After nearly two years of planning and disruptions brought about by the pandemic, POCappella, an a cappella group designed to be a creative performance space for people of color, has finally made its way to campus. With over a dozen members, the new gender-inclusive group will take to the Brandi Hall stage this fall, performing a mix of music from all genres — primarily pop and R&B songs by artists of color.
“I’m really excited that POCappella is a group now, even though the timeline of it has been a little different than expected,” President of POCappella Nyandeng Juag ’22 said. “It will bring something a little different to the a cappella scene.”
Conversations about POCappella began during Black History Month in 2019, when a group of students of color expressed interest in performing at some of the month’s events. Some of them created a group chat where they discussed bringing this idea to life, putting their heads together and sharing different ideas about how to make performances possible. However, due to the nature of Kenyon students’ busy schedules, these conversations about performances during Black History Month eventually dissipated.
It wasn’t until 2020 that the group really started to come into fruition. Suleika Abdourazak ’22, who is also a member of the jazz a cappella group Take Five, began working on an arrangement of “Neu Roses” by Daniel Caesar. She reached out to Juag, Felecia Hamilton ’22, Cherish Banks ’22 and Micah Smith ’22, and the group began to rehearse Abdourazak’s arrangement in the spring of 2020.
After the pandemic hit, plans for POCappella were abruptly put to a halt. The group members, all sophomores at the time, were not able to return to Kenyon until the spring of 2021, but they did not let COVID-19 disrupt their creative process. They immediately began rehearsing once more, working on an arrangement of “American Boy” by Estelle featuring Kanye West.
After a year and a half of setbacks, POCappella finally hosted auditions on Sept. 5, which were a hit. According to Juag, the group brought in nine new members. (They are still looking for a beatboxer, and any interested student of color can reach out to the group’s members.)
A cappella has been a stronghold at Kenyon since 1964, with different groups carving out different niches. Smith hopes POCappella will shake up the current scene, which they said “has settled into something very exclusive and rigid.”
“Some people love [a cappella culture] and to each their own!” Smith wrote in an email to the Collegian. They noted that the joy of a cappella is rooted in more than just tradition. “Sometimes it’s just getting together for 2-3 hours a week with other students who understand what it’s like to be marginalized at a PWI [Predominantly White Institution] and singing our music, be it for a concert or not,” they said.
Juag agreed with Smith, noting how she feels seen differently in a group like POCappella. “I really enjoy having a music space where I’m not the only Black person of color,” she said. “I’m grateful to be a part of something that will hopefully be a space that’s open and joyful for people who feel out of place in a cappella.”
Smith hopes to welcome students of color from all walks of life to the group, whether they have been singing all their lives or just started recently.
“I personally really want this to be a space for those who haven’t had vocal training professionally or done anything academic with their singing besides maybe high school choirs,” Smith said. “I’m looking for the kids who’ve been singing in their church choir for their whole lives, voluntarily or not, or who would reenact concerts with their siblings, or scream-sing to your favorite songs in the car.”