Give us a word, we’ll give you a song: Tuning in with Voctronica, India’s first a cappella-beatboxing band

Voctronica has been asking people to tweet them one word that matters to them, each of which will be a part of their new project.

Written by Trusha Navalkar | New Delhi | Updated: June 16, 2016 5:02:52 pm
Voctronica, Voctronica band, Voctronica a capella beatboxing band, #EveryCharacterMatters, Twitter, AIB, AIB classic Indian ads, Voctronica AR Rahman tribute, indie music in India “When you are doing something creative, you want it to satiate your soul at a lot of levels.” (Source: Voctronica/YouTube)

Voctronica — India’s first a cappella-beatboxing band — became an Internet sensation overnight when they uploaded a video of a tribute to everyone’s beloved Oscar-winning music composer AR Rahman last year. Since then, the five-member youth band has come a long way, and their most-recent project has everyone thinking.

Voctronica comprises Avinash Tewari, Raj Verma, Warsha Easwar, Arjun Nair and Clyde Rodrigues, and aims to showcase the power of human voice. At present, they’re trying to do this with their ambitious new project using the hashtag #EveryCharacterMatters. The band members have asked Tweeple to tweet them a word that means something to them, represents something they are passionate about or feel strongly for. They will then create an a cappella track based on those words.

IndianExpress.com caught up with the trailblazers on how they got together, the art versus money conundrum, and how their camaraderie helps them compose music — sometimes, in just 48 hours.

“We should sing this answer,” says Arjun, to ripples of laughter, when asked how the band came to be. However, he obliged with a detailed, chronological sequence of events. It all started with nationwide workshops on a cappella and beatboxing by Sony Music, British Council and British beatboxing artist Shlomo (a legend in beatboxing circles), of which Arjun and Avinash were a part. The intent was to spread the world and also scout for members to form India’s first all-vocal ensemble. “From the original batch, Avinash and I were intact. Warsha and I had worked together in college. Clyde was doing stuff in a cappella circuits, Raj and Avinash were part of the original setup (an online group of beatboxers in India),” explains Arjun.

“The good part is how this collaboration happened. That was just series of a couple of phone calls, but when we met on Day 1, from that time on irrespective of where, what, how, how old and how young everyone is…none of that mattered because we had a blast.” And it’s visible — the vibe between all of them when they perform. “Vibes is a good word here…,” Arjun says. Clyde sniggers because he considers vibe to be an overused word. However, he relents this time, “In this case it might just work…That’s how we got together.” Since then, it’s been three years.

“In the past one year, we have come into our own…” Arjun explains. “We found our sound,” Avinash adds. “Well, I’m happy to say that we have found ‘a’ sound,” Arjun quips, and everyone nods in agreement.

Their AR Rahman tribute video went viral. Raj says,”All of us in the band heard AR Rahman in our childhood. AR Rahman is responsible for a lot of great music in Bollywood. That’s one place where we all connect; we all come from different musical backgrounds. It took quite a while to make it because we wanted it to be really awesome.” Arjun adds, “It was a natural place for the band to try and go to.”

Watch the video here.

The various projects

Voctronica hasn’t limited itself to a particular genre — it is a melodious blend of beatboxers, Indian classical, pop, blues and rock vocalists. They tackle everything from Bollywood to dubstep — their Facebook page says, “We do it all!” They started with covers and now also produce original music. Voctronica also teamed up with a corporate brand to create a track for a campaign called #WhyNot.

“Somewhere, I think, when we had a vision to create music collectively this way, we did ask the question why not?” Arjun explained. “I think we still ask it. We ask it regularly,” Avinash emphasises. “An a cappella-beatboxing band has no set trajectory. At every stage you have to take a leap of faith and push yourself beyond the convention. Everyday we are discovering new things about ourselves.”

“We are doing something that’s not the usual norm, we are doing something which is not a stereotype,” Arjun says. So, when the opportunity came their way, they just said why not?

Aren’t they concerned about losing their authenticity, their ‘sound’ to corporatisation — accidentally crossing the fine line over to ‘the other side’? “We’d be lying if we said it isn’t about money. It is an occupation, but we are also content creators. That’s part of the job,” Arjun clarifies. “Being in a creative field for a living, it’s both a boon and a bane at the same time. When you are doing something creative, you want it to satiate your soul at a lot of levels otherwise you can’t get yourself to get up and work,” Avinash reflects. “There have been times when we’ve just done our job, but we’ve still ended up having fun.”

Talking about fun, their collaboration with AIB was at once a tribute and a satire on classic Indian ads. “It was Twitter that led to the AIB track,” says Warsha. AIB had called out for collaborators for a project, tagging beatboxers, who in turn tagged Voctronica. “We saw it as a great opportunity to put our heads together and relive some of these memories. We kept the music really simple for it. The common ground between the two groups was that they were trying to achieve a great creative output and somewhere we managed to do that. It was great!” With half-a-million views, the video established a unique connection with the 1980s’ and 1990s’ child.

Watch the video here.

The musical process

Voctronica’s composing process is chaotic and fascinating. They created the ‘Why Not?’ track in 48 hours. The final structure of the song was decided upon the day before the scheduled performance and the final draft was conceptualised at 9 o’ clock in the morning of the day of the performance. They even made changes to it after the soundcheck. “We did that (the changes) for the first time live,” Arjun says.

You can see how well the team gels together, and thankfully so, since collaborating on the fly seems to be de rigueur for this youthful band. “Everybody automatically knows if somebody makes a path, they should try and keep in mind the graph of the song. We are constantly focusing on what the overall beat is sounding like, with everyone chipping in with their bits,” explains Arjun. “We don’t even need to be together to work on an idea. The lyrics of the song were written miles apart, they were edited miles apart, after that the parts just evolved individually miles apart,” Avinash says.

The road ahead

The spontaneous, chaotic process is what Arjun is counting on to bring to fruition their #EveryCharacterMatters project. “We are still gathering all the responses. We’ll probably go in with a template where we’ll have about two-three verses or so along with some sort of line that involves ‘every character matters’… The idea is to incorporate as many words and ideas people throw our way. We’re going to try and write out something very quickly, put it together and jam out a track as soon as we can. That being said we’re also going to be extremely sorry if we end up missing out a couple.” “We hope to give everything a bit of a context,” Warsha says.

“How good or bad the track is where the band keeps it right, trying to push the game up. ‘Every character matters’ are three simple words, but they also mean a lot more than what they are saying in a semantic manner. We want to know what is it that India wants to talk about right now for real, as opposed to what is out there and what is being spoken of. What is really on your mind right now?” Arjun asks.

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