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Penn Masala's newest album hit the top spot of iTune's World chart in December and helps promote interest in South-East Asian music.

Credit: Courtesy of Penn Masala

Last month, Penn Masala’s unique musical blend of Indian and American sounds became a worldwide hit — its ninth album, “Resonance,” reached No.1 on iTunes World charts on Dec. 11.

This is not the first time that the 15-member, all-male a cappella group has produced a successful album. Their eighth studio album, “Kaavish,” which was released in 2013, also hit No. 1 on iTunes World charts. However, Wharton junior and Penn Masala Business Manager Pranay Sharma said that “Resonance” stands out among the rest.

“I think [“Resonance”] is the reflection of how the group has matured as a whole,” he said.

Engineering senior Prashant Ramesh, a singer in Penn Masala, said “Resonance” is the fruit of his entire college career.

“In this album, we turned to our roots a little more,” he noted. “At the same time, we tried new styles and new arrangements that makes it fresh and new.”

Ramesh went on to say that the group tried to produce an album that appeals to an audience ranging from children to adults.

“I am so happy all of our effort went into producing music that people will enjoy for [a] long time,” he explained. “That makes it all worth it.”

Penn Masala was formed in 1996 in a Penn dorm room by four Indian-American undergraduates who longed to make music that represented their cultural background. The group recruits newcomers each year — staying true to its founders’ musical roots while also embracing the distinctive styles of their new singers.

“Each individual that we take has a different style, so every album and every song is constantly changing,” Penn Masala singer and College senior Anil Chitrapu said.

As a result of the group’s continuous changes, members have created a tight-knit brotherhood around their music that regularly improves their craft.

“There is very strong sense of mentorship,” Sharma said.

The artists sing in English, but they also promote Indian culture through their music by incorporating Hindi, a widely spoken language in India, and other South-East Asian languages in their songs. The word Masala is a mixture of spices in Indian cuisine that provides a certain kick.

“Masala is much more than just food. It represents the incorporation of South-East Asia and the West,” Chitrapu said.

In some of their performances, they wear kurtas, Indian wedding garments.

“We try to take the things we love about Western music whether pop, R&B or hip-hop and put it together with current Bollywood music,” Chitrapu said.We have a very iconic sound.”

Singer Anil Chitrapu (left) and business manager Pranay Sharma (right) are a part of Penn Masala, which has become increasingly popular over the past few years and combines Indian culture with Western music. (Associate Photo Editor Lizzy Machielse)

The group has performed in many cities around the world including London and Montreal and has also showcased its talent before world leaders such President Barack Obama and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Today, the majority of the group members are Indian-Americans raised in Indian households. However, Penn Masala is welcoming to members of different cultural backgrounds — like Brendan McManus, a white Wharton junior who doesn’t speak Hindi but liked the chemistry of the group and joined.

“It’s about having a genuine interest in South-East Asian music, have the drive and motivation to want to learn that and sing it. Brendan exemplifies that,” Chitrapu said. “The interest in Indian culture is actually more important than being Indian.”

Because a cappella music relies on individuals’ voices to act as instruments, both Sharma and Chitrapu highlighed the value of every member of the group.

“New fans sometimes come up to us and say, ‘I didn’t even know that was a cappella,’” Chitrapu noted. ”‘I didn’t know all the sounds I was hearing were people’s voices.’ A cappella is supposed to emulate music instruments — seems like we did.”

This semester the singers are scheduled to perform in about seven shows around the United States. Chitrapu and Sharma admit how difficult it is to balance their studies at Penn with their busy schedules of studio times and performances.

“You learn to manage your time,” Sharma explained. “It takes some late nights, studying on the flights instead of sleeping and working in hotel rooms if that’s what you’ve got to do.”

Penn Masala performed in the 2015 International Indian Film Academy Awards ceremony, and their music was the soundtrack of the movie “Pitch Perfect 2,” where the group also had a cameo appearance. The movie grossed nearly 70 million dollars in its opening week last May.

“We thought ... ‘Wow,’” Chitrapu said. “We are making a splash not only in the industry of Bollywood, but in the industry of Hollywood.”

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