Arts Desk

The Sing-Off: Afro-Blue Sails Through


Afro-Blue set the bar impossibly high during their interview segment on The Sing-Off’s Hip-Hop Week last night. They were performing what was billed as The Fugees' "Killing Me Softly," but mentioned the song's connection to Howard alum/erstwhile D.C. resident Roberta Flack. "We have to pay tribute to Roberta," members said. "Of course we hope The Fugees will love it too, while still making it an Afro-Blue song."

Absurd ambition. It’s like if The Wire creator David Simon said, "I need a stick-up man: a gay man who never curses and takes his grandma to church every Sunday, yet an undisputed king of the streets who puts the fear of God into the hardest of inner-city criminals—and at the same time becomes both the show’s moral center and most beloved character."

That’s right: "Killing Me Softly" was Afro-Blue’s Omar Little—the crowning achievement in a full repertoire of rich, multidimensional, and cohesive creations. Christie Dashiell led the group through a dizzyingly polyrhythmic (as many as four simultaneous beatboxers), crazily dense performance in which her voice merged and diverged from her colleagues'—most during notably during inspired duet passages with Eliza Berkon and Danielle Withers—and spun off glittering call-and-response lines on the chorus that ultimately intertwined in a crushing full-ensemble coda.

The performance was the only one of the evening to generate a standing ovation from the judges. (Well, two of them; Ben Folds kept his seat.) When it came to his assessment, though, he began with, "That was gorgeous" and ended with, "That's really you. That was you." The unerringly effusive Sara Bareilles called it "flawless," and Afro-Blue cheerleader Shawn Stockman told them Flack would be proud, singling out Dashiell and Reggie Bowens (who kept the basic beatbox groove) for praise. Nobody had a word of criticism.

Indeed, this was the first week in which the bottom scorers in each bracket were to face off against each other in the show's close. It was instantly clear, though, that Afro-Blue had nothing to worry about, and, in fact, they were the first to be pronounced safe, suggesting that they were the highest score in their bracket. Small wonder, with an inspired performance like this one.

Elsewhere, Urban Method still looks like the team to beat, though the judges and audience also have a lot of love for Pentatonix. In fact, a couple of Pentatonix fans took to the comments on last week's recap to sing their praises. So, seventysix and LoveMusic, I'm offering either of you 3:2 odds on my prediction for the final two. Who's in?

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