We interviewed Shaunak Kulkarni, a Senior musician from Penn Masala. This interview with Penn Masala will take you through a unique journey of music.
1. How did your Penn Masala journey begin? How do you feel about being part of a musical group like this?
For me, personally, I’ve loved music throughout high school and I originally had no musical experience myself. I just tried out for Masala because I kind of felt like why not. New college, new experiences, new opportunities- like I just wanted to explore and I tried out for Masala. The journey so far has been incredible. I think obviously like the element of newness was a big deal for me, you know starting to get used to singing so much and learning about music. But from that, over time it also develops into a sense of brotherhood. I like the people inside, and the best friends I’ll have for like the rest of my life. Apart from that, I feel like I’ve gained so much more along the way, like life skill and even analytical thinking about good opportunities and stuff like that. Overall, it’s just a really great, enriching experience in a variety of different ways.
2. What is your favorite part about being part of Penn Masala?
I like travelling a lot and as a part of Masala, you get to do that a lot. We have shows around the country and sometimes outside the country as well. You end up travelling, seeing a lot of different places, and meeting a lot of different people. I think that’s my personal favorite part about being part of Masala.
3. What does your songwriting/mixing process look like?
So, the way that we are structured is that we have a thing called the music director who gets elected by the group. The music director is kind of responsible for Masala’s entire musical product so the director along with the music community. They decide what the songs that we’re going to be singing are. For example, they see a particular Hindi song that they really like, and they decided that ‘oh this would go well with a particular English song’. They work through the specifics, think about the musical fit, the meaning between the songs the beat, and if the key and the baseline work out. Once all of that is figured out, we go ahead and start arranging the song. We teach it to the group and then we record it in studio and then from there, the music committee continues with the editing process of the song.
4. What were some challenges you have faced together as a group?
I think obviously there’s a variety of challenges that just come up sometimes. Regarding public streaming and ironing out the kinks between streaming companies to get the rights to certain sounds that we produced was a big challenge. This challenge was one that we’ve continuously kind of evolved and moved past. I think sometimes we had difficulty in kind of continuously innovating and thinking about how channels are different in multiple ways. Especially with a music group like us, I think social media is a big component. This past year we actually just opened a Tik Tok account. Figuring that out as well was something new to us. We kind of continuously have those places where we can educate ourselves about the different ways we can use music and make it fun.
5. What were some successes you have enjoyed together as a group?
I think the release of Musafir was a milestone for us, personally, as well as, from the perspective of us as a group. It’s something that every member of the group contributed to put in a lot of hard work. Coming together and having a successful release was definitely a milestone of success that we consider. That’s the kind of thing that makes us happy and continuously producing the music and getting it out there. We like being able to meet new people and introducing people to music and stuff like that so I think those are some of the big successes.
I love it I mean, as I said earlier, different members contribute in different ways. I think for me, personally, last year I was the director of video of the group so I was directing a lot of music videos. Now I’m reflecting and it was an extremely rewarding experience overall. The music I think I personally really identify with a lot of the songs. They’re like, very similar to my music taste and I also like the fact that we have a bunch of different Hindi mixes. I’m a huge fan and listen almost exclusively to Indian music. I’m definitely really proud of the work that every member put into it. I love the product that we came out with.
7. How did your group come up with “Musafir”? What was the inspiration behind it? Walk us through your process of writing, producing, and releasing it.
We tried to touch on issues that affect us and people all around the South Asian community that we haven’t really explored yet. So, for example, one of the songs kind of talks about mental health in the South Asian community and the music video for it is about mental struggles throughout college. We have another song that talks about the linguistic diversity of South Asia. The name is Musafir, it literally translates to travelers. The idea was that with this music we are traveling and exploring different avenues to use our music in different forms and touch people through a deep message. That’s kind of the inspiration behind the album as a whole.
8. If you had one chance to perform one last song from your album, what song would it be and why?
My favorite song from the album might be Let me Love you/Suits/High Rated Gabru. I like it because I get energy from dancing. So, that I’ll probably be my favorite. And different members would definitely have different answers.
9. Why do you like music? What draws you to it and fuels your passion? What motivates you?
Growing up I’ve always been a fan of singing and I just loved music. I think I just started with trying out for Masala, thinking like why not I’m here, why not just try out for this group. Actually getting in and singing so much every day and your practice sessions and singing with the group, I really loved kind of the energy and the expression that music provides you. I think all those assets continued to draw me towards and let me continue to love it. Now I’m a senior and all the way out like I look back on this and Masala will always play a large influence on my life.
10. What are Penn Masala’s plans for the future?
For the immediate future I think obviously with Musafir’s release, I think we’re just going to continue to kind of push that out and transmit that to as many people as we can. We have a huge show coming up, and a new show coming up in Philadelphia at the end of March. We’re all working towards making sure that that becomes really successful. And after that, just to continue on the Musafir tour to explore as many cities as we can and hopefully even like travel outside the country to sing more song