CollegeDesis, an organization dedicated to the advancement of South Asian organizations on college campuses across the US, released an a cappella CD this month, featuring songs by seven different South Asian groups from across the US.
The resulting album offers up one of the most unique listening experiences college a cappella fans are likely to find this year. The album features a mix of Hindi songs and song selections that are pretty standard among American college groups from the past five years, mashed up with Hindi songs.
To be up front, I’m not particularly familiar with, nor particular drawn to Hindi music, which meant that the experience of listening to this album was not entirely comfortable. In a number of ways, I feel that that very discomfort is a victory on the part of CollegeDesis, compiling a project that pushes boundaries and puts a culture’s music front and center where the world can’t ignore it. Moreover, regardless of whether the Hindi sound is your cup of tea, I will stand by my assessment that, much like Urban Method committing to hip hop on the final season of The Sing-Off I respect the groups on this album for representing their own sub-genre of the a cappella form. The more distinctive voices and styles groups are able to embrace within a cappella, the better it bodes for the long-term, diverse appeal of a cappella on the whole.
The mashups seem to be biggest draw of this album, and the groups achieve some really interesting results with them. Taal Tadka’s mix of “Fix You” and “Maa” adds new dimensions to a song that’s pretty over-played on the US circuit, adding a Hindi song in which the lead seeks reassurance from his mother, making the two parts of the piece, in essence, a conversation with each other—the Coldplay piece offering the reassurance that “Maa” calls for. Similarly, Brown Sugar’s mashup of “Halo” and “Shukran Allah” captures two songs with very similar tones, essences and messages, for a lovely blending of cultures. The slick, seamless melodic shift between “Airplanes” and “Tujhe Dekha,” sung by Dhamakapella, makes the piece interesting enough to carry its own weight. Other selections aren’t quite as successful. A plodding rendering of “I’m Yours” and the less than compelling decision to cover “Lips of an Angel” make the mashup concept feel a little played; the combination of “Rolling in the Deep” and sweet love song “O Re Piya” felt a little forced. All considered, a little less may have resulted in a stronger product in this case, though I can certainly respect CollegeDesis’s interest in featuring a larger number of groups.
Listeners who are seeking innovative takes on popular songs (beyond the mashup theme) or new English-language music to add to their repertoire may not find what they’re looking for on CollegeDesis A Cappella. Nonetheless, if you’re looking to explore the Hindi sound in a cappella, the album is offers a solid survey of that particular musical scene. Buyers who are sitting on the fence about this album may be swayed by the fact that proceeds from sales are benefiting the five hundred-plus South Asian student organization that CollegeDesis serves.
You can purchase and download the album here.