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A cappella India is calling

BY ADAM SALAZAR | DECEMBER 17, 2009 7:30 AM

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Although comfortable singing in the shower, UI freshman Kat Williams said when it comes to Indian music, she doesn’t feel so confident.

“My experience in Hindi music is limited, but what I have heard I liked,” said Williams, an English major from Ames.

She, along with eight other UI students, is now part of Iowa Agni, the first South Asian a cappella group at the university. Along with the distinction of being the first South Asian singing group, the troupe will also make history by being the first co-ed a cappella group on campus.

Although dozens showed up at the group’s Dec. 2 auditions at the Ecklund Piano Lounge in Stanley Hall, only eight were chosen to serve as newcomers alongside the group’s three founding members.

Springing from the UI Indian Student Alliance’s annual Gathe Raho — a South Asian a cappella competition — UI students Ankit Patel, Renugan Raidoo, and Janani Veluchamy decided at the end of last semester that the time was ready to assemble a group devoted solely to singing.

“We thought that it would be a good idea to get a group going here,” said Veluchamy, a sophomore.

A native of Michigan, Veluchamy was introduced to classical Indian Carnatic music as a child and has witnessed other universities with large Asian populations creating South Asian a cappella groups.

Because Iowa Agni (a Sanskrit word meaning “fire” and also the Hindu god of fire) only formed recently, rehearsals will not begin until late January 2010, as the club prepares for an exhibition performance at Gathe Raho in April. The group’s future hopes include competing with other South Asian a cappella groups from other universities in competitions nationwide.

“I would like to take this semester to build the team and expose the team and the university to South Asian and a cappella music as a whole,” UI senior Patel said.

The group will primarily focus on the Bollywood genre, which has reached worldwide recognition from the soundtracks of Indian movies such as Slumdog Millionaire and Bollywood-inspired American films such as The Guru, Patel said. Some Carnatic music will also be performed.

Pieces will be performed in both English and Hindi. All members will go through additional language training to accomplish the challenging feat of singing in Hindi, which doesn’t quite match up with the a cappella format.

UI graduate student and Iowa Agni member Nisarga Phatak said that while Bollywood music is easier to sing on stage as a group because of its melodic Western touches, carnatic music is a different ball game.

“To perform a classical song on stage, the audience needs to know what’s going on first,” said the native of Mumbai, India. While Bollywood has exploded on the global scene, Indian classical music has yet toappeal to wide audiences.

“It is still an unknown artwork,” Phatak said.

That might be good news for Williams — she is the only non-South Asian in the group. Although her only exposure to Indian music is derived from Bollywood, Iowa Agni’s founders assured her that she was not the only person dealing with the language barrier.

“They said all will be brushing up their Hindi next semester,” she said.


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