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The Walls Group

The story behind the whirlwind musical journey of Gospel prodigies The Walls Group is nothing short of a modern-day miracle. First there was the siblings’ serendipitous introduction to their adoring fans via Facebook; then came their millions of followers on YouTube; and finally, there was that fateful phone call on Easter two years ago that changed their lives.

“We were just sitting down to eat when all of a sudden my dad rushes over and tells us to get on the speaker phone,” recalls 16-year-old Ahjah, one fourth of the critically acclaimed family phenomenon The Walls Group, which includes 19-year-old sister Rhea, 18-year-old brother Paco and 23-year-old brother Darrel. “It was Kirk Franklin,” she exclaims, remembering how stunned they all were when the gospel music superstar---whom they had never met---contacted them out-of-the-blue, talking about a record deal.

The good-natured Houston youth – who wowed the gospel world with their infectious whistle-and-clap-backed anthem “Perfect People” – now releases their big-studio debut, Fast Forward, on Franklin’s Fo Yo Soul Recordings/RCA label.

A musically forward album designed to minister to church youth and anyone of any age that has lost their faith, Fast Forward is not your typical album: it is 13 tracks of modern, up-beat and progressive music with strong gospel influences that’s presented in a way this generation can relate to.

“We decided to name the album Fast Forward for two reasons,” explains Darrel. “One, everything seemed to just happen so fast -- one day we were making music independently and posting footage of us singing in our living room on YouTube, then flash, Kirk Franklin calls. Flash again, we’re the first group signed to his label. Flash, we completed the album and we’re on the road touring with Tye Tribbett,” he says. “Second, we believe our sound represents the future of gospel music.”

For the oldest four of the eight children born to Roger and Alicia Walls, music was always as essential as family. Alicia is a longtime organist and music minister at the local church, and Roger was a church musician. Despite singing in the choir all their lives, the teens were not preparing for a professional career.

After years of each of them performing choir solos, one day it just dawned on them: “We were like, ‘Hey, let's all get together and try to sing,’” Rhea says. “Turns out we sounded kind of good. Our parents were like, ‘Hey, y'all do sound good.’ So we formed The Walls Group.”

In no time at all, social media helped to launch the homegrown act – who count artists like Mary Mary, The Clark Sisters, Kim Burrell, Tye Tribbett and of course Franklin among their musical mentors.

“One of my mother’s friends came up to her at church and said, ‘Hey, I haven't seen your kids in a long time. How are they doing? Are they still singing?’” recounts Paco. “So my mom pulled up a video for her to see on Facebook, and then everything went crazy. Someone ripped it from Facebook and put it on YouTube, and before you know it strangers were writing to request that we perform their favorite gospel songs. One of the videos that we did got to Kirk Franklin. From there, doors started to open up.”

Franklin, who produced Fast Forward, knew right away that he had stumbled upon some incredible young soldiers for Christ. “I was blown away first by their ages,” recounts the 9-time Grammy Award winner. “This genre doesn't showcase a lot of young talent, so seeing a whole family of kids be so unapologetic about their faith and backing it up with strong, innovative talent was too appealing to pass up.”

Inspired by the group’s multi-generational appeal, Franklin put pen to his investment, writing 8 of the album’s 10 songs. “Star factor in my genre is not defined the way it is in secular music,” he continues. “It's not just the charisma or vocal acrobatics but the ability to communicate the faith that is engaging and motivates people not only to grab the message but to be pulled into the messenger as well.”

Although music is their primary focus, the individual members of the group have diverse interests. Rhea, a college student, dreams of one day becoming an actor, while high schooler Ahjah, plans to start her own business, and Paco, a recent high school graduate, would like to go to theological school to become a pastor. In addition to singing, Darrel is a gifted songwriter, arranger, and producer. Each member brings pieces of those individual life experiences to this rollicking, rhythmically diverse collection.

On the hip-hop-inspired “Love on the Radio,” the album’s second single, the young adults assert their strong faith, asking the DJ, “If I talk about Jesus can I get some love on the radio? / I know it’s not easy, but Mr. DJ please / I gotta let the world know.”

Rhea, who admits she had a hard time trading her first love, track and field, for the studio, says she’s gained inspiration from “Great Is Your Love,” a beautiful ballad that Darrel wrote and produced. “Great is Your love for me / Grace ever flowing / I am amazed at how much You care for me,” they sing.

For Paco, testifying for the Lord has served as a path out of darkness. Gospel music helped him work through depression and suicidal thoughts when he was being tormented in middle school for not fitting in with the crowd and when he was feeling insecure about his looks or standing in the shadows of his popular big brother Darrel. In an electric and upbeat call-and-response, he thanks his ultimate “Big Brother” for looking out for him during that difficult time. “When I was younger, making friends was hard for me,” he croons. “And being Your brother, sometimes made enemies / But whenever I called Your name / Like a hero You’d save the day / Thank You for working / For me, You’re always working.”

The whole group was psyched when Franklin recruited R&B star Brandy Norwood for “God on My Mind.” The soulfully introspective, urban ballad pays special homage to the celebrated singer’s 1994 hit “Always On My Mind.” They also felt blessed that Christian hip-hop rapper Lecrae joined them on their crowning tribute to the Great I Am on “High”--riding a digitally sophisticated track with old-school roots, the Art of Noise classic “Moments in Love.”

Ahjah, who says music helped her get through some of the “worse years of her life,” considers “Freedom,” another Darrel composition, to be a spiritual touchtone.

The whole group co-signs the soul-searching and churchy “Satisfied,” saying it reminds them to keep their eyes on the true prize. “If I never get that house, that car / Or be a superstar / And my dreams, never come true / Will I be satisfied with You?”

Fast Forward is undeniably a testament to the unique talent of The Walls Group. More importantly to the group, however, this project stands as a sonically rich and spiritually uplifting testimony. Darrel explains, “We say it all the time. This album is an album of messages. There’s a message in every song that’s needed for somebody. If you feel some kind of way about your life, there’s something on this record that will help you.”

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