Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Recently, I was able to sample a select few of UVa’s a cappella groups at Rigabamboo: An A cappella Concert, which benefited Camp Kasem at UVa, a student organization that runs a free week of summer camp for kids whose parents have cancer. The A cappella groups on grounds that performed were New Dominions, Remix, Hoos in Treble, and the Academical Village People.

The first group to perform was the New Dominions, the University’s oldest co-ed a cappella group; they consisted of equal parts men and women. Overall, their performance lacked audience participation; in fact they made no effort to engage the audience. The clothing choice of the group related to this lack of audience enthusiasm, for the women were dressed in cocktail dresses, and the men in shirts and ties, just as their dress the performance was very uptight and formal. Their appearance called a lot of attention to the imminent gender dichotomy within the group. The only other stimulation coming from this performance besides auditory from the singing, was the bobbing of the gentlemen, up and down to the beat of the song, and the sensual hip sway of the ladies, which emphasized their already apparent femininity.

This a cappella group is distinct from the rest of the a cappella groups that performed because it was the only group with a female beat-boxer, in which an individual emulates drum beats, rhythm and musical sound with their mouth, tongues, lips, and voice. It is a common misconception that beat-boxing is a male vocal effect, and that females will not be able to produce the necessary sounds, but the female beat-boxer of New Dominions does a great job carrying the percussion of the groups singing arrangement. This is the only instance in which New Dominions challenges the male/ female gender dichotomy by blurring gender boundaries of what is misconceived as a masculine activity.

The next a cappella group was Remix, the University’s first hip hop a cappella group on grounds. There was a member of each major ethic category represented in Remix, from Asian, to East Indian, to Caucasian, to West Indian, and to African American. This is significant because most individuals believe that hip hop is tailored to an Black audience, but like discussed in class, the major consumers of hip hop are not Blacks, but Caucasian individuals which shows the diversity within hip hop to cross genres and ethnicities. This is seen in the diversity of song selection by remix, who performed a mix of pop, reggae, and old school hip hop songs. Just like hip-hop, this group was focused on hybridization, pouring their own touch of hip-hop into different genres.

Remix performed City High’s hit record, “What Would You Do?”, a song about the culture of poverty, and how it leads female teenagers into the realm of prostitution in order to survive. The audience involvement and the mood created as we all sang along to the lyrics, reminded me of Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality” that pushed for social change just as the lyrics and tone of City High’s song does. Also, the audience participation was most interactive during the Remix performance, the group asked the audience to clap, and sing along, wanting them to be more involved in the performance than the other a cappella groups. Remix also used the call and response technique to get the audience more involved in songs that were recognizable, similar to the call and response used in African American gospel music.

After Remix, there was Hoos in Treble, the youngest all female a cappella group on grounds. The Hoos in Treble sing all of their song selections in the treble clef, which is the highest singing voice in a musical composition, a clef gendered feminine. Most of the song selections of Hoos in Treble, were soft and devoted the feminine quest to find love. The last song of their set however, the one that received the most enthusiasm from the crowd, told the story of a women who broke free from the confines of femininity. As the soloist belted out the strongest female vocal performance of the night, she sang: I'm goin' home, gonna load my shotgun/Wait by the door and light a cigarette/ If he wants a fight well now he's got one/ And he ain't seen me crazy yet/ He slap my face and he shook me like a rag doll/ Don't that sound like a real man/ I'm going to show him what a little girls made of/ Gunpowder and lead”. The lyrics, along with the bravado in her vocal performance, challenged the feminine values placed upon women.

Following Hoos in Treble, was the Academical Village People, a group of young men of the University. The male singers of this group sang in a higher key than the gentlemen of both Remix and New Dominions, which struck me as a play on the gender barriers that the Village People group discussed in class also seek to cross. The Academical Village People also wanted audience participation, but most of this was directed toward female audience members, who they sang to and held hands with. Consistent with the Disco era that the Village People stemmed from, the Academical Village People performed an Earth, Wind, and Fire song compilation as the last song of the concert. The compilations started off slow with their hit, “Boogie Wonderland”, and ended with the upbeat falsetto “September”. Overall, I felt that AVP played with the similarities between themselves and the Village People, and attacked gender performance in many different ways.

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