The comfort of a church community can be deeper than friendship, something more like family. If you’re lucky, it can offer a bond that grows through countless hours spent together at services and events, along with stories and lessons that collectively shape beliefs and worldviews. That engagement with faith is what brought together the three members of Cadaro Tribe, a collective of vocalists whose harmonies have added depth to work by artists such as Daniel Caesar and dvsn.
But as powerful as their angelic harmonies are, Camille and Rochelle Harrison and Danah Martin have only officially worked as Cadaro Tribe for a year-and-a half. Before appearing on six tracks on Caesar’s Grammy-nominated album, Freudian, the stage is what felt much more like home for the trio. They’ve worked as background vocalists for Stevie Wonder, Diddy, Mariah, Kim Burell, and more, being heard while rarely being seen.
One evening this winter, I met with Danah and Rochelle at a chain bar and grill restaurant in the Toronto suburb of North York. Camille, who is currently on tour with dvsn, couldn’t make the interview. It’s not easy to get all of them in the same room, but it’s something they’re working on.
When did you first start to take an interest in singing on stage?
DANAH: I was about 13, 14 when I started to take it seriously. That was the first time I started writing songs and going to the studio and stuff like that. But I was singing in the church way before then, at like 3, 4 years old — with my mom standing behind me, cause I was too nervous.
ROCHELLE: I started around 7. And I didn’t take it serious until much much later because I was dancing way before I was singing. But I’ve always been passionate about singing, it’s just been uphill ever since.
How did you all meet?
DANAH: I met Camille over ten years ago, when I was 16. I met her doing a [play] at a church. I met Rochelle maybe two years after that.
ROCHELLE: Camille is my sister. Her and Danah they met at church because Camille and I stopped going to the same home church, so they met, became friends, she introduced me to Danah, and then we bonded.
That’s cool that you all have that connection through the church.
DANAH: I think it brings us closer. For me and my experience, it’s a different friendship you have with friends from church than you do with friends from school or anything. It’s always a deeper bond with the people that you grew up singing with and in church with.
Did you ever consider pursuing strictly gospel music because of your upbringing?
DANAH: It was what I focused on, when I was like deep-deep invested. My mom was on me about making a gospel album and I was so in love with Kiki Sheard. I honestly thought I was going to do gospel my entire life. Not to say that I will never do it, but the three of us have branched off into other genres that the church doesn’t necessarily love, but we love because we have a genuine love for music.
ROCHELLE: And it doesn’t mean our message like technically changes. It just the way we deliver it is different.
Who was the artist you worked with that made you pause and recognize that your hard work is paying off?
ROCHELLE: Stevie Wonder! Stevie Wonder, because we all looked at each other like...
How did that come about?
ROCHELLE: My sister went to Berklee [College of Music] and she met somebody there who reached out to her and said, “Hey we’re come to Toronto and we need voices.” So she reached out to Danah and myself, and we did the Songs In The Key Of Life tour Toronto dates with India Arie. Just got the material, learned it, banged it out.
How close to when you started working together did that happen?
DANAH: We [had been] singing together for years. So when that happened, not even a year later we were like, “Guys let’s do this!” We were just honestly so busy before — like, even right now Camille’s not even here. It took us time to really come together.
ROCHELLE: That’s the thing with why we are a collective, not a group: we work cohesively together but we also have our own individual things going on that we’re proud of. Then we still come together and be like, This is what we got.
“Sometimes people like to keep us tucked away in the back.” — Danah Martin
How do you find balance between everything?
DANAH: It's very hard, I wish I could dedicate more time [to our work as Cadaro]. But it’s easy to have that ambition to pursue more because everyone is doing their own thing so I take that opportunity to do my own thing. Of course I’d love to be with Cadaro every single day but it’s almost impossible with all of our schedules. So all that time I take and put it into my stuff.
ROCHELLE: When we first came up with Cadaro, we agreed that we were not a group but rather a collective, so whatever I had been doing prior I just continued. I set certain boundaries and certain times to decide this is for this, and that is for that. Not only are we trying to do things together, we also have our own passions. We thrive in different aspects of our lives.
I went to one of Daniel Caesar’s shows at the Danforth, on the first night.
DANAH: Oh no, so that’s when the music cut out, I’m embarrassed! And it’s on YouTube. I was hoping you were gonna say the fourth night, because the fourth night was bomb.
To be honest, I never even noticed. I was enjoying watching you three and [vocal coach] Nevon Sinclair have so much fun up there. Is it always like that?
DANAH: Every time. It doesn’t matter what gig it is. Even if we’re singing country we’re going off. Everytime.
