Sahaana Sridhar, representing All-American Awaaz


While a number of a cappella fans will flock to New York for the ICHSA and ICCA Finals this weekend, Saturday night is also the time for All-American Awaaz, a national Desi a cappella competition, organized by The Association of South Asian A Cappella to feature the winners of five regional competitions and two wild card champions. You can learn more about the event here.

Key organizer Sahaana Sridhar was kind enough to participate in an interview with The A Cappella Blog.

The A Cappella Blog: For a cappella fans who might be less familiar with Desi a cappella, can you give us a sense of what it is? How is it similar to other styles of contemporary a cappella, and what makes it distinctive? What should those who attend All-American Awaaz expect? 

Sahaana Sridhar: "Someone Like You?" "Sun Raha Hai?" Or both? These are the kinds of choices that young artists in the ever-growing field of South Asian-inspired A cappella face. How do you faithfully portray the character of a culture's music, mix it with another, and yet retain their respective integrities? And above all this, how do you also establish and highlight your group's individual identity? In this genre, just like the varied musical styles from which they draw inspiration, groups have innovated a diverse array of ways to tell their own stories.The music engendered by this genre is not only a combination of its parent forms but has evolved into a culture of its own. A lot of the trends that are seen in contemporary a cappella today are also mirrored in the Desi a cappella arrangements. It's about how best a group can present their South Asian influences in a way that is appreciated by a diverse audience!

The A Cappella Blog: What went into organizing All-American Awaaz? How did the competition come together? What challenges did you face, and what have been some of the rewards of facilitating this event?

Sahaana Sridhar: It all started with a group of alumni from the circuit who wanted to continue being involved in the circuit! All of us are ardent a cappella fans and we drew our inspiration from the ICCA competitions. There are already 5 established South Asian competitions around the country. We presented them with the idea of joining forces and they were all on board. It has taken us 22 board members a year and a half to put this event together and we are very excited to see the amount of support this effort has garnered. In terms of challenges, the main one has been getting enough traction with sponsors since this is our first year. After a few big names like Sennheiser and B4U (a Bollywood music TV channel) got on board, this really came through. Also, New York is obviously an amazing city but trying to plan an event on this scale with a tight budget has made us quite...creative. Overall, this experience has been really rewarding, particularly in those moments where we do feel like we have brought together the Desi a cappella circuit by people getting excited about our event or seeing groups push themselves harder all season to make it to our competition. We are very excited for the growth of our organization and competition as well as the circuit at large! 

The A Cappella Blog: It seems Desi a cappella has enjoyed tremendous growth in recent years. What do you think lies ahead for the sub-genre in terms of future events or trends you are seeing in groups?

Sahaana Sridhar: It's really heartening to see the amount of growth this genre has had in the last decade, especially exponentially over the past couple years. Similar to the way the contemporary a cappella has evolved, we've seen similar changes take place within our genre, from song selection, experienced vocal percussionists, heighten intricacies in backgrounds and just overall vocal ability. The future of this genre lies in global recognition, understanding and appreciation. We want to expand our effort not only internationally, but expand the opportunities for learning from other teams, musicians and industry specialists outside of the typical school year format. You'll see workshops, events, seminars, meet-ups and as well as competition support popping up over the next couple years as we continue to expand. 

The A Cappella Blog: How did your experience with Dhamakapella inform your work in launching The Association of South Asian A Cappella and All-American Awaaz?

Sahaana Sridhar: Over my 4 years in Dhamakapella, I had the opportunity to travel and compete at many different competitions - both those for only South Asian groups and otherwise. It was always our goal to be able to perform on a national stage such as the ICCAs, but due to the marked difference between the SA a cappella genre and the trends in contemporary a cappella, we always felt that we would have to significantly modify our arrangements to compete at that level. My goal in creating the Association of South Asian A Cappella was to give the Desi a cappella teams a space where they can share, observe, and participate in the multitude of ways people are experimenting with South Asian music. By creating a national stage for these groups to aspire to, my hope is that they work towards propelling the genre forward. 

The A Cappella Blog:Is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers of The A Cappella Blog?

Sahaana Sridhar: Thanks so much for checking out our story and we really hope some of you will be able to make it to the event! We are so thrilled to bring together the best talents in collegiate Desi a cappella and facilitate the pushing of boundaries for the genre as a whole. We have been blown away by how teams choose to interpret both Western music and traditional Indian classical pieces in their arrangements. Harmonies and flashes of Indian scale-based ragas intertwine to show us that, at the end of the day, music is music and it has such power to traverse cultural boundaries and resonate with something universal within us all.