It was the Chai-Town's fifth time performing at MU last Saturday, and it did not disappoint.
Chai-Town is a group of 13 men from the University of Illinois that travels across the nation performing a capella, as well as competing in a number of competitions. The group placed second at the Anahat Competition, which brings Hindi-English a cappella groups from around the country together in California to compete. The group has also placed first in many local competitions.
Chai-Town performed in Bengal Lair in Memorial Union, not a particularly acoustically pleasing space, yet their voices permeated the entire room. It became apparent the minute the men stepped on stage that performing together was something they truly loved. Their faces lit up, and with each song their energy seemed to grow. As their voices resonated throughout the room, the audience clapped along to the beat.
Chai-Town performed a wide variety of songs, ranging from the Hindi song "Ghanan Ghanan" to "Stitched Up" by John Mayer.
Amit Vaishampayan, president of Chai-Town and tenor one for the group, explained the importance of the group for Indian culture.
"The group plays a big part in our Indian culture," Vaishampayan said. "More than half of the pieces are Hindi songs or a hybrid of Hindi and English songs. A lot of Indian people can relate and can recognize songs from their childhood."
Seamlessly fusing Indian and American music, the group members illustrated their talent. It was not that one member carried the group; all 13 brought enormous skill to the table. Each song had a new soloist and beat boxer. The group took the unique sounds of each member's voice and combined them to create a powerful whole.
The men also added choreography to their performance. Although they warned the audience before the number commenced that they were not good dancers, they proved to be impressive at dancing as well as singing. The men kept the evening light and relaxed with their jokes and antics. They also encouraged the audience to sing along with them when they recognized a song, which many did.
They were fully committed to engaging the audience in the performance. For one song, the soloist even got down on one knee and serenaded a girl in the audience. After every song the crowd roared in applause.
Vaishampayan said Chai-Town is important to keeping their heritage a part of their lives.
"We were brought up in a different culture, and there is an identity crisis today," Vaishampayan said. "For us, the group is a way to put it in perspective."
Chai-Town released a CD of a cappella tracks, Arohanam.
Vaishampayan said a major goal for the group is to keep making sure it extends its influence as far as possible.
The group is certainly on its way to doing that. Chai-Town might not have had instruments, but that in no way hindered the performance. The night provided a portrait of modern Indian-American culture.