Penn Masala’s new album ‘Musafir’ makes a catchy socio-cultural statement

Meet the members of ‘Penn Masala’

Meet the members of ‘Penn Masala’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Their new album Musafir is a stamp of their South Asian-American identity, as well as a retelling of their journey so far

Ten full-length albums, an EP (extended play), and a compilation album. This might sound like an impressive body of work for a musical group to have put out in 24 years, but the talent in this one is a bit more fluid than most. Penn Masala, the a capella group of University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA, was formed in 1996 by South Asian-American students of the time. Today, the group of 10 comprises students from the batches 2020, 2021 and 2022. And yesterday, this group came out with their 11th full-length album.

This is not just any other collection of tracks by just any other band of college boys. Penn Masala blends everything from hiphop and jazz to old-school Bollywood into their work, creating statements out of each genre. Over the years, they have performed for international leaders, toured in countries around the globe, and even featured in the Hollywood film Pitch Perfect 2. For them, the new album Musafir is a stamp of their South Asian-American identity, as well as a retelling of their journey so far.

Ajay Vasisht, class of 2020, explains over a phone call from the US, “This album talks about many elements and topics that affect the diaspora. We have songs here that deal with societal pressures, social impact, and even mental health, which is something the community is not very open about discussing.”

The latter is addressed through a track that Penn Masala made in collaboration with Mumbai-based rapper and playback singer Benny Dayal. “It is a mash-up of ‘Everglow’ and ‘Kaise Mujhe’, a track from the Aamir Khan-starrer Ghajini,” adds Ajay. Because Benny is the voice behind the original Bollywood track, they thought of getting in touch with him for the a capella version as well. They reached out to Benny through his social media handles, and to their surprise, the celebrity singer responded. Two of them flew down to Mumbai to record the song with him; an experience that both Ajay and Pune man Shaunak Kulkarni describe as educational.

Another number to watch out for is a mash-up of DNCE’s ‘Cake By The Ocean’, Arijit Singh’s ‘Ghungroo’ and Kanye West’s ‘Stronger’, which is one of the few singles that the crew had released ahead of the album launch. Released on January 25, the track comes with a mildly nerdy, but playfully engaging video, and has already garnered more than one lakh views on YouTube. In sharp contrast is the pensive, bitter-sweet treatment given to a mix of ‘Bulleya’ (Pritam) and ‘Dusk till dawn’ (ZAYN ft. Sia) in a track and video released last December. Again different is ‘United By Music’, an ambitious mash-up of about 20 tracks, which is not only emotionally patriotic, but also a platform for the crew to showcase its breadth of regional Indian languages.

The album as a whole, took months to come to fruition. Says Harsh Meswani, class of 2021, “We started working on the album in July. Each song took about 25 to 30 hours of studio time to get right. Not all of them come with videos: we looked at the different vibes and the depth of emotion that each track has, and then decided what kind of treatment to give it.”

The online responses to the few tracks out already, is a testament to the following Penn Masala has built over the years. The group takes its feedback very seriously, garnering it both over social media and through direct interactions with fans when on tour. For this album in particular, it was important that the songs resonate. That, says Sachin Gali, “is what we find empowering.”

Musafir is out on Spotify and Apple Music.

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Printable version | Feb 18, 2020 1:03:00 PM |

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