Penn Masala Mixes A Cappella from East and West

Penn Masala rehearses for the University of Pennsylvania's annual Spring Concert in April. i i

hide captionPenn Masala, the University of Pennsylvania's Hindi a cappella group, performs in New York.

Neelesh Jethwa
Penn Masala rehearses for the University of Pennsylvania's annual Spring Concert in April.

Penn Masala, the University of Pennsylvania's Hindi a cappella group, performs in New York.

Neelesh Jethwa

At the University of Pennsylvania, a cappella singing can be as serious as the academics.

At least four a cappella groups perform on campus: the all-female Quaker Notes; co-ed jazz group Counterparts; Pennsylvania Six-5000, comprised of 12 male singers; and Penn Masala, a 15-man group that mixes Hindi and English in popular songs.

Influenced by their culture and their upbringing in the United States, Penn Masala has been a campus standout. The group's singers mix Western and Eastern music in a fusion of sound. The result is a cappella songs — or songs without accompaniment — that fans from both cultures appreciate. The group's members use their voices to imitate the sound of instruments, including drums, guitars and pianos.

Penn Masala's fifth album, Pehchaan, features a mix of classic Hindi and English covers, including "Every Breath You Take" by the Police, and Sting's "Desert Rose." The singers also provided a song on the soundtrack of the 2001 movie American Desi, among other recordings.

Founded in a college dorm room in 1996, the group has redefined a cappella well beyond campus. Singers have performed for sold-out crowds in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston, among other cities. In early 2006, Penn Masala toured India, performing for thousands in Mumbai and Kolkata.

Penn Masala's ethnic music is primarily Hindi, but the group's changing members have brought Punjabi, Tamil and Arabic to their lineup. They are also adding more original songs to their repertoire. Pehchaan features three originals including "Main Tanha," "Aankhon Mein Tu Hai" and "Pehchaan."

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