The University of Virginia community loves a cappella music. From the classiness of the Virginia Gentlemen to the robe-wearing Hullabahoos, all-vocal musical groups abound on Grounds and make student life more interesting with their own unique flair.
Even in this diverse community, one group stands out from the rest.
Founded in 1999, Ektaal is the University’s only South Asian-American fusion a cappella group. Ektaal – “one beat” in Hindi – fuses English-language and Hindi music with distinctive and amazing results.
“Overall, we try to combine songs that can be transformed into something full and synchronized,” said Sammy Srinivasan, fourth-year student and president of Ektaal. “We also tend to look at the Hindi and English lyrics and try to match them up together in a meaningful way for almost all of our arrangements.”
Performing in Hindi is “something that’s recently hit me as I’ve gotten more introspective during fourth year,” Srinivasan said. “I don’t want to speak for every minority at UVA, but as a woman of color, having a group that shares a talent and a passion, as well as a culture, is amazing. It’s something that gives me a lot of confidence in myself and it makes me feel stronger. Being the only South Asian fusion a cappella group, especially at UVA where there are so many a cappella groups, makes me feel special. We’ve really found our niche.”
This cultural connection resonates among the student population as well.
“I don’t speak Hindi, but I grew up listening to Indian music, so I really enjoy singing it,” first-year student Sai Konuri said.
“I love Ektaal because it’s amazing seeing my friends perform and their hard work pay off,” third-year student Priya Shankar said. “It also makes me so happy to hear the Indian music my dad sang growing up fused with the music I listen to now. Every time I listen to them, I feel more connected with my culture and who I am as an Indian-American.”
Ektaal members can submit songs, whether in English or Hindi, they wish to arrange, and then take charge of writing the fusion with the help of a music director. In addition to its unusual music, Ektaal is one of the many groups on Grounds that has created a family-like atmosphere for first-year students looking for an activity they can feel passionate about.
“It gave me a really good group of friends to start out with and made the transition from home really easy, because everyone was really welcoming and wanted to make sure that our time here was worthwhile,” first-year student Rana Rahman said. “I feel like it really helped us discover Grounds and get to know Charlottesville better.”
Many of the group’s older members look back on their early memories of Ektaal with nostalgia. What Srinivasan said she enjoyed most about Ektaal was that it didn’t feel like an obligation, but a place where she could be herself around people who felt like family.
Ektaal has been an integral part of Srinivasan’s life since she joined during her second year, she said. She and many other members of Ektaal have enjoyed having the support system that comes with being in such a close-knit group of people who share an appreciation for South Asian music and culture.
At the same time, Srinivasan said the musical fusion process is important to finding a common ground among cultures.
“The goal of Ektaal is not necessarily to promote anything,” she said. “I think what we do with our songs, fusing Western and Eastern influences, is symbolic in that it shows an appreciation of all culture.”
Ektaal has performed at a variety of venues and events, including India Day and the Gandhi Benefit Dinner, which aided Asha (Hope) for Education at the University of Virginia to help fund the construction of a library in rural India for underprivileged children, and also the Health Education in Rural Areas initiative.
Two years ago, Ektaal joined the competitive a cappella scene and traveled around the country to participate in competitions. They competed in Gathe Raho in Iowa, a large fusion a cappella competition, as well as in a smaller contest, Sangeet Sagar, in North Carolina.
“That was our very first year competing, and it really exposed us to the many fusion a cappella teams around the country,” Srinivasan said. “However, we decided to increase our visibility around Grounds at UVA, rather than focus on competition.”
Ektaal sings at many University-wide events on Grounds, including the Rotunda Sing, Lighting of the Lawn, Days on the Lawn and Take Back the Night. Ektaal currently has 10 members, two of whom will graduate this month. Not all members have South Asian backgrounds and Ektaal will continue to welcome all students who are interested in South Asian-American fusion music and are passionate about music overall.