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October 6, 2007

Penn Masala: Join them in a fusion fest

Orlando Sentinel (FL):

Blending Bollywood and barbershop might seem like fusion disaster, but Penn Masala, which grew out of a college dorm, has achieved near rock-star status among young Indians with their a cappella version of popular Hindi film songs. On Saturday, the group comes to Orlando for a fundraiser to benefit Ekal Vidyalaya, a foundation that helps educate children in rural India.

"Indian kids growing up here can really relate to their music," says Shobana Daniell, a local organizer.

Penn Masala is also known for its English covers -- merging U2's With or Without You with Mere Mehboob Mere Sanam (My Love My Beloved) from the 1998 movie Duplicate. Or Peter Gabriel's In Your Eyes with Na Tum Jano Na Hum (Neither You nor I Know) from Kaho Na Pyaar Hai (Say You Love Me), a 2000 film.

The 15 members are all undergraduate students at the University of Pennsylvania. They often wear traditional clothes onstage and harmonize like a barbershop quartet. While most of their songs are in Hindi or English, they also sing in Arabic and Tamil. "We are like an extended family," says Bharat Moudgil of Gainesville.

Membership is revolving, with new singers added when others graduate. Most are from the United States, places such as Madison, Wis., and Tulsa, Okla.

"The beauty of our group is that we logically combine the Hindi music we grew up on and the American a cappella style," says manager Ricky Sharma, a junior studying business and political science.

Penn Masala started in a dorm room in 1996 with four friends. Their breakout performance came in 1998 at Bhangra Blowout, a showcase of Indian fusion music. The group toured to other college campuses and Indian events in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. Then, Toronto and London.

Penn Masala was featured on the soundtrack for the 2001 movie American Desi, about a New Jersey college student and his traditional Indian parents -- another ethnic subculture hit.

In 2002, the group performed at the Star Screen Awards in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India. Earlier this year, Penn Masala released its fifth album, Pehchaan, Hindi for identity. In September, Penn Masala performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., for a show marking the 60th anniversary of India's independence from Britain.

Posted by acapnews at October 6, 2007 12:26 AM

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