Vocal Chords: A cappella band Pain Masala is back for a six-city homecoming tour

In 1996, four Indian-origin students were sitting in a dorm room on the University of Pennsylvania campus talking about how popular a cappella music had become. It was popping up on campuses across America. However, in these vocal-only performances—incidentally, a cappella is Italian for “church style,” because that’s how choral music was traditionally performed, but the term is now used for any music performed without music—they didn’t listen. Any songs they grew up with.

The group currently has 13 members, one Indian, one Chinese-American and one American of Indian origin.  Members stay with the group as long as they are students at the university.  (Abhiram Juvadi)
The group currently has 13 members, one Indian, one Chinese-American and one American of Indian origin. Members stay with the group as long as they are students at the university. (Abhiram Juvadi)

That’s how Pain Masala was born, founded by Kunal Bajaj, Deep Trivedi, Himanshu Seth and Naveen Vadhera, all aged 18 to 20. The aim, then and now, is to bring together Western pop and Eastern tunes in a unique way that will appeal to everyone. demographics.

Be a part of this prestigious group. Pen Masala was invited to perform at the Obama White House in 2009; has toured the US, Canada and the UK; and released 12 independent studio albums featuring mashups of songs in Hindi, English, Arabic, Punjabi, Kannada, Telugu and Tamil. (Incidentally, the group usually connects with labels that own the original copyright; and they comply with fair-use laws by reinventing all the passages they borrow).

The band currently consists of one Indian student, 11 Indian-American students, and one Chinese-American, all ages 18 to 22. They are a mix of beatboxers and singers; Students in Computer Science, Mathematics, Biology, Business, Bioengineering, Economics and Electrical Engineering.

“Some of us in the group even mentioned Pen Masala in our college essays, saying we wanted to go to this university,” says 20-year-old Ajay Kilambi.

The band is now set to perform in a six-city tour called Homecoming (May 19 to 29), six years after their last visit to India. Produced by BookMyShow’s TribeVibe, the tour includes concerts in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Hyderabad, Bengaluru and Goa.

Expect a seamless blend of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ uptown funk with Benny Dayal and Shefali Alvarez’s soulful heart; The Weekends Blinding Lights with Mahalakshmi Iyer and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s Bol Na Halke Halke. The group will also perform tracks from their latest album Midnight Oil (2022). “In the album, we showcased the talents of members trained in Carnatic music, in classical renditions. The album also includes our first Tamil cover, a mashup of Leon James and Sid Sriram’s Kadhaipoma (Shall We Talk) and Ed Sheeran and Justin Bieber’s I Don’t Care,” said Gaurish Gaur, 18, a member and business manager of the group.

What does it take to keep such a group together in a format where the average member stays only four years? “We look for an even distribution of vocal parts – bass, baritone and tenor,” says 19-year-old Prateek Adurthi, the group’s music director. There should always be at least one beatboxer in the group, he adds.

At the beginning of each fall semester, the group holds auditions. Formal musical training is not required, but a deep understanding of fusion music is essential, says Aderti. “Each applicant’s personality is also important, because we spend a lot of time together.”

Members meet four days a week for practice, three hours each time. This time is spent creating new mashups, rehearsing old ones and shooting reels to post on @pennmasala, which has 1.2 million followers.

When creating a new mix, the band starts by choosing a genre — party, hip-hop, ballad — then looks to include songs that are trending. “Unlike instrumental music, where you may have one or two lead singers on instrumental beats, a cappella music creates a greater sense of community. Each of our members is singing and shaping the voice in all our compositions,” says Raghunandan Raman, 20, president of the group.

As part of the band’s larger mission to use music to change the way people see their world, Pain Masala occasionally takes on special projects. In 2020, they collaborated with composer Vishal Dadlani and lyricist Poojan Sahil on an original song titled Main Hoon Na Tera (But I’m Yours). Since it was released on YouTube in 2020, its discussion has increased 20 lakh, which was donated to two NGOs working to help daily wage earners make it through the pandemic.

A big goal for the group, going forward, is to feature in a Bollywood film. “We have covered so many songs from the film Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani that if we were given the option to create music for a Bollywood film, this would be the one,” says Raman. But acting in any Bollywood film is a dream.

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