Penn Masala, DJ Rekha and the…White House? [Updated]

My jaw dropped when I saw this tweet in my feed today from the renowned DJ Rekha.

@djrekha Penn Masala performing at White House. Beatboxing and singing Ayesha in Hindi n English. Box of Diwali sweets on every seat.

I quickly jumped on the White House’s live feed to see if I could see for myself. Here, watch for yourself.

Penn Masala at White House.jpgWhat could be the occasion to bring DJ Rekha to the White House and get prime seating to see Desi a cappella group Penn Masala perform?

President Barack Obama is re-creating a federal panel to address concerns of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders and to work on improving their health, education and economic status…The panel was created during the Clinton administration. But it expired during George W. Bush’s presidency and was not reauthorized.

During the East Room ceremony, Obama also observed Diwali, or the “Festival of Lights,” a holiday celebrated across faiths in India.[ap]

I jumped online in time to see a maharaj sing ‘asato maah’ and Obama light the fire with a candle. Video from today found and posted above and the folks at AAPI Momentum have promised us videos from tonight’s celebration. I have a personal request for a photo of DJ Rekha, Penn Masala, and Kal Penn. Just FYI. Since I can’t show you the video of what Obama said, let me share excerpts of what he said (full text available here).Obama Signing White House AAPI Bill.jpg> Our AAPI communities have roots that span the globe, but they embody a rich diversity, and a story of striving and success that are uniquely American…

But focusing on all of these achievements doesn’t tell the whole story, and that’s part of why we’re here. It’s tempting, given the strengths of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, for us to buy into the myth of the “model minority,” and to overlook the very real challenges that certain Asian American and Pacific Islander communities are facing: from health disparities like higher rates of diabetes and Hepatitis B; to educational disparities that still exist in some communities — high dropout rates, low college enrollment rates; to economic disparities — higher rates of poverty in some communities, and barriers to employment and workplace advancement in others…

Some Asian American and Pacific Islanders, particularly new Americans and refugees, still face language barriers. Others have been victims of unthinkable hate crimes, particularly in the months after September 11th — crimes driven by ignorance and prejudice that are an affront to everything that this nation stands for….

And that’s why I’m signing this executive order today, reestablishing the advisory commission and White House initiative created by President Clinton 10 years ago. Because when any of our citizens — (applause) — when any of our citizens are unable to fulfill their potential due to factors that have nothing to do with their talent, character, or work ethic, then I believe there’s a role for our government to play…

This coming Saturday, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists, here in America and around the world, will celebrate this holiday by lighting Diyas, or lamps, which symbolize the victory of light over darkness, and knowledge over ignorance. And while this is a time of rejoicing, it’s also a time for reflection, when we remember those who are less fortunate and renew our commitment to reach out to those in need. [whitehouse]

I gotta say, it’s great to have a President that knows the APIA community and the Desi community like this. With the bill signed, hopefully we can hold the government accountable to reinvest in our community once more.

Obama Waiting to Light Fire.jpg Courtesy of SAALT.

DJ Rekha at White House.jpg DJ Rekha, Deepa Iyer from SAALT and Vanita Gupta a the White House. Courtesy of SAALT.

Obama Lighting the Fire.jpg courtesy of SAALT.

Penn Masala at White House 2.jpg Penn Masala photo courtesy of Priscilla Huang of NAPAWF.

Thanks to Naomi Underwood for the photos of Penn Masala and Obama signing in first two photos!!! If anyone else has photos from today, please send them over!

This entry was posted in Events, History, Issues, Photos, Religion by Taz. Bookmark the permalink.

About Taz

Taz is an activist, organizer and writer based in California. She is the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), curates and blogs at Follow her at

56 thoughts on “Penn Masala, DJ Rekha and the…White House? [Updated]

  1. this article fails to point out that it was pres bush who first celebrated diwali, having a celebration of the same magnitude as this one, every single year.

  2. this article fails to point out that it was pres bush who first celebrated diwali

    didnt light diya.

  3. @jyotsana: what’s worse he’s a Y-namam wearing priest,

    I missed that one! I am a Smarta from Northern Tamil Nadu, and in my neck of the woods the SriVaishnavas are for many intents and purposes indistinguishable from the Smartas. So much so that some Thengalais (the Y types) dismiss the Vadakalais as Smartas in disguise! There is a doctrinal dispute that some scholars – notably Shri Anbil Ramaswamy – consider insignificant. But knowing Barry’s penchant for thorough decision making, the next time he has to decide whether it will be a Y or a V, he might want to take at least a year making the choice!!

  4. I’m surprised Penn Masala chose to sing Ayesha. From a class I took, I know this song was sung by Cheb Khaled (French Algerian Pop Rai singer) for his young daughter (named after Mohammed’s wife Ayesha) in French and Arabic. No offense, but if they are celebrating Diwali, couldn’t they at least chose a Hindu song or a song relating to Diwali?

  5. Regarding Smartas and Vaishnavas. Smartas do panch upasana (worship of five deities: Ganesh, Shiva, Vishnu, Durga and ??? (fill in the blank, perhaps Surya), while Vaishnavas worship only Vishnu and Vishnu’s various avatars.

    However, in some Vaishnava sects, Shiva is considered non-different from Vishnu, so a Shiva Vishnu Temple is not a contradiction. Hari-Hara (the combined form of both Vishna and Shiva in one) is also a deity in India.