ALUKA @ THE TOFF IN TOWN – November 7th

I walk into The Toff on Wednesday night and my attention is immediately caught by Xani Kolac’s red and white pinstriped onesie. Casually strumming her violin, Mark Leahy is on drums and Xani is singing about choosing career paths that refuse to pay. The crowd is already jammed in and the air is stuffy but we ignore it to cheer them on.

The Twoks are here to support Melbourne a capella group Aluka, and they are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. With tribal beats and folksy charm, Xani moves from plucking the violin to drawing her bow across its strings and looping her harmonies to glorious effect. She then flits over to Mark, grabs a pair of sticks and joins him in a drumming frenzy. Their set ends in a rush of energy that has me standing on my toes trying to see their joyful faces above the hoots.

Aluka’s new clip for ‘Keep My Cool’ runs on repeat while we all converge on the bar for water after the set. It seems everyone has had the same idea and I can’t help but notice the stench in the room. Please turn on the air conditioning. Just as we find a place at the front for maximum air flow, the curtain opens.

In front of us are Annabelle Tunley, Rachael Head and Sally Mortenson, all elegant as ever, and ready to go. Annabelle begins with a subtle poke at their clip, suggesting that we are probably already sick of them because of the video loop. She asks how long we had to cop it for and a gentleman from the audience yells out, “Oh it was about six and a half months worth”. Rachael knowingly pats her protruding belly and they all yell back “Oh daaaadddd”. We all laugh and Rachael introduces us to “Peanut” their fourth member. Cue the pregnancy jokes.

What ensues is a set filled with a selection of songs that will be featured on their album set for release next year. The album has been recorded in various, sometimes odd, spaces around Victoria. With different spaces for each song, they’ve experimented with how surroundings can add to the tone of a recording.

They break up their blended harmonies with cute anecdotes that induce chuckling. Annabelle explains how one space they used to record in was a war bunker in Point Lonsdale. Both producer Nick Huggins and Peanut’s dad were convinced that the bunker would collapse on them and their anxiety wore off on the group. They wouldn’t allow the girls to stand in certain areas of the bunker. Rachael giggles at the over-cautiousness.

A new song is introduced. We’re told it is about their trip to Europe. Most of us are laughing as they sing about waiting in stations, being mugged and getting nibbled by bed bugs.

Mind Tricks’ starts off a little spooky and moves off down its funky and unusual trails. Then Annabelle introduces their “sexy” song with the warning, “but be careful or you’ll end up pregnant” and we all laugh again. Rachael quickly concedes but explains that’s it hard to feel sexy with sweat on her upper lip. Yes it is still that hot in here. ‘Warm of Toast’ is textured, colourful and soothing and the girls sweetly migrate into ‘Shadow’. It’s a more upbeat number that get the crowd moving to its rhythms.

Aluka give an incredible performance throughout but ‘Keep My Cool’ is the highlight. Their a capella style proves that you don’t need instruments to create thoughtful music that is a joy to listen to. Each of their unique voices caress and support each other, combine together expertly and are always perfectly pitched. The first moment I heard this song I felt that I connected with it and I love hearing it live now.

They arrive back on stage for an encore to give a stunning and novel performance of ‘Say My Name’ by Destiny’s Child that sees Sally weaving in the chorus of Justin Timberlake’s ‘Cry Me a River’.

We leave the venue with cheerful grins and our hands clutching presents. Aluka have given us two copies of their single, one to keep and one to give to a friend. The second is kindly gift wrapped in hand-folded paper.

I feel happier after seeing them on stage. Aluka are not only talented musicians with spunk but I’ve found them uplifting too.

The band had the night recorded. Here’s a little taste:

REVIEW BY STEF ITALIA