Vocal magic, folks!

The only instruments these musicians use to create music are their vocal chords. Srivathsan Nadadhur meets the six-member Voctronica, India’s first all-vocal ensemble

Voctronica, the country’s first all-vocal orchestra, prides itself in creating a soundscape as good as any musical instrument. The Mumbai-based band insists on being called a vocal ensemble for the musical effect they produce through vocal cords is indistinguishable from any bass guitar to the electric violin, the flute or the konnakol you’d get to hear. It’s precisely this confidence that translates in their bio, where a line reads, “India’s First All-Vocal Orchestra. No Instruments. No Kidding.”

With a host of originals, tributes to their credit in an eight-year journey, their musical odes to the Queen (the British rock band), A R Rahman, besides a video that served as a throwback to the Indian ad-scene in the 90s had them hitting the headlines for the right reasons. Comprising Avinash Tewari, Arjun Nair, Warsha Easwar, Clyde Rodrigues, Nagesh Reddy and Aditi Ramesh in their lineup, it’s perhaps their diversity and evolution that took them to the prestigious Moscow Spring A Cappella-2019 earlier this year. It happened to be the third edition of the annual musical world cup (among vocal ensembles) in Moscow where they were the only Indian contingent among the 185 teams (from 29 countries) handpicked for the event.

Voctronica in Moscow.
Voctronica in Moscow.

All geared up

With over 12 performances in a four-day span, the band had traversed the length and breadth of Russia’s capital city, drawing huge crowds for their performances as the men wore their kurta pyjamas, sherwanis, Nehru jackets, and the girls donned the Kerala mundu to good effect. Being the only Indian representation at an event sponsored by the Russian Government was something that they considered as a badge of honour and responsibility, too. “Representing our country through music and our attire was special. Besides getting to see the biggest global bands competing for the title, interacting with them, we explored the city well. That most of our expenditure was taken care of, from travel to accommodation to food, we really knew the seriousness of this initiative,” the six-piece band echoes in unison.

Prior to the trip, the band was naturally very curious about breaking the language barrier in their performances. A few factors had worked in their favour. “Not everybody out in Moscow is fluent in English. It is still a very rooted region that doesn’t have a significant English-speaking populace. So, we had gone by the time-tested cliche of ‘music knowing no language’,” Arjun Nair says. And it did pay off well.

“Though the competition demanded us to be international audience-friendly, we managed to balance our playlist well,” quips Clyde. A few originals, classics, a modern-day twist to the Vandemataram, a Beatles medley, a Bruno Mars number, and even a Russian folk song to top it all in a 16-song playlist.

“We took help from our Russian friends to get our pronunciation right to the number that also commemorated the Moscow Victory Day Parade that was held the same day. It got the crowd going back home with a smile. Being able to hold audiences for 40 minutes in every performance was very hard and we’re glad that our efforts paid off,” they exclaim. Voctronica had got many grooving and moving around, underlining their emphasis on visual movement.

The learning curve during the Moscow stay, though brief, was huge. “One of the biggest insights was to understand our own music and sound. And to notice how gigantic the vocal community is out there in Europe, America, China, and even Taiwan was important. The experience has opened our eyes to many more similar festivals around the world in Spain, France, Japan, and Taiwan. You’ll see us participating in many of them in the future. It’ll take at least three-four years for India to put together a festival of this scale,” team Voctronica shares.

Crowning glory

Not winning the world cup in Moscow hasn’t got Voctronica’s morale down. In fact, a few technical issues contributed to their minimal presence at the event. “Besides musical criteria, the votes play a huge role in the results. One should be logged in through a Russian social network to do that, which is the reason why all the votes that our Indian fans gave didn’t end up getting counted. The technical snag had forced us to be performing only for a few days. The more we performed, the better chances we had at the crown. If only there weren’t these issues, we might have done our country proud. We definitely pulled in one of the largest crowds there, and musically, we had ticked all the boxes. We didn’t at all sound like any other band out there, and that was heartening and encouraging to know,” they say.

Today, the band is a picture of confidence. Their Moscow trip had more to it beyond music. “The fest was spread across the nooks and the corners of the city. Moscow is what an organised Mumbai could look one day. It’s a city that’s proud of its culture. They have street performers, people wearing Gothic masks, karaoke bars, and great architecture, reminding us of the Victorian era touch to the Chhatrapati Sivaji Terminal in Mumbai,” Arjun adds. Voctronica found its Victory Day Parade experience surreal, too. “Most families have war martyrs there. As a culture, men having to spend time at the Army immediately after college makes them reticent, but the people are still warm,” Clyde states.

Back to their home ground now, Voctronica has a lot of activity up its sleeve, with over six originals in the works besides a series of local gigs. The Moscow trip has given them oodles of confidence about their identity that they’re looking to consolidate further.

“We are keen on travelling, participating, and giving our competitors a run for their money. Our biggest win this time was impressing an audience that didn’t quite understand our language. We definitely have had that high and we hope to evolve, get musically tighter and precise in the coming years,” they sign off.

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