By Deepa Thomas
Picture this, you’re sitting in a concert hall awaiting a band’s performance. Behind closed curtains, you hear a steady thumping sound reverberate. Gentle trills from a violin follow and a crescendo of trumpets and, CURTAIN RISE! Wait, there are no instruments on stage?
Behold, the wonders of the human voice and the magic of a cappella.
A cappella, in simple terms, is singing without the accompaniment of musical instruments. Traditionally it was all about the beautiful arrangement of harmonies, often associated with chapel-style music. Modern-day a cappella has grown to include techniques like beatboxing, body percussion and mimicking the sounds of musical instruments.
NBC’s unique a cappella reality show The Sing-Off, which debuted in 2009, played a major role in rekindling the a cappella mania. It lasted for five seasons and brought to the limelight some of the most talented a cappella groups of our time.
‘The Warblers’ from Fox’s musical drama TV series Glee (2009 – 2015) also caught the attention of many teens, in spite of their general opinions about the show (no comments). The culmination of this was the a cappella-centered American musical film Pitch Perfect which released in 2012 and made sure EVERYONE had heard of a cappella. And in case you missed it, they made a sequel in 2015 so that EVERYONE would know about a cappella. In case you missed that too, they have another sequel coming out in December.
So why is a cappella so appealing? Because of the pure form in which it is presented. In the age of auto-tune and digitally enhanced music, a cappella comes as a breath of fresh air portraying the sheer raw capability of humans.
Without further ado, presenting to you my top 4 list of a cappella groups/artists you should listen to.
Pentatonix is THE reason for the acapella rage among the millennials. This five-member (four now *sniff*) American a cappella group came to fame after they won The Sing Off in 2011. The quintet has a few originals to its name but is more popular for their covers of hit songs, bringing in their own rendition and often obtaining more views than the original artists. With more than 13 million subscribers on YouTube, Pentatonix has come to be synonymous with a cappella.
Voctave is an a cappella group based in Central Florida that is gaining popularity. The group consists of members who had previously performed all over the world with multiple artists before coming together in 2015. They gained public attention with the release of ‘Disney Love Medley’ on YouTube (featuring Kristin Maldonado from Petatonix) which got 15 million views.
Who said a cappella is only for the West? This group of Indian students from the University of Pennsylvania decided to spice things up in the world of a cappella. Formed in 1996, Penn Masala specializes in fusing Western and Indian hits, thus appealing to both crowds. You might have caught a glimpse of them performing at the “Worlds” in Pitch Perfect 2. Being a university-based group, the members continually evolve but, till date, they have released nine full-length albums.
Alaa Wardi is a Saudi Arabian a cappella artist who creates most of his music on his own by using technology for overdubbing. He gained popularity in India for his covers of Bollywood hits like Pehla Nasha and Jee Le Zara (there’s something very appealing about listening to Hindi sung with an Arab accent). My first encounter with Alaa Wardi was when I listened to an Arabic song of his, Ma3gool. Though I didn’t get a single word out of it, the harmony was heavenly.