"Hey, let's go listen to Stanford University's acapella group perform today", said a friend. "Aye thu come ya, It will be fun, and besides how bad can it be? They're only performing for 45 minutes." "Oh them?", I said, googling furiously. They were called Raagapella, I discovered. Stanford university's South Asian focussed all-male acapella group. Oho. They'd been selected as part of Stanford's eight acapella groups through a gruellingly intense audition process. Achacha. They only got 3 hours of sleep a night, because of all the practices, the article said. Mchxl mchxl. "Uyyo cammaaan I say" I hollered back into the phone at the friend, and off we went.
We reached the Alliance Française half an hour early, hoping to catch seats in what we thought would be a packed house. The group was performing as part of the Fête de la Musique, a free music evening showcasing musical talent from all over the country and beyond.
The show was running about an hour late as usual. Which was cool because it gave us time to check out the group that was playing before them: a talented but fairly pedestrian jazz-fusion group, with a cherubic dude on the western drums, a slightly apologetic looking Indian percussionist and a lost bass-guitarist. My brain switched off the moment the apologetic percussionist switched on his laptop and played an ersatz background score for them to drum over. A couple of well executed, intricate konnukol interludes and bland guitar riffs (all at an earsplittingly high decibel level) later, they left. Hopefully straight to the shower that they'd forgotten to take before coming on stage.
A hush fell over the audience. About ten men, identically clad in red zari-kurtas walked in and took their positions on stage. "Ah, there they are", sighed the friend and settled into her seat, looking forward to a fabulous hour ahead. The lead kurta fluttered down from on stage. "Hi how are you guys doin'?" (Oooerr. Ah well they've been in the US for a while, I suppose the NRI twang is forgiveable.) "We're Raaegapeylla", he said, launching into a long winded explanation of the type of music they were into. A few "raaeguhs" and "taaeluhs" into his speech, and I had zoned out. I even missed the part where he explained why girls in particular were supposed to like their music. I was taking bites out of the seat in front of me by then.
Finally, they began. Lead kurta blew into a pitch pipe, pumped his arm up and down with the skill of a Saidapet housewife at 4am, and the group began to hum a low 3-note chord. The pitch pipe hadn't helped. They were flat. Kurta after kurta fluttered down to the mike and sang a line each (flat), before taking their places back with the red mass of gyrating hips on stage, still on the same chord (flat). We looked at each other. "Probably not warmed up", we reassured each other, and waited for the next song.
A scientist type slithered down to the mike next, his longish hair in straggly wisps around a standard issue wide-eyed NRI leer. "Hope you guys are doin' just fab tonight. We're now gonna do a modal (dai!) piece for you guys in a Raega and its based on a shlogum." (Ah. Tamil-ABCD. Hmm.) "We've also tried to mix in a John Denver number" (Aiyo! Poor fellow what he did to you I say?). "But first, Im gonna do you an aalaa-banai" (Uh huh, definitely Tamil).
The visions in red went "Pum-pum-pum-PUMMM" for about 40 seconds, which I later figured was supposed to have been the sound of a tanpura (left out in the rain for 40 days and 40 nights presumably). A billy goat bleated out from somewhere. The Alliance caretaker jumped up with his stick to chase it away, but sat down suspiciously when he realized that the sound was coming from on stage. It was long haired scientist type. He had closed his eyes and was doing his aalaa-banai. It was - ooh, you guessed? Flat. He'd suddenly shudder from head to toe and go a-a-a-a-a-a-a, presumably to placate the djinn that had jumped into his pajamas before the concert. Finally, he left. The Chinese (north-east-indian?) member of the group came down to sing his line: A deep bass growl emerged from his dimunitive figure. Not half bad! Pretty darned good even. Unfortunately his elaborate churidar had slid down over his feet and made him look like a handsomish Yoda. "Song sung, I nicely have", I thought I heard him murmur before he flapped back upstage.
Long-haired scientist type came back down and went "tae kit ta tah, ta laengu takka tah." for 2 minutes, accompanied by a voice-percussionist member of the group. I had finished chewing the chair in front of me, and was gnawing pensively on my friend's obligingly offered shoulder by then. My cell phone buzzed. It was a distress message from Missy M, whom I had also invited to watch the spectacle: "Headache. Pain. Must go. Will talk. Later. Water. Room service."
I couldn't take any more either. I left quietly after the song was over, and cried into my pillow all night.
Stanford Raagapella. I have two words to say to you: "What the...?!!"
OK three: "Fbbbthhhbbpp".
Acknowledgements: Mem (for offering gnawable shoulder), Subz (for scarring us for life), Apps (for being long suffering and stoic)
Placatory disclaimer: Don't get all hot under the collar boys, you weren't so bad. Just tune up a bit and you'll be fine.