The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

UI senior performs and connects to her culture through a capella group

Preksha Kedilaya helps Iowa Agni compete for the first time.
John Charlson
Preksha Kedilaya poses for a portrait in the Voxman Music Building on Sunday, April 21, 2024.

Among many musical organizations at the University of Iowa, Agni A Cappella stands out. The a capella group provides students with community — cultural and musical alike.

Iowa Agni is a multicultural a capella group on campus. They have won multiple awards for their performances in the Association of South Asian Acapella circuit and around campus.

Iowa Agni President Preksha Kedilaya, who is graduating this May, said she was thankful for the time spent in this student organization.

“[Acapella] puts us in this environment where we all work together towards one goal, and it’s just so refreshing and so fun,” Kedilaya said. “To have such different perspectives and different cultures represented by different backgrounds, it’s just really fun and has been a cool part of my career.”

Kedilaya has been involved in the a capella group since her second year of college after the COVID-19 pandemic prevented her from joining in her first year. Since then, the a capella group has become a tight-knit family.

“I grew up in a predominantly white area,” Kedilaya said. “I didn’t have a lot of exposure to my South Asian culture other than from my family and family friends, so I knew that in college, I wanted to explore that and gain some more perspective on that and just immerse myself in my culture.”

Due to the pandemic, only two previous members remained on the team when Kedilaya joined. With many new members, the group struggled to find a dynamic. Kedilaya said no one knew what the group was supposed to look like. At that time, too, Iowa Agni mostly performed at campus events rather than on competition circuits.

In her third year, Kedilaya ran for president of the a capella group but ended up serving the role of the whole executive team, which was stressful. Through all the stress, though, she brought many changes to the troupe.

“It was super overwhelming, but I had strong goals for the group to become competitive, and I knew that we had a lot of potential and talent in our voices, so we competed for the first time nationally that year,” she said. “Our name got nationally recognized, and then this year, we competed again, and we got awarded so, it was very exciting and I’m excited to see where it goes from here.”

Another member of the group, Mallika Huynh, cited Kedilaya as the foundation for the a capella group.

“She paved the way,” Huynh said. “She figured out how to do everything so that we all could benefit in the future …  But I think that her impact on this group has lasted so long. It won’t just be for these years that she’s done it. She’s looking to try to set us up for success, even when she’s not part of the group.”

Huynh said not only was the a capella group enjoyable for her due to the competitive aspect, but it also allowed her to connect.

“It provides me an opportunity to get back in touch with my culture and explore my roots and learn things about myself and that’s healing for me because especially in Iowa, that’s not easy to find,” she said.

Some members, such as Arsh Manazir, also used Iowa Agni as an outlet to find community.

“I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a way to de-stress but it’s kind of a way to force myself to spend time with other people rather than just like being alone and just studying all the time, and so it’s fun in that way,” he said.

Overall, he said Kedilaya made a strong impact on the group through her kindness to each member. Her care for the members of the group is felt among the members and keeps them motivated.

“I can tell that she genuinely cares a lot about the people in the group, and she is passionate about what we do, and so because of that, she’s a good leader,” Manazir said.

Even though Kedilaya pushed the members to compete, she also wanted Iowa Agni to have a happy, welcoming, positive atmosphere. Creating a cutthroat competitive culture was not worth it, she said.

“I feel like I’ve made it very clear to everyone that they’re very valuable and to lean into their interests and their strengths,” she said.

Kedilaya added that she hoped she impacted the group not just through a capella, but also through her friendship and compassion. She said without having compassion, they are nothing.

RELATED: UI students showcase their talents in a multicultural competition

After leaving Iowa Agni at the end of the year, Kedilaya plans to take her leadership and compassion to her career as a health care professional.

“That kind of empathy perspective that I’ve learned from this group is something that I find so valuable and will use for the rest of my career because that is just such an important quality to have,” she said.

Kedilaya found it bittersweet to leave the group because she saw so much potential for growth for the group in the future. Being part of such a close-knit group of people will stick with her long after graduation.

“This group has been seriously the highlight of my entire college career,” she said. “I feel like the group … we are very, very much a family. I consider all fourteen of them my best friends, and I know they feel the same way. There is something really beautiful about working together as a group and trying to create something beautiful.”

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About the Contributor
Sophia Connolly
Sophia Connolly is a first-year honors student studying journalism and mass communications. She is interested in politics, community events and exploring unique perspectives. After college, she plans to go to law school or graduate school.