December 5, 2023

Jo Mai Asian Culture

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Ektaal celebrates South Asian music and culture through a cappella – The Cavalier Daily

4 min read

Every Tuesday and Thursday, the walls of Newcomb’s board room hear a blended melody of voices or a chorus of laughter as Ektaal a capella practices. Established in 1999, Ektaal is the University’s first and only South Asian a cappella group. The group performs at gigs around the University with compositions of fusion South Asian and Western music. With each performance, they hope to share their heritage with the student body and South Asian community. 

By bonding through their culture and passion for South Asian music, the members of Ektaal have found a community within each other. Anushka Dar, Ektaal publicity chair and third-year College student, can attest to the group’s strong bond. According to Dar, the members are not just colleagues, but a close-knit friend group. She said that their strong bond with each other is one of their greatest strengths and makes them unique as a collective. 

“I can’t go one day without seeing someone from Ektaal,” Dar said. 

Ektaal has given its members an outlet to not only share but to actively engage in their South Asian culture. Ananya Rajkumar, Ektaal president and third-year College student, believes Ektaal’s role at the University goes far beyond just being an a capella group. 

“Ektaal is a lot more than a club that makes music,” Rajkumar said. “Our mission is to represent South Asian people on Grounds and give them a space to enjoy South Asian music.” 

While many of Ektaal’s members are South Asian, Rajkumar mentioned that many are just musicians excited to learn more about the culture and new styles of music. 

Ektaal’s performance catalog ranges from covers of popular South Asian or Western songs — arranged exclusively by and for Ektaal singers — to originally composed medleys, such as The Weeknd medley they performed at their fall 2021 concert. 

The composition process is intensive, starting early in the summer as the music writing committee prepares to craft music for their annual fall and spring concerts. Every concert has a theme that its music revolves around — in the past, the group has explored themes focused on culture such as royalty and weddings. Their recent concert this past Friday was themed “Born this Way,” an exploration of confidence, identity and empowerment. 

When deciding which songs to put together, members of Ektaal’s music committee seek diversity in their music selection, aiming for a fusion of Western and South Asian music. In their mission to share their heritage, they highlight music from different regions of South Asia. Many of their past covers and medleys have fused Tamil and Telugu songs from South India alongside Hindi and English songs. 

Once a setlist has been finalized, the process of arranging involves evaluating songs to see how they might fit together. After a semester of practicing these songs and learning choreography, the group is ready to perform these arrangements at their concert. 

“Figuring out which songs flow into each other is the hardest part, which involves a lot of music theory and figuring out which time signatures line up, which keys are compatible with each other and what songs you can include,” Rajkumar said. “That takes a lot of planning.”

Beyond their semi annual concerts, Ektaal has been expanding to new ventures and experiences. Having recently wrapped up the recording process, Ektaal is set to release their first studio album later this semester. 

Rajkumar said the idea to record an album was conceived last semester, when the group professionally recorded a mash-up of Billie Eilish and Khalid’s “Lovely” and popular Tamil song “Pookal Pookum.” The recording’s positive reception on social media prompted the group to record additional arrangements and covers, enlisting the production skills of Class of 2004 alumnus James Gammon.

Additionally, the group revamped their presence in the South Asian a cappella circuit after many years by competing at Sangeet Saagar, a South Asian a capella competition hosted at North Carolina State University.

Dar said the group had little time to prepare and had to quickly learn much of their stage choreography, an integral part of competitive performance. While the preparation process was difficult and nerve-wracking, Ektaal technology chair and third-year College student Minah Khan said it was an eye-opening and exciting experience for many team members who had never experienced the world of competitive a cappella. 

According to Rajkumar, the group is now taking a year to restructure as it prepares for next year’s competitive season. Upon attending their first competition, the group’s exposure to competitive a cappella highlighted the difference between their arrangement and preparation methods and that of competitive teams. Rajkumar said they hope to expand their presence in the South Asian a cappella circuit and get the opportunity to compete at more competitions. 

Aside from their continued performance and competitive aspirations, Ektaal hopes to continue being a beacon of South Asian music and culture in the University community. Most importantly, current members hope that future members continue to share their joy and passion for music together. 

“I just hope they stay a close group of friends at the core of it who love to do music and love to sing,” Khan said.

Students can be on the lookout for Ektaal’s new studio album later this semester. In the meantime, they can check out their Youtube channel to see some of their most popular covers. 


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