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The University of Pennsylvania's South Asian a cappella group Penn Masala performs at the White House on June 22 (Photo courtesy of Penn Masala).

Penn Masala, the University’s first South Asian a cappella group, performed at the White House for the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 22. 

Penn Masala, which fuses South Asian and Western music, was invited to sing at the State Arrival Ceremony and State Dinner. They performed signature songs from their albums, and group members told The Daily Pennsylvanian that they appreciated the opportunity to share both sides of their cultural identity with the audience. 

Penn Masala last performed at the White House in 2009 for the signing ceremony of the Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. The ceremony coincided with the White House’s annual celebration of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights. 

Gaurish Gaur, rising sophomore in Wharton and Penn Masala’s Business Manager, said that the White House contacted Penn Masala this year to ask if they were interested in performing for Modi’s state visit. 

Thousands gathered on the South Lawn for Modi’s arrival Thursday morning. Penn Masala began the ceremony with “Viva La Vida/Jashn-e-Bahara,” a song from their 2011 album Panoramic. Raghunandan Raman, a rising College junior and president of Penn Masala, described it as a “classic Masala song.” 

“It has a lot of sentimental value because a lot of us in the group listened to the song before coming to Penn,” Raman said. “We just love singing it.” 

They ended the morning performance with the more energetic song, “Chaiyya Chaiyya.” Later that day, the group sang at the State Dinner, which hosted government officials, artists, business leaders, and other prominent South Asian Americans in various fields. Attendees included fashion designer Reem Acra and Huma Abedin, former senior staffer to Hillary Clinton. 

Gaur described the experience of performing in front of the crowd as “surreal.” He said that he was excited to represent Penn Masala as a group of South Asian Americans, many of whom are descended from first generation immigrants. 

“A lot of us grew up balancing that, the side of growing up in America while having heritage in India,” Gaur said. “I hope we showed our appreciation for both cultures.” 

The White House event took place only a few days after Penn Masala returned from their tour in India. They performed seven shows across six cities, including Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore. Penn Masala last visited India as a group seven years ago, and they called this year's tour the "Homecoming Tour" to celebrate members’ family ties to India.   

“It was amazing to see the fans who have remembered us over all these years,” Raman said. “To see their passion, their love for our music right in front of our eyes, is an experience all of us will keep for the rest of our lives.” 

Raman added that Penn Masala would continue collaborating with other artists and releasing music. 

“We’re so excited to be back on campus in the fall to sing more at our home — which is Penn,” Raman said.