Belgians!

  • Sarah Tshila: perfect soundtrack to a nice summer day. Delightful.

  • Vrelo: Tribal! Beat goes straight to the heart. And feet. And hips.

  • Yunasi: if music is about purveying a story, you're what keeps the business alive. And interesting.

  • Sherieta Lewis: Smooth. Nice, warm statement from Jamaica.

  • Short Cut Therapy: Confined electro, where past meets future?

  • Stereoptera: Kraftwerk reinvented! Great band name, by the way.

  • Axis: the festivals await!

  • Beatrice Moses: the next Khadja Nin. If a flower could sing, it would sound like Beatrice.

  • Fungu: all aboard, Fungu in the house!


  • Omar

     
    The Noam Faingold Orchestra - Straight away I was impressed with the orchestral arrangement, having played percussion in an orchestra this is something I could get my teeth into. The highs and the lows of the music also kept me interested and since I have a short attention span that ain't easy!

    Sherieta Lewis - Yes man! Love that old school reggae. This reminds of steele pulse, top quality and well executed. Miss Lewis's voice is very reassuring atop the steady rockers' style, I'm glad to hear that not everything you hear from Jamaica is about slackness, there is nuff deeper than that!

    Jeremie Johnston - Fantastic use of orchestral sounds, I didn't know it was heading down the R&B route but when it happened it made sense. Even though the orchestra was synthetic it still had the desired effect to bring the overall vibe to a high level

    Sean Goulding

     
    Short Cut Therapy - DJ artists have the potential to reach a broad international audience. This artist in particular has a great arrangement and subtle but memorable hook.

    Sherieta Lewis demonstrates songwriting talents that should be nurtured. She has a great voice. The production and arrangement of the track is sufficient enough to demonstrate that she should be considered.

    Hraun brings a unique approach and demonstrates talent through their esoteric style. Although this is not a commercial type artist, this track interests me enough to want to find out more.


    Simon Broughton

     
    Beatrice Moses - Beatrice clearly has star quality as a singer and the track is catchy and engaging with its backing vocals. It sounds more like a demo than a finished product. It would be much better with some really fizzing guitars, but the music is strong.

    Maya McCallum - Humide is probably the most original song on the long list and she performs it with an almost embarrassing intimacy backed by great instrumentalists. It sounds like the finished article - quirky, confident and new.

    Psy'aviah - The vocals are dark and compelling and this song draws you in against your will. The poetry is stronger than the music, but the combination of lyrics, performance and insistent beats bring it off.


    Nitin Sawhney

     
    Short Cut Therapy sounds completely current and relevant to the electro house scene, which is very exciting right now. At times it reminded me of Daft Punk with their head-nodding meticulous production values.

    Hraun combine beautiful vocals with a very haunting and emotional quality, reminiscent of Sigur Ros and Damien Rice.

    Psy'aviah are bold, brash and provocative - great production.


    Will Hodgkinson

     
    Brazil's Instiga have written a tight, well-constructed pop-punk track that has its own character, verve and energy. I very much liked the way the short, sharp guitar solos used a variety of effects, and I could hear this track filling the floor on indie discos the world over.

    Jamaica's Sherita Lewis has combed a reggae beat and chopping guitar style with modern R&B and a dash of '70s soul to great effect. She has an excellent voice filled with conviction, although she needs to write a real pop gem to do it justice. It's promising, but not quite there yet.

    I've never come across French accordion combined with East African rhythms until hearing Uganda' s Yunasi and their song has a compelling groove and a catchy refrain reminiscent (though distinct from) Manu Dibango's Afro-pop classic Soul Makossa.

    DJ Youdai Zhang

     
    Axis is mature, tight and full of energy.

    Shortcut Therapy has a cool modern electric sound, cutting edge.

    Vrelo is mixed up with many flavours: folk, rock, metal, electronic which makes their sound unique.

    Yan Nikolenko

     
    I must say that the level of creativity and musicality was consistently high for the entire line-up. Most of the participants expose something new or give old ideas some fresh vision. So I have to choose being guided mostly by the first impression and my taste in music. However I've chosen two bands which I think must be among the finalists and one more band that deserves it. Here are my top three:

    King Tut - fresh, dark and crazy, these guys are going their own way, they have no rules in creating musical lines and arrangement. It seems to me that they play not for popularity, promotion and the rest of such stuff, but only to express their inner world. May be I'm wrong, anyway, I like it!

    Fungu - I'm sure they can be really big! They are full of creative energy, the main riff is excellent; there is no way to get it out of mind. (Besides I like their sense of style and Zeynep's voice.)

    Axis - It is really hard to choose the third one, at least four of the candidates are practically equal for me, but I finally chose Axis. They are young, they evidently listen to great English Indie-rock bands, such as Radiohead, and they can write catchy songs themselves. It seems to me that they are the potential hit-makers. I'd like to listen to more tracks from the band to prove it.

    Seva Novgorodtsev

     
    Hraun - Icelandic rain, acoustic guitar and a voice telling us of a thousand miles of empty space, where a person can be truly lonely. Haunting.

    Maya McCallum - Sweet decay of the French joie de vivre, very theatrical and somewhat decadent, yet full of passion.

    Fungu - Sheer energy, powerful voice, river of hormones (and she doesn't care). Mesmerising.

    Denzyl Feigelson

     
    Sherieta Lewis - I feel like she can grow into something. She has a confidence in her style and commitment. She has natural talent.

    Hraun - I can sense the atmosphere of Iceland, I imagine they are more talented than this song, and I wanted to hear more.

    Axis - a solid track, well performed, it portrayed a sense of theme and space.
     
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