Courtesy of Jonathan Kim '24

A capella groups perform songs without instrument accompaniment.

March 27, 2023

Cornell Singers Gain Community, Cultural Connection, Artistic Outlet Through A Cappella Groups

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Cornell’s more than 10 a cappella groups represent a diverse range of music genres, cultural focuses and membership criteria. However, all of these groups provide singers with a space to build friendships and pursue musical passions.

A cappella music refers to singing performances that do not utilize instrumental accompaniment. 

At Cornell, singing groups utilizing this art form fall under the A Cappella Advisory Council, an umbrella organization that provides funding and organizes logistics for all campus a cappella groups. On Sunday, the organization also hosted its annual A Cappella United, where attendees enjoyed performances from 11 a cappella groups in Call Auditorium.

Several a cappella groups concentrate on music relating to a specific culture. Baraka Kwa Wimbo — which means “blessing through song” in Swahili — was established in 1991 as an all-female, gospel ensemble. Their mission is to spiritually and culturally uplift the Cornell community and surrounding areas through Black gospel music. 

Baraka president Cynthia Agbemenu ’25 described that Baraka is unique among campus a cappella groups, because their overall purpose is to minister.

“We’re very niche — we’re all black women [and] we sing gospel music,” Agbemenu said. “What sets Baraka apart is that we put God first in what we do. … When we perform, we select songs that speak the gospel that is ministering the word of God to people’s hearts.”

Baraka’s musical director Alexia Carey ’23 noted that the group works to balance their historical background with modern musical elements.

“[When selecting music,] I think of sounds created for Baraka in the past while also trying to fit it in with what people are listening to these days,” Carey said. “I ask myself questions like, ‘What are people responding to these days?’”

Ivie Osagie ’26, a member of Baraka, decided to audition for the group after being inspired by one of their performances.  

“Singing is something I’ve done my whole life. I’ve sung in church and school settings,” Osagie said. “[Baraka] had a pop-up performance in one of the dormitories, and I saw them sing, and I was really moved. So I auditioned and joined, and I’m thrilled I made that decision.”

Baraka is an all-female a cappella group that performs gospel music. Courtesy of Darius Scott ’22

Tarana, which is Cornell’s only South Asian a cappella group, similarly combines South Asian music with modern Western music. 

For Lasya Ravulapati ’23, joining Tarana allowed her to find a community with individuals of similar cultural backgrounds.

“The school I transferred from was not very diverse, and I really wanted [a cultural experience] coming in [to Cornell],” Ravulapi said. “I also loved singing different languages and my mother tongues. I thought it’d be cool to really capitalize on diversity — specifically, Cornell’s big South Asian community.”

Tarana prides itself in the style of music the group utilizes. Divya Raina ’23, musical director of Tarana, mentioned how they mix music genres in their selections by arranging their own music. 

“We  choose our arrangements and make them all in-house,” Raina said. “We do a lot of mashups with Bollywood and pop — there’s a fusion of different genres. Our song selection [process] is very democratic because we are a very democratic group.”

Lucas Arulpragasam ’24 — the president of Last Call, one of Cornell’s all-men a cappella groups — emphasized the work that goes into a cappella performance, of which he grew particularly aware as the leader of the group.

“I think that many people don’t realize how much time being a president of an a cappella group takes,” Arulpragasm said. “People might think, oh, a cappella is just kind of like silly singing, and yeah, it is to some extent — but it is still a lot of time,” Arulpragasm said. 

Fellow Last Call member Adi Arora ’26 also noted how their membership in a cappella groups have served as an enjoyable musical education experience.

“My expectations have definitely increased for sound quality and focus,” Arora said. “It has just been a really fun environment.”

Josh Nixon ’26, a member of Class Notes, concurred with Arora, saying that he learned stage presence from being part of the group.

“I’ve learned a lot through doing it, especially with [regard to] stage presence,” Nixon said. “[I have learned how] to be on stage multiple times [through] doing a lot of gigs throughout the semester.”

Andrew Aman ’23, former president of Last Call, emphasized the importance of community within his a capella group. He described the joy, love and brotherhood he shared with his fellow callboys — which is the nickname members adopted for themselves.

“[Last Call is] just such a family. We all love each other, and we love hanging out,” Aman said. “Sometimes rehearsal doesn’t even feel like [rehearsal].”

Erica Yirenkyi ’25 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].