More from first year students Jennie and Davis on music in their adopted city, Philadelphia
While Davis and I thoroughly enjoy venturing off-campus to various musical venues, we have also begun discovering the wonders of music within the Penn community. Penn Masala is an all-male a capella group that was formed in 1996 by four juniors who thoroughly enjoyed Bollywood music. Since there were no culturally-based a capella groups on campus, these students strove to create the first. Now celebrating their 15th anniversary, Penn Masala is not only the world’s first Hindi a capella group, but its acclaim has reached beyond the city of Philadelphia all the way to the White House, where they performed for President Obama.
Knowing that the Penn Masala concert is one of the highlights of musical life at Penn, Davis and I had the fortune to interview the current music director of Penn Masala, UPenn senior Manoj Racherla, to discuss the concert as well as the new album, “Panoramic.” Manoj explained that the mission of the group is to metaphorically fuse together their Asian and Western backgrounds through music. This “metaphorical” fusing often takes place in a mash-up of a Hindi song with an English song. Varying between pop, rock and roll, R&B, and jazz songs from the western front, Masala also sings popular Bollywood hits, Arabic songs, and classic Indian songs. In addition to combining these genres, the group has composed nine original songs throughout the years, two of which were released on “Panoramic” on March 19th, 2011. Manoj explained how though usually one member leads the writing of a song, it is a collaborative effort between the all of the members.
Recording and releasing seven independent albums requires a lot of initiative and determination, and each CD takes approximately two years to complete. Masala records at Studio Crash in Philadelphia, and they strive to record their songs in one take, without the use of editing. According to Manoj, the group wants their music to feel organic, because that is the beauty of a capella.
The Penn Masala Spring Concert, “Penn Masala Presents: ESPM,” is both a parody of various sports topics as well as a celebratory concert commemorating their 15 year anniversary. Mainly promoting their new album, the concert featured songs such as “Ajab Si/Here Comes the Sun,” and the two originals, “Is Pal Mein,” and “Kaash.” The performance was dynamic and unique, and played to a sold-out auditorium of over 1200 people. The ability of the singers to adapt to the lyricism of each soloist truly amazed us, as the beatboxer slowed the background singers to adjust to the vocalist’s rhythm. The group’s transitions between Hindi and English songs sounded natural and easy, and the crowds were going wild for the duration of the concert. There were many English speakers in the audience singing along to the Hindi lyrics, illustrating one of the main goals of Penn Masala: to integrate their two heritages and bring appreciation for Hindi music to Penn. Personally, I believe that they have more than accomplished this goal—they have shared this appreciation and love of their music with people across the country.