Student Stories

Sing It Loud: Chicago Aag

A cappella is a quintessential College tradition. Meaning “in the style of the chapel” in Italian, a cappella music is sung without accompaniment—it's vocals only. The style dates back to the early 20th century on American college campuses, and has recently become more popular due to shows like The Sing-Off and Glee and movies like Pitch Perfect. UChicago currently has eight a cappella groups: five co-ed, two all-women, and one all-men; the first founded in 1989 and the most recent founded in 2014. These groups perform a variety of genres, and they represent a variety of faiths and interests. This series, Sing It Loud, highlights the a cappella groups and their members that dedicate their time and energy to making beautiful music on campus.

Name: Chicago Aag

Genre: South Asian/Fusion

Established: 2014

President: Maheema Haque

Where they can be heard: Bartlett Trophy Lounge on Sundays and Cobb Lecture Hall on Thursdays

Most memorable arrangements: Badtameez Dill ft Voices in Your Head (Maheema Haque), Channa Mereya/Let Me Love You (Anirudh Pennathur), Saibo/How to Love (Ananya Jalan)

How to get involved: The next round of auditions will be during the first week of next Autumn Quarter.

Chicago Aag is the newest of UChicago’s eight a cappella groups, bringing with it both South Asian styles and Western Fusion. "Aag," which means fire in Hindi, speaks to the energy its members bring to its sound as well as a subtle homage to the city of Chicago. According to second-year Anirudh Pennathur, Chicago Aag’s financial director, the group’s name captures its essence, “We just want to be a very dynamic presence on campus and in the South Asian a cappella circuit in general.”

Fourth-year and current president Maheema Haque founded Chicago Aag three years ago with two of her friends, after noticing the demand on campus for a group like it. “There were a lot of really talented South Asian singers on campus, but they didn't really fit into the niche of a cappella,” she said, “We all loved A cappella music, we loved singing, but we also liked being able to be in touch with our roots. So we thought, a South Asian a cappella group would be a good way to combine these things.”

Chicago Aag has performed at various campus events, most recently at the SASA Channel, the South Asian Students Association’s 30th annual cultural show, and at UIC. Although they don’t perform competitively right now, they recently traveled for the first time to participate in a South Asian performing arts showcase at John Hopkins University.

Even though South Asian a cappella has only recently come to UChicago, the genre has been a force on American college campuses for a while. Outside of a cappella, South Asian music as a whole has become a global force in music, inspiring an entire movie industry. It’s a diverse genre as well with great variation in musical styles across regions.  “It's a completely different kind of music as compared to any of the other a cappella groups that are currently on campus,” said second-year Ananya Jalan, Chicago Aag’s Social Media and Marketing Chair.

While Chicago Aag values South Asian music, fusing it with other styles of music brings a new dynamic to its style. For many students in Chicago Aag, the fusion arrangements bring together their love for each kind of music. “It's just kind of interesting to see musical similarities between modern day US pop music, and the South Asian styles that we have,” Pennathur said.

For many of Chicago Aag’s members, performing with the group has shaped their college experience by adding to their education and being both a motivator and a form of stress relief. “It has helped me become a leader,” said Haque, “which is going to be very important for me going forward; but it's also given me another family, which I wasn't expecting.”

Aag plans to enter more national showcases and break into the competition circuit. They’re also considering recording a few singles. Catch their next performance later this quarter and peak into one of their rehearsals below: