Penn Masala: World’s first South Asian A cappella band to perform in Hyderabad, Bengaluru

Produced by TribeVibe, a BookMyShow enterprise, the tour will travel to Hyderabad on 25 May and Bengaluru on 26 May.


Published May 17, 2023 | 4:04 PMUpdatedMay 17, 2023 | 4:04 PM

Members of Penn Masala. (Instagram)

A cappella, which replaces instruments with harmonised vocals, literally means “in the style of the chapel” in Italian.

But mind you, A cappella is not just popular in churches. Perhaps, its most popular reference in “pop culture” is in the first season of the cult series, Friends.

The episode ‘The one with the dozen lasagnas’ begins on an A cappella note with Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Monica and Joey doing an impromptu humming of the Odd Couple theme song.

When taken out of its original context in this case, the church — the format seemed to have given the musicians a lot of leeway to throw in their mixed bags of sounds and produce a whole new sound.

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Leans on Bollywood

Not surprisingly, Penn Masala, the world’s first South Asian A cappella band, leans heavily on Bollywood to create its mix.

But Sapno ki Rani and Mehndi Laga ke Rakhna do emerge distinctly from among the harmonious vocals, making Penn Masala stand out from the other A cappella bands, leading to even a performance at the White House for President Obama.

Members of Penn Masala. (Instagram)

Members of Penn Masala. (Instagram)

Penn Masala will be on a six-city homecoming tour in India between 19 and 29 May. Produced by TribeVibe, a BookMyShow enterprise, the tour will travel to Hyderabad on 25 May and Bengaluru on 26 May.

The band was formed in 1996 by students at the University of Pennsylvania. Over the years, the band members kept changing, but the sound was consistently fine-tuned to what it is now. Voices ranging from bass-baritone, tenor and tenor 2, a bit of beatboxing and a clever choice of Bollywood and Western pop hits.

“Our current group consists of 13 total members, consisting of 11 singers and two managers. In general, there is not a set number of people we have in the group. However, each graduating class usually has three to four singers that can comfortably cover the range of our four voice parts. In order to have a complete sound, we take this same range of new members. We select our members through a musical audition process every September held on-campus at the University of Pennsylvania,” said current band member Raghunandan Raman, an engineering student who will be graduating in 2025.

The band prepares differently for the audiences in India and the audiences in the United States, admitted Prateek Adurty, another band member.

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‘Added new songs’

“We always take into account the music tastes of our audience, so for our upcoming tour, we have added a lot of new songs to our repertoire that are more popular with Indian audiences. For many of these songs we focus on replicating the sounds of traditional Indian instruments, like the tabla, mridangam, and others, through just the use of our voices,” added Adurty, who dreams of starting a music collective in future.

Gaurish Gaur, another member, recalled how Bengaluru with its “amazing energy” became one of their favourite cities to perform.

Members of Penn Masala. (Instagram)

Members of Penn Masala. (Instagram)

“The last time we performed in Bengaluru in 2017, our show was held outdoors. Unfortunately, it started raining during the performance. In response, fans crowded around us and held their umbrellas over the singers’ heads so that we could continue with the show. It was an incredible display of kindness and hospitality that we have never forgotten. We cannot wait to meet our fans in Bengaluru again,” said Gaur.

The world’s first South Asian A cappella band, unfortunately, has no voices of women.

“The primary reason for the absence of female members in our group is rooted in our musical arrangements. Our repertoire includes numerous songs from 10-15 years ago, which were specifically arranged for male vocal registers. Our aim is to stay true to the original sound and essence of these songs, which makes it challenging to integrate other vocal registers without compromising some of the integrity of our performances.

However, we continually strive to evolve and expand our musical horizons, and we remain open to collaborations and opportunities that celebrate diversity in music,” said Adurty.

(Disclaimer: The headline, subheads, and intro of this report along with the photos may have been reworked by South First. The rest of the content is from a syndicated feed, and has been edited for style.)