College a cappella graces Congress Center stage

Photo courtesy of Varun Ballari

Last Friday, Oct. 16, A-Town Showdown brought Penn Masala, the first South Asian fusion a cappella group, to perform at the Georgia World Congress Center to an eager audience for the organization’s five-year anniversary. A portion of the proceeds from the concert went to Ekal Vidyalaya, an organization dedicated to creating low-cost schools across India to spread literacy and education to groups of people who otherwise would not be able to afford school.

The group as a whole could be compared to a sandwich: a fun, flavored middle book-ended with dependable, staple a cappella material. The concert was split into three acts. Penn Masala’s  opening act consisted mainly of their newer songs, interspersed with some classics that helped propel them into fame. After their first act, they went offstage while the Ekal Vidyalaya representatives presented their cause to the audience.

The second part of Penn Masala’s concert was a segment full of fan favorites and talented leads.  They sang current and classic Hindi songs which most of the audience had heard before and mixed them with English songs creating an interesting fusion.

They deftly blended elements from classical South Asian music with American music and performed well. The last leg of the concert had more fast-paced songs, and the audience’s energy was still up from the riveting second segment. They ended on a relatively high note, leaving the audience feeling energetic and pleased.

Their sound was good, and while one cannot always expect every year of an a cappella team to have the same quality, this batch of Penn Masala harmonizers sounded good. They blended well with each other, and there were not too many high parts drowning out the warm low notes.

The vocal percussionists were enthusiastic and energetically kept the team on tempo. In terms of stage presence, their energy level rose as the show went along. Although they stood relatively still on stage during the first act, by the end, they were bouncing along to the beat in the arc, which brought the performance to life. Additionally, in between sets, the boys changed outfits, from casual fall to traditional South Asian to dressy casual.

There were some heartwarming moments, such as when the current team invited an old alumnus to come on stage and perform with them. Additionally, in the last act they invited the audience to come and dance along to their energetic songs, and a gutsy tenth grader was the first to come; the team joked with him and made the audience feel comfortable enough to volunteer and enjoy the rest of the show.

Penn Masala lived up to their audience’s expectations despite a relatively quiet opening, and definitely added some masala to a Friday night.