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Samaa fuses a symphony of South Asian and western music


Sophomore Girija Joshi poses for a portrait in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. Joshi is the co-executive director of UNC Samaa.

Twice a week, students walking past Murphey Hall can hear a sound unlike anything on campus — a sound that blends cultures, voices and layers. 

The group is called Samaa, and it’s the only South Asian fusion a cappella group in the state. A co-ed group, Samaa was founded on UNC's campus in 2011.

After warmups, the group's practices begin with work on the week’s piece, with members building their voices together in symphonic performance. 

The group creates mash-ups combining western and South Asian music, such as “Toxic” by Britney Spears with “Yeh Ishq Hai” by Shreya Ghoshal.  

The group performs a variety of numbers, both upbeat and slow, each featuring vocal layering as well as bass and beatboxing. 

“We’re trying to be as authentic as possible with the Indian music but also trying to modernize it a little bit with the western,” Adithi Reddy, a junior in Samaa, said.      

Reddy joined the group during the pandemic and currently serves as social media chair. Coming into college, she wanted to find a group of people who loved both music and South Asian culture and community.

In Samaa, she found exactly that.

“Especially being based in a PWI, I think having community that you can go to every week and sing with, you just build camaraderie,” Reddy said.

She said the group focuses on promoting diversity and bringing South Asian culture to campus.

“I think that’s something that we really value and want to differentiate ourselves from other groups,” Reddy said. 

The songs include lyrics in languages other than English, such as Hindi and Telugu, some of which Samaa members speak. Reddy said the group bonds through their internal diversity.  

“Prior to the start of summer, we’ll have a practice where everybody will come with ideas and brainstorm together for mashups and bounce them off of each other,” Girija Joshi, a sophomore and co-executive director of Samaa, said. 

When something doesn’t sound right, members speak up and share their suggestions.

To most of the members, the group is about more than music — it’s about lasting friendships, too.

Reddy said she met one of her best friends in the group's first practice last year. 

The group has a performance about once a month. Recently, they've performed at Journey into Asia and Sunset Serenade.

“Since we sang at Sunset Serenade, I feel like we reached a bigger audience,” Joshi said.

One of those audience members was first-year Nandini Gupta.

Gupta said she learned about Samaa at the event when she heard the group sing for the first time. 

Gupta has since joined Samaa and said having the community has provided a safe space and sense of security while getting settled at UNC.

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“It’s just really nice to have kind of that group of people that you can count on, rely on, talk to,” Gupta said.

The group doesn’t only perform at UNC: last year, it traveled to Duke University to open for another South Asian a cappella group called Chai Town

The group also plans to perform at Garba and Diwali Night this year. 

Those interested in learning more about Samaa can visit the group's Instagram


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