A cappella group Penn Masala performed as a part of Bonjour India
Talk about college bands and your mind skips ahead to the cliché of grungy teenagers in faded jeans and concert t-shirts emblazoned with Marilyn Manson or Jim Morrison. Probably not a group of extremely well-groomed boys in sherwanis and dupattas, with silken voices that have serenaded the likes of Barack Obama during the Diwali celebrations at the White House in 2009, and shared space with the legendary A. R. Rahman on stage.
Their name is Penn Masala and their biggest claim to fame is the fact that they're the world's first Hindi a cappella group. Formed by students of the University of Pennsylvania, Penn Masala specialises in this form of music without instruments, with harmony and doo-wops providing the framework for the music.
Performing in the sultry amphitheatre of Lumbini Park in Hyderabad as a part of the Bonjour India festival, the exotic lighting and acoustics provided a fitting setting to the group. The vocal percussion might have fallen down in places but the overall result was a seamless blend of extremely talented voices. Penn Masala stands out for fusing together Western and Indian songs into a stimulating outburst of music, which covers genres like pop, rhythm, hip-hop, classical, rock and roll, and Bollywood. Having already cut six albums, their songs are usually medleys, amalgamating two songs. So Amitabh Bachchan's raucous Jumma Chumma De De might flow into Get It On Tonight, while Shaan's Tanha Dil effortlessly slides into Otherside.
The group covered a host of their favourite songs from different albums. The night temperature may be on the rise, but Penn Masala was spot on with their ability to gauge audience reactions and they delivered with clarity. There's nothing quite like the thrill of stark voices coming together in a heady rush of thrilling sound.