The sweetest melodies are always pure. And, what can be more purer than singing “in the manner of the chapel”, or as they say it in Italy, ‘acapella’.
Acapella or the art of singing without any musical accompaniment, is in itself a remarkably revolutionary idea. Indeed, such a rebellious spirit could only be best contained in our times. There is some fresh hope that amidst the cacophony of today’s noisy overdose, perhaps acapella, would strike like a resounding gong. The belief is strong in the hearts of the young and the independent who live by Morrison’s words and dream by Jarmusch’s frames.
Today, this form of music has been popularized to be at the core of the alternative music scene thanks to the cultural impetus provided by the Western high schools and the films like Pitch Perfect and Glee. From lip-trills, to diaphragmatic tongue rolls, the voice percussion is so hot and hip, that it has made people groove to songs like Saare Jahan Se Achcha and Vande mataram, as it were a hip hop chartbuster.
Acapella does one thing to your soul, it conditions it to welcome newer tastes in life. So we are happily into bad coughs, choked out vocal cords and dry hushes- for in them, for the first time, we have found music!
India, the melting point of different cultures have welcomed a host of acapella groups with open hands.
This is an invigorating tale of a group of University students who came together to make it big, with nothing but only their voices. Formed in 1996. this is apparently the oldest of all the Hindi acapella groups in existence. Some students of the University of Pennsylvania, revolutionized the Indian music scene from starting as a fusion band to developing as a characteristically distinct acapella group. Their focus on the mix of the South Asian and the western influence have attracted the eyeballs of the netizens in songs like Dilliwali girlfriend and other hits from their half-a-dozen albums. They have been pretty unabashed in choosing their partners, and the Penn Masala band has thus seen a lot of experimentations, not only on the songs but also on the band formation. This is one band that is a die-hard Bollywood fanatic. Their attempts at tracing the evolution of Bollywood and its music, to its modern rendition, remakes and remixes of many chartbusters; have made them one undisputed leader of this new breed of musical sub-genre.
In the west bands like On the Rocks compete on the reality series like The Sing-Off. This all male band is in line with other young college bands like the Beelzebubs of Tufts University and the Sil’hooetter of the University of Virginia. However the Indian diasporas are hooked by the likes of the female leads of NY Masti who churned out a marvellous fusion of Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’ with Bollywood’s ‘Iktara’, thanks to the ground-breaking initiative by the Penn Masala, that these new brands are today storming the stages of the west and the east alike.
What happens when a bunch of friends, gifted with an impeccable classical as well as western voice, decides to gel together and form a band. Better yet, they decide to go solo together, without any instruments. Lo! Behold! Voctronica is born. Thanks to their digital prowess this acapella group from Mumbai has already broken into the scene with their quirky numbers and tacky album covers like the Alt J. Voctronica’s reincarnation of the olden golden jingles, with the collaboration of an Youtube channel AIB have today not only helped in re-packaging the erstwhile ‘church singing’ but also inspired a host of similar bands across the nation.
Raga Trippin’ has emulsified their singing styles into the Indian sentiments so well, that it became an overnight sensation. They have found their niche in Bollywood; and they packed a powerful punch in a musical scene bereft of much innovation and activity. Not only have they rocked the Indian stage but have also fired up a host of world events like the International Jazz Festival. From picking up animal sounds, to picking at slapstick banters, they deliver everything in the book that you call ‘entertainment’.
Did you know, there is music in bad coughs and sore throats! Well, with the Aflatuns it is always about finding chaos in order and creating harmonies out of sheer noise. They say, the best ingredient of adventure stuffs is in its adrenaline kick, and every time they are on stage, the Aflatuns have made it a habit to set them hearts racing! The ‘The Cough Beatbox Medley’ was a promising head start to a career which they have made large with the Rolling Stone Stage performances.
This Chennai based group started their journey way back in 1994. Over the years they have forayed into different domains and sung in languages like Malayalam, Tamil, Latin, German and English. The fun part about the Cantabiles is that, though they are an ‘octet’ they sing ‘together’ as one voice! And, it is just not the acapella that they have mastered, there is the gospel, the classical as well as the country music which their glory had touched upon!
‘Kandukondein’ by Harmonize Projekt has been one of the most sensational rendition of all the Rahman classics of all times. The harmonic sound-scape of this acapella group from Chennai had stolen many hearts at various national and international festivals. Their unique texture and matchless approach to music has made them successful in a very short span. They come in like a waft of fresh air amidst a bunch of bands focussing primarily on Bollywood music.
Where earlier the bands first dedicated themselves to a whole crop of instrumentalists and then resorted to a host of other sound samplers and beat breakers; today there are these independent and largely indigenous group of musicians who are shaking up the industry with only their thoracic vibrations. Yet, the ground is not that solid for these musicians to build upon a castle for the ages to come. Most of the artistes have been a by-product of a large scale information consumption or in other words blind video searches. Though, today most acapella groups are a prized selling proposition of smaller college fests or semi-grand film-fests, most young and admittedly informed group of people are largely unaware of the movement they are actually living within. There is plenty to be experimented and innovated than what already has been done, people are still largely prejudiced and hibernated. Acapella groups are still part of an ‘unique or weird breed of bands’ that best suits a platform which can never be mainstream. It is largely unfortunate, that despite the humongous craze in the genre, there seems to be almost little or no push from our cultural stigmas to welcome the artistes and give them their due share of respect and acceptance. Beat boxing is a physically taxing art where the artistes cannot stay silent for a bit in their elaborate performances and besides, there is always the fear of rejection from the mainstream audience or the threat of digital trolling by those who are waiting to pick on their innocent satires and vines.
On the brighter side, the musical movement of acapella is revving up to cater the diasporas of the migrant communities across the globe. The intrinsic quality of today’s acapella is necessarily being fusion based. And, this particular quality has been used by the young artists to bridge a distance that can perhaps never be travelled. Stanford based bands like Ragapella, consists of students of the Chinese and the Korean descent. They specialize in connecting thematically similar songs like the Persian dirge “Ek Karevan” and the western “Hallelujah” and letting the audience reminisce in their haunting yet sweet past.
The pangs of heart-break and the loss of one’s homeland finds an universal expression through music!