Keeping the Beat

With a fusion of Western pop and traditional South Asian musical styles, Basmati Beats stands out among campus singing troupes.

By Savannah Kuchar '22

In November, Rice’s South Asian a cappella group, Basmati Beats, brought home a trophy for the first time in the group’s six-year history. They earned third place out of six competitors at Jeena, a South Asian a cappella competition at the University of Texas at Austin. Members of the group received individual awards at Jeena as well: Akash Majumdar, a graduate student at the Jones School of Business, earned best vocal percussion, and Laura Fagbemi, a Hanszen College sophomore, won best soloist in a non-South Asian song.

“We perform a wide range of music across many genres, but we make an effort to have a South Asian element to everything we do, as that is a core part of the team’s identity,” said Majumdar, one of the group’s four captains. He serves as the music and choreography director, meaning he is responsible for preparing arrangements and moves for the group.

At Jeena, the group performed a mashup of Ed Sheeran’s nostalgic ballad “Photograph” with “Aaoge Jab Tum,” a sentimental love song from the popular Bollywood rom-com “Jab We Met.”

Basmati Beats has performed songs in a variety of South Asian languages, including Hindi, Tamil, Bengali and Telugu. Because of their fusion style of music, Majumdar said it can be a challenge planning the group’s performance. “Making the music arrangements is a very difficult process, given that most of our arrangements are mashups between one English song and one South Asian-language song,” he said.

Riya Mehta, a Wiess College junior and also a captain, said the group rehearsed three times a week throughout the fall semester to prepare for the competition. But they still went into it as the underdogs. “We were the only team going there that had never placed before, and three of the other teams had been to the national competition too,” Mehta said. “We definitely didn’t expect to place.”

The group performs on campus as well, including at events like Dhamaka, a fall exhibition of South Asian culture and talent, and Acappellooza, a joint concert in the spring with all five campus a cappella groups. Basmati Beats also holds a showcase of their own in the spring.

Fagbemi said her favorite part of being in Basmati Beats is the opportunity it offers to learn more about a new culture. “I love the ability that music has to transcend cultural and linguistic boundaries,” she said.