ROCHELLE: Because we have this chemistry, in terms of Cadaro and even with Nevon. I absolutely love Nevon — we vibe on stage, we just become cohesive and it’s second nature. It doesn’t matter what we’re singing, it doesn’t matter the surroundings we’re in.
How did working with Daniel Caesar come about?
DANAH: His drummer and producer Matthew Burnett connected us. He knew us individually — at first he asked myself and Nevon to be involved and then I extended the invitation to Rochelle and Camille and it was magic to be honest.
I saw on Instagram you posted about the work that went in to casting the choir for those shows. Is that something you all like to take part in?
DANAH: That was all me. I was the casting director for those shows and it was fun honestly casting a choir was a lot of fun. There was about 12 of them, but I knew two already. They were really cool, they sounded good, they looked good, they had a good time.
ROCHELLE: Danah did a phenomenal job. As someone singing with the choir, I felt like the group of women that she casted was a great match. She did a wonderful job, all the ladies were super talented, I wouldn’t have asked to be with a group of better ladies.
When did you begin to have an itch for coordinating?
DANAH: The past two years, or the past year, I’ve taken it seriously and taken it on as an actual business. It’s been going great, my gigs are coming in slowly but to be honest, I love doing it. I love paring artist with background vocals and choirs. Sometimes some artists in Toronto, they don’t even know that they need background vocals. They just feel like it’s fine to have them singing on stage and a DJ. But sometimes you need the whole package. I miss going to concerts and seeing a production, choirs, musicians. So if I can offer that to an artist, sign me up.
It stands out a lot when you see an artist put their heart and soul into the production like that.
DANAH: Exactly, and Danny was so nice to put us right behind him. Sometimes people like to keep us tucked away in the back.
Nevon, he’s your vocal coach right?
DANAH: Yup and the vocal director of Freudian too. We’ve been working with him from the beginning, since I was 16.
How does it feel to be such a powerful complement to such a highly praised album?
DANAH: It feels like family. It’s an honor to be a part of history. We had such an amazing time recording it that when it came out and all of the responses came out we were like, “This is just what we love to do.” So just the fact that people actually gravitated to it and that they recognized how we sounded and what we brought or tried to bring to the album, and just that Danny even gave us even a smidgen of a section to be able to showcase what we do, I’m just grateful just happy about how it all turned out.
ROCHELLE: When I heard his album prior to it coming out, I was beside myself. If people don’t think this is phenomenal, I don’t know what music is. So once it came out and people were responding the way that I felt when Daniel Caesar gave us the music, I was like, "Yes!"
Did you have any artistic input working with him?
DANAH: He knows exactly what he wants. When we came into the studio, he had the parts already set out for us. It’s not always like that. He’s particular. With other artists they’re like, "Oh, do what you want." And we’re like, "Great!" With him, he had an idea of what he wanted. But I know for a fact that he worked his way around us. After the first song, he was like, "Oh shit, they can really harmonize." We were supposed to do one or two songs on the album, then it turned into six. He just structured songs for us to be able to fit into them.
ROCHELLE: I’m not mad at it. I rate it, an artist who knows what they want in terms of sequence, in terms of backgrounds. If you can hear what you want from nothing, I respect that so much and that’s how he is. He has a vision, it’s so inspiring.
DANAH: When we heard the rough tracks we understood it, there was no music. Literally it was like this [taps on table] and we’re like. "Yes! I hear it, I get it."
He grew up in the church too, so everyone is on the same like wavelength in that way.
DANAH: Everybody, and he grew up on the same artists we did. Kirk Franklin, Sharon Riley and Faith Corell.
How do you think singing in a church choir has shaped how you sing together today?
DANAH: That’s a trick question. Honestly, because of the way the choir sings in church it ruins your vocal chords. Truly, the way they want you to sing is really rough on your vocal chords, all of the belting. I can’t sing as high as I used to but thank God for Nevon. But the camaraderie, the fellowship we had from the choir was great I wouldn’t trade that for the world. I’ve learned so much from Sharon Riley. She taught me everything, even how to conduct yourself when you’re going to a rehearsal.
ROCHELLE: There definitely is a right and a wrong way for singing and Danah, Camille and Nevon learned that way before I did.
Can I look forward to original music?
DANAH: It’s hard, Camille’s on tour now, doesn’t get back till April, then when she comes back we have more dates and we’re gone again.
ROCHELLE; As much as we do things together, we do things individually. So if I were to drop a song it wouldn’t be any less Cadaro than dropping a song together because we are a collective. So while we are working on things together, if any of us drop a single, it's all cohesive.
So new music is definitely on the lineup for the new year?
DANAH: We have a whole repertoire of music we want to release. It’s just a matter of when.