Soul4Real continues the magic 10 years later

Marissa Martinez, Managing Editor

It’s an average Thursday evening, yet the third floor conference room in the Black House is brimming with bright voices and tangible energy. Laughs populate the space just as harmonies do.

This electricity is due to Soul4Real, Northwestern’s premier African-American a cappella group. The organization is preparing for its spring show, “The Glow Up,” which will be held in Fisk 217 on May 24. The performance will mark the group’s 10-year anniversary.

Singers don’t have to be black to join — President Rekhia Adams said all that’s required of interested members is an appreciation for black culture and understanding of the importance of Soul4Real’s inclusive space. The group’s arrangements includes songs from a variety of genres, ranging from soul to R&B to gospel music.

Some of Adams’ goals as a leader are recruiting new voices and increasing the group’s wider recognition. While Soul4Real has been on campus for a decade — even performing for President Obama in 2014 — many students don’t know it exists.

Adams said she wants to continue to build the “amazing” community she joined freshman year. Many of members said the best part of Soul4Real was the tight group dynamic.

Omari Benjamin said part of her love for the group comes from having different people to say “Hi” to on campus. But more than that, the Weinberg first-year said she has made discoveries about her identity while spending time with her fellow singers.

“I’ve learned a lot about myself as a woman of color as well, because I’ve learned so much about black culture just by being in this group,” Benjamin said. “Like, I didn’t know what a durag was until I was introduced to it in Soul4Real. There’s just small moments like that where I feel like there’s always something new to be felt here.”

Medill sophomore Salina Tsegai said her other extracurricular on campus fosters more “superficial and quick” interactions compared to Soul4Real. The community she found in the group, however, is more defined by its characters and individual personalities. She said there is no “mob mentality,” and she doesn’t have to force herself to come to practice — she wants to be there.

Ikechi Ihemeson said he enjoys singing with the group because his home school, Bienen, is a “very white space.” He said his energy and the way he expresses himself in those environments is suppressed, an experience many people in the group shared.

“It is very much a release,” Ihemeson said. “We enter that energy into the music that we do and the time we spend together. Every performance we have is a collective story for us to tell that people aren’t used to hearing in such a beautiful, virtuosic yet silly way. And that’s always exciting to get together with a group and have that happen.”

Mia Hodges said she noticed this same excitement during auditions, when she saw Ihemeson playing music besides the songs people usually perform. She fell in love with Adam’s and Soul4Real’s energy, she added, and could tell other members wanted her to join, not just for her voice, but because they liked her as a person.

Adams said throughout her three years, the dynamics shift as singers come and go. She said there was a moment in the fall where the group considered how the new relationships would form — at times, the connections felt “unsure.” But Adams said Soul4Real has grown to adapt to the ongoing cycle of goodbyes and hellos that come with college groups.

These goodbyes are not permanent though — alumni will to return to campus for the upcoming show. In light of this support, Adams reflected on the importance of a black group singing black songs. She said she hopes the graduated students see growth and appreciate the evolving sound of the organization they were a part of years ago.

“That’s a celebration of music made by us, for us,” Adams said. “Especially in a PWI, the fact we have survived so long is great. Because of how small the black community is, there are niche groups that sometimes won’t survive outside of the black community. It’s good to know we still exist 10 years later.”

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