By MIKE CHAIKEN
The band Weezer, with Connecticut’s own Rivers Cuomo, went viral with its kind-of-tongue-in-cheek, kind-of-reverent take on “Africa” by Toto, which is made of several Connecticut ex-pats.
“Africa,” although it was on a Grammy-winning album, “Toto IV,” achieved cheese status over the passing years since its release in the 1980s. Its cheese factor was further cemented when it was showcased in a scene from “The Family Guy” (which was created by another Connecticut ex-pat, Seth McFarland).
But after Toto’s version and before Weezer’s version, a Connecticut musical couple—Victoria and Ray Palagy— had the idea of recording the songs themselves and sharing it on YouTube back in January 2017 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mvRbQDvwtw). The song, performed on acoustic guitar and percussion, ditches the cheese and returns the song to reverence.
Ray and Victoria and Friends will perform Sunday, Oct. 28 in Bristol to benefit the Philippines Mission Fund.
Toto’s time apparently has come. But in a way, Weezer stole Ray’s and Victoria’s thunder.
But the couple holds no ill will to Rivers and the rest of the band.
“We did our version of ‘Africa’ long before Weezer did,” said Victoria, who has worked with the likes of the Tom Tom Club and the Shangri-Las and toured beside The Ramones and Debbie Harry of Blondie. “But since we are such big fans of the band and the song, we are glad to see what we consider great music being kept alive and relevant.”
As for the qualities that drew the couple to cover the song, Victoria said, “We love the harmonies, the drums, the melodies, and the chorus has a simple but very memorable melody.”
On their YouTube channel, the Palagys tackle several pop tunes with their own twist. Songs like the Captain and Tennille’s “Love Will Keep Us Together,” ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” The Police’s “Message in a Bottle,” and George Ezra’s “Budapest” get the Palagy treatment.
“Our approach to cover songs is that it doesn’t matter what genre the song was originally, if it was a well written song then it will hold up with vocals, guitar, bass and drums even without a huge production,” said Victoria. “We are big fans of songs that work with a big band or stripped down to a singer and a guitar.”
“Ray’s influences are rock, leaning more towards hard rock and I always loved singer-songwriter style of music but grew up listening to pop radio. Also my years of working with the Tom Tom Club gave me great appreciation of music that is funky and grooves as well. We meet in the middle in our love for many pop radio hits.”
The Palagys do have a catalogue of original material. But the covers do influence what they do when they perform other people’s songs, said Victoria. “I have pushed Ray (who works in sound design at ESPN) over the years to sing harmonies and so that now is a big part of our sound.”
Victoria’s work with other bands also has shaped the couple’s musical approach.
“Over my years with the Tom Tom Club (which was founded by ex-Talking Heads, and Connecticut residents, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth), I grew to appreciate simplicity and groove but the bigger experience for me was love of the live show and connecting with the audience.”
The concert will benefit the Philippines Mission Fund. Kim Villanti, who founded the local effort said, “The fund was initiated when my husband and I first took our adopted kids on a journey back to visit the orphanage they came from in Cebu, Philippines. Our church at the time got behind an extensive fundraising effort to provide for the needs of the orphanage, which included towels, blankets, clothing, backpacks and school supplies. Over the years, the mission has evolved into supporting the educational needs of kids who live in poverty who would like to pursue a college education.”
“This year is the 10th anniversary of the Philippines Mission Fund, which has raised over $34,000 to date since its inception… To date, we have sent over 21 kids to college and have seen them all graduate with degrees in education, hospitality, accounting, nursing and we even had one seminary student,” said Victoria.
Victoria said the couple got involved in the fundraiser because “we are friends with Kim and know how much the Philippines Mission means to her, so there is a personal connection there. Many of the people who have come to her benefits are friends we have made in Bristol over the years so it’s very special for us to be the featured artist.”
Plus, she said, “We were in the audience for several of these benefits in years past, and they featured noted singer songwriter Carrie Johnson who we really were impressed with. It’s a real honor to be in such great company.”
For the concert, Victoria said audiences can expect the couple to perform a handful of originals, but most of the set list will contain cover songs.
“It can be a lot of fun to keep a crowd entertained with covers especially when you do them in your own style.”
The Philippines Mission Fund will present Ray and Victoria and Friends on Sunday, Oct. 27 from 5 to 7 p.m. at T-Salon Café House, 255 Main St., Bristol. Admission is $20.