Scholars By Day, Singers By Night

Cheyenne Gaima | October 14, 2021

USC Viterbi students and Asli Baat vocalists put the “plus” in Engineering+.

Asli Baat performing live at regional competition. (PHOTO/Asli Baat)

Asli Baat performing live at regional competition. (PHOTO/Asli Baat)

Since the release of the American musical comedy film “Pitch Perfect” in 2012, university-level a cappella has been brought back into the eye of the general public and made much more popular again.

Members of Asli Baat, USC’s premier competitive South Asian Fusion a cappella group, continue to raise the standard for collegiate a cappella while excelling in their rigorous academic studies.

“I definitely remember times after we’d leave a practice and realize, ‘Oh shoot, we have to submit a chemistry quiz right now’ and running back to our dorms to get it done,” said Nirav Adunuthula, a computer science student at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and Asli Baat co-captain. “But the stress is absolutely worth it.”

Since its founding in 2008 as a way for singers to share their enthusiasm for South Asian music, the humble mix of 20 students has grown into an award-winning performance team. Today, eight of Asli Baat’s 16 members are USC Viterbi students.

Blending Billboard’s Top 100 with Bollywood pop and Indian classical music, Asli Baat creates a vibrant fusion of Western hits and South Asian melodies.

In their signature “SCendoff Series,” Asli Baat honors their graduating seniors with accompaniment on special performances of songs handpicked and sung by them. “SCendoff” music choices have ranged from Taylor Swift singles to popular Bollywood movie soundtracks.

 

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To celebrate Mother’s Day this year, the group shared an ethereal mashup of Ariana Grande’s “God is a Woman” and Bollywood hit “Tujh Mein Rab Dikhta Hai” to their social media accounts.

 

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“We have a pool of very talented vocalists who enjoy experimenting with different styles and techniques during practice. It’s always such a treat to see what they come up with,” Adunuthula said.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Asli Baat met two to three times a week for two hours at a time, harmonizing relentlessly to perfect their a cappella arrangements. The shift to virtual meetings shaved this routine down to a single two-hour practice each week with solo rehearsals throughout the week encouraged.

If it’s true what they say – that practice makes perfect—then Asli Baat’s demanding practice schedule has been a critical factor of their success. The group has placed first in regional competitions such as Anahat, the annual premiere South Asian a cappella competition at UC Berkeley, and international competitions alike.

The team has taken advantage of opportunities to compete virtually, including submissions to All American Awaaz (A3), the largest South-Asian a cappella national competition in the United States, and Gathe Raho, the University of Iowa’s South Asian a capella competition, where they placed third overall in March 2021.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Asli Baat has hosted virtual fundraiser performances to aid varying social causes, including Shakthi, a special performance in honor of the Movement for Black Lives and a performance event to raise money for Save the Children India during the COVID spike in India in late 2020.

“One of the great things about the shift to virtual singing was how we’ve been able to expand our content library by recording our pieces and share this content more widely,” said Anshuman Patnaik, Asli Baat co-captain and a USC biochemistry student. “It’s been a great way to increase our exposure and get our name out there.”

Having mastered the art of audio mixing and mastering during virtual practices over the past three semesters, the sultry group is back and better than ever.

With plans to compete live and in-person in the A3 circuit next spring, the focus will be on live performances and establishing their presence as a fresh new team.

While Asli Baat’s style is deeply influenced by South Asian music and culture, the group welcomes students of all backgrounds and cultural identities, so long as they have a deep passion for music.

“More than anything, Asli Baat is a community for music lovers that I’m lucky and proud to be a part of.” Adunuthula said.

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