They know what a "Patiala Peg" means. Have they tried it? They say "no" with a smile. Almost in unison. Okay, a faculty member is sitting with us throughout. More than talking about themselves, they would like to know if journalism is "cool", if one gets to travel enough and meet interesting people.
These African students - five from Zambia and one from Malawi - studying at CT Group of Institutions in Jalandhar, whose rendition of Diljit Dosanjh's very popular "Patiala Peg" that released in 2014, has gone viral on YouTube with more than 270,000 hits may not be able to understand or speak the Punjabi language, but they have surely managed to bring a smile to the face of Punjabi music lovers across the world.
"We wrote the lyrics in Roman and some faculty members helped us understand the meaning of the lines. That was important in order to internalise the song," says Daniel Ngoma, the 22-year-old singer and guitarist, who is enrolled in the BSc IT department.
The other five on the screen include Temwanani Nyasulu (18), a Biotech student who is seen rapping, bass guitarist Mwenya Mukalula Steven (21) studying BBA, pianist George Mafuchi (21) from the Pharmacy department, drummer Lottie Mukuka (21) studying BCA and lyricist Mando Chiunoaponde (19) who is persuing her BSc in Economics. All are first-year students.
Just in their eighth month in India, these students first experimented with Punjabi songs by singing "Sundari Mundari Ho" for a cultural function at the campus in January. "We just had one day to prepare for a performance. We wanted to present something that would surprise everybody. So, a night before, we Googled the most popular Punjabi songs. The lyrics of 'Sundari Mundari Ho' were available in English. That did it for us," recalls Nyasulu.
Talking about how they zeroed in on their recent song, Nyasulu said that they wanted to take up something popular to bridge the gap between themselves and other students. "We did not want to be seen as the 'other' considering our skin colour which immediately differentiates us. This song, we thought, would facilitate an immediate connect with everyone."
Adding that the students on the campus had always been friendly, trying their best to teach them basic Punjabi to make their life easier in an alien country, Chiunoaponde admits that they did receive some racial slur in the comments column of YouTube when the song was uploaded. "But then you learn to ignore such things. The whole idea behind the exercise was fun, and we didn't want some stray comments to spoil that for us."
Coming from a continent known for its diverse genres of music, this group of students also holds classes for others at the campus. "We jam with Indians studying at the campus almost every day after classes. See, it does not really matter if we understand each other's music or not, the element of fun is omnipresent, and that is what is most important," insists Mukuka.
Speed Records, the company, which shot their maiden video, may want them to do some more but they are clear that they can't even think about it before their final exams. "We all are scoring pretty well and would not want to miss our lectures or spoil our attendance record."
Ask them if their parents back home have seen the video, and Mafuchi asserts, "If you want to know their reaction, well, they first want to know the academic score," he smiles.
We take them to the fields for the photoshoot. Several young boys, dressed like Punjabi singers stop their decorated motorcycles. Many of them have seen their video. They desperately want to be photographed with them. All of them make "victory" gestures for the camera. The Africans included.