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Meet The Ohms

MIT Ohms, the first-ever South Asian a cappella group, blends Bollywood hits with Western pop to create its own modern music.

Ingeniously mixing Bollywood hits with current Western pop favorites, the MIT Ohms are bringing a whole new brand of a cappella music to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus. Since 2010, MIT Ohms, the first-ever South Asian a cappella group, has featured a rotating collection of talented students, sharing their creative arrangements, vocal talent and upbeat spirit to gleeful crowds.

Rupayan Neogy, music director of the MIT Ohms, talks about the exciting challenge of bridging two different cultures through music.

Excerpts from an interview.

When did you join the MIT Ohms? What was your audition process like?
I auditioned for the Ohms in the second semester of my freshman year at MIT. The audition process had me preparing a song of my choice to sing for the group. I sang one of my favorite pieces, “When I Was Your Man” by Bruno Mars. Overall, the audition process is a memory that defines my Ohms experience. To this day, we are a group that continues to surprise and defy expectations. We ask our members to achieve more and more, while making sure we have a fun time.

What is the group’s origin story and how was the name, MIT Ohms, decided on?
In 2010, a number of South Asian MIT students or musicians, who enjoyed creating music together, realized that many folks in the general MIT public didn’t connect with Carnatic or Hindustani music. We thought that by combining Western pop with Bollywood hits, we could reach a much larger audience. A group of us got together and performed. The performance was extremely well-received—people asked us when our next show was and if they could audition to join the group. We realized this was more than just a one-time thing, and the “MIT Ohms” was born.

We named the group the Ohms because “Om” is the fundamental sound of the universe in many Indian traditions and seemed fitting as the name of an a cappella group. It is also a physics term when spelled Ohm, the unit of electrical resistance.

What are the keys to a great song mash-up? Is there a consistent process the group follows when brainstorming new arrangements?
The keys to a great mash-up are hard to describe in words. There are definitely specific things we look for when creating or evaluating mash-up ideas: whether the two songs match in rhythm, tone and emotion; whether the two songs can easily and effectively flow into each other; whether the two songs can tell a story by interweaving with each other. However, at the end of the day, we really don’t know how a mash-up will sound until we actually get about singing it.

Because of the complicated nature of how our arrangements might work out, we typically work on creating our music over long periods of time. Some of our mash-up ideas go on for months or even a year before we actually decide that the arrangement is ready to be performed.

Does the Ohms have any special rituals that have been passed down through the years?
We began a new ritual this year, courtesy of a member who shared the tradition from her old a cappella group. It involves the word “kaboota” on multiple occasions, a circle and making fools of ourselves. I guess, I will leave it at that.

What does the future hold for the Ohms? Are there any new exciting projects on the horizon?
In the past year, our group has really transformed into a more professional and competitive group. We’ve proven our worth by competing at the All-American Awaaz, the championship competition in the South Asian a cappella circuit. There, we performed with some of the top South Asian a cappella groups in the United States. We were even given the award for the Best Male Soloist for our classical vocal performances in our music.

Looking forward, we want to keep up the competitive buzz that we started last year and we hope for a place in many competitions in the coming year.

In addition, we’re always in the process of recording music and our next album is already in the works. We may even release some singles soon, so keep an eye out for that. In the meantime, you can find our current album, “Resistance,” on all main music providers, including iTunes and Spotify.

Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.