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May 20, 2017

Penn Masala: Getting To Know The Masters Of A Capella

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

“We come for the music; we stay for the brotherhood”

My playlist of  romantic Bollywood songs led me to discover the sweet sound that is Penn Masala. This was way back in 2013. I was mesmerised by how popular songs could be combined so flawlessly and without the use of musical instruments. Over the years they’ve released a host of catchy mashups such as David Guetta’s Without You/Murder 3’s Teri Jhuki Nazar, Maroon 5’s She Will Be Loved/Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s O Re Piya and Enrique Iglesias’ Tonight/Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani’s Dilliwaali Girlfriend amongst others. This South-Asian group of boys effortlessly switch between Hindi and English, (never compromising on diction) and sometimes even throw in a bit of French as in the case of Befikre’s Nashe Si Chadh Gayi/Coldplay’s Hymn For The Weekend. Penn Masala is currently touring the country to promote their latest album Yuva and here are excerpts from our conversation…

What is the origin of the band’s name?
Hari Ravi: “Penn comes from all of us being students at the University of Pennsylvania. Masala best describes the blend of Indian and American music that we strive to present to our audience.”

Who have been your major influences?
Praveen Rajaguru: “I’d say the biggest influences are Sonu Nigam, Alka Yagnik, KK and Shankar Mahadevan. We listened to them on loop in our formative years. That being said, we definitely try to stay up-to-date with popular artists and songs in both Eastern and Western music as it helps us explore our independent musical inclinations.”

What inspires students to be part of Penn Masala?
Hari: “I believe each member comes in for different reasons. Some of us audition with different a capella groups and choose Masala while others come in just wanting to give singing a shot. In any case, all of us stay for the brotherhood — music brings us together, but it’s our close friendships that keep us together.”

Describe your creative process of selecting songs…
Atman Pranigrahi: “We consider a host of factors during song selection that includes musical and lyrical fit, and audience appeal. We unify our albums and content under a style that has come to define Penn Masala. Disagreements don’t arise often but when they do, we’re able to settle them by focusing on what would fit best in our albums, and what would resonate with our fans.”

How has the group’s music evolved since it was founded in 1996?
Atman: “Over the years, the group has gone through many iterations, with different members coming and leaving the group. There have been changes in lead talents that have led to variations in our sound. We’ve also come a long way in terms of expressing our music creatively, through music and compilation videos as well as finding new medleys of songs to compose and perform.”

What is your biggest challenge as a group?
Hari:
 “It’s tough to balance school work with Masala. As full-time students, school is our priority, however, we take our commitment to music very seriously which puts us in a dilemma at times.”

One movie you wish you could have sung for…
Pranay Sharma:
 “Ae Dil Hai Mushkil had an outstanding soundtrack. We would have loved to infuse our unique style into the title track and The Breakup Song.”

What artists do you personally like?
Wrik Sinha: “Some of my current favorites are Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Coldplay, Arijit Singh, Shawn Mendes, and Charlie Puth.”

What do you like to do in your downtime?
Nikhil: “Some of us pursue other artistic endeavors like film, photography, and improving our Hindi. These skills come in handy when we work on projects such as videos and writing lyrics to our original compositions.”

What do you like about performing in India?
Praveen: “The part about performing in India is that we have the audience singing back the Hindi lyrics to us. We try to tailor our sets to focus more on popular Hindi songs, both recent hits and Indian classics. As we tour across different cities, we also try to highlight the languages and themes specific to the region liking singing in Telugu during our gig in September last year.”

A group/artist you would like to collaborate with…
Atman:
 We would love to collaborate with Arijit Singh. He is the voice of our generation, and it would be an honour to work on a song with him. Internationally, it would have to be Coldplay. Our last four studio albums have had their music, and working with them would be incredibly humbling.”

What is your favourite track on Yuva?
Nikhil : “My personal favorite is Photograph/Aayat/Laal Ishq. It’s a very emotional mix, and the video we created for the song has footage from all of our childhoods, so it’s very meaningful to us as a group.”

Penn Masala will be performing at Dublin Square in Phoenix Marketcity, Mumbai on the 20th of May, 2017.

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