Concert Review: Penn Masala creates magic in Dubai

Concert Review: Penn Masala creates magic in Dubai

By Meera Siddharth

Published: Sun 21 Aug 2016, 12:01 PM

Last updated: Sun 28 Aug 2016, 1:18 PM

Never mind every other boy band you've ever been to see live in concert. If you missed Penn Masala in Dubai last night, you passed up on an experience that breathes new life into the power of vocals over sounds on many original soundtracks as you know them. 
In a time of lip sync gigs, unlimited editing, electronic equipment and digital music technology, this South Asian a cappella group revives your direct contact with music through the strength and enthusiasm of natural voices.
Much to the delight of a full house of fans, Masala opened with their hugely popular mashup of Coldplay's Viva La Vida with Jashn-e-Bahara from Jodhaa Akbar. 
Across three sets they continued with hits including Fix you/Ishq Bina; Main Rang Sharbaton Ka/Sunday Morning; and Aicha, a song they also performed at the White House for President Barack Obama.
But just as they crooned the crowd into a trance-like-physical rhythm, swaying from side to side, mesmerised by Masala's One Republic-Atif Aslam Apologize/Aadat, the tempo switched up.
There was non-stop foot tapping, and energetic clapping along, almost learning to keep rhythm with the group, as they transitioned into A. R. Rahman's Chaiya Chaiya, with the boys visibly fueled by the crowd's enthusiasm.
On stage discipline 
This is a video at their rehearsal.
When you're at a concert or any sort of live performance, it's easy to take for granted and assume that artists - a cappella or otherwise - won't get thrown off by the crowd chiming in. But it's a whole different thing to see the incredible discipline in action on stage when it's rather young, unassuming looking lads in a vocals-only performance that mashes Indian and Western tunes.
Anyone who has taken their first piano lesson and wondered if they'll ever be able to exercise independence of their left and right hand can appreciate that on one level it's about each person playing their own individual sound, while flawlessly complimenting the rest. 
But sans ear piece or music cues, and without the shield of any special effects whatsoever, imagine the number of sounds running and mixing in your head with all the crowd chiming in - pure brilliance.
Of course it goes without saying that such synchronisation is near impossible without a perfect team effort but the visible friendship was heartwarming and likely even had many reminiscing about their life-long friendships formed back in the old days at university.
More importantly, the camaraderie elevated the crowd as much as it did the group, as the beat got louder and peppier moving on to Tonight (I'm Lovin' You)/Dilliwaali Girlfriend.
The new Hearthrobs 
Blatant cat calls from the crowd officially bumped the boys up to heartthrob status, with shouts asking 'Do you have a girlfriend?' coming from the girls. Despite the rather posh and proper setting at DUCTAC's theatre, the ladies, of varying age groups, (for the most part) were on their feet singing and dancing along.
Much to their delight, the boys told them that the next song is for every 'desi girl' in the house. The rendition of Down/Desi Girl deserves a special mention - delivered in a way that made every girl in the room feel like she was being individually serenaded, in English, Hindi and even a touch of Lil Wayne-style rap.
Note: Every time you think you've heard the most talented voice in the group, the next guy comes on, which is exactly why some things are just meant to be seen live. That is the joy that is Penn Masala - making music more present and powerful. It's no surprise they received a standing ovation. This unique fusion of East meets West has likely left concert-goers with a great memory. We'll be humming for days. 
Founded in 1996, all-male acappella group Penn Masala was started by four Indian American undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania in search of music that represented their identity. You will never see the same members perform again because students graduate every year and newer ones are inducted in. You can watch a video interview with them here:

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