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Red Baraat to Release New Album

The New York-based “bhangra funk dhol” band will release its second album, Shruggy Ji in January

Neha Sharma Dec 31, 2012
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Sunny Jain at Pori Jazz Festival with Red Baraat. Photo: Markku Aberg

A baraat [wedding] band is a raucous beast with a convivial soul, the pounding pulse of the dhol lassoes the symphonic abandon set off by turgid brass sections – from the shrill strain of the trumpet to the reedy baritone of the sousaphone. Baraat music definitely seems to be the flavor of the season, considering how Brooklyn-based Red Baraat has been hooking audiences across the US from the Montreal Jazz Festival to Bonnaroo to the Lincoln Centre at the White House by engaging a conversation between a jazz quartet and a baraat band. Listening to the first single off of Red Baraat’s upcoming album Shruggy Ji got me wondering what Charles Mingus’ ‘Fables of Faubus’ would sound like with Indian dhol phrases and a smatter of Punjabi vernacular.

Sunny Jain, who is a Punjabi Jain and a first generation American, is a jazz drummer and the nucleus of Red Baraat tells us how he founded the band. “I wanted to make a New York band. There are so many elements of music swirling around here from hip-hop to jazz and funk to rock. I decided I am going to start this band, which is just drums and brass, and we are going to look back at Punjabi rhythms, Bollywood rhythms, baraat music, but then we’re going to fuse it and make it American, more jazz, more funk,” says Jain. The members of this eight-piece band come from diverse backgrounds – from Sonny Singh (trumpet), a Sikh-American with  ska-reggae leanings to Tomas Fujiwara (drums), a jazz musician, who was also a cast member of the off-Broadway hit STOMP.

Jain is also the drummer of Junoon (Salman Ahmad’s band) and has been part of various projects in the past like the Sunny Jain Collective. In 2003, he played with his collective – featuring Rez Abbasi, Gary Wong and Gary Welsh – at the Jazz Yatra festival in India and distinctly recalls the audience’s overwhelming response to his jazz interpretation of “Raghupathy Raghava Raja Ram” giving him “shivers.” Having been born and brought up in America, Jain always felt removed from the motherland and music became his way of trying to bridge that disconnect. When he was 10, influenced by the likes of  Rush, Led Zeppelin and Van Halen, Jain wanted to learn how to play like John Bonham, but his teacher turned him to jazz introducing him to pivotal jazz drummers like Philly Joe Jones and Art Blakey. Running parallel to this was Jain’s evolving relationship with Indian music – he became well versed with Jain bhajans and was also drawn to Bollywood cinema like Raj Kapoor films and “Eighties Amitabh Bachchan movies like Qurbaani.” Every album Jain has released until date features at least one bhajan. On his first album with Red Baraat there was the “Samara Mantra,” Shruggy Ji will feature “Aarthi.” “It’s my connection to who I am, my childhood, growing up singing these songs, but it’s also a connection to the motherland, that yearning to connect where I can’t through language, but I can through musical language,” he says.

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On a trip to India, Jain went to Bina Music Store in Delhi to buy a tabla set, he spotted a dhol and picked it up as well. Eager to start learning the dhol, he sought guidance from Pandit Samir Chatterjee who had taught him how to play the tabla. Chatterjee directed him to percussionist Dev Sharma [who is known for having played for Bombay Dreams]. As Jain learnt more about the dhol he was totally consumed by its magnetic energy and the spatial context the instrument put him in on stage. “As soon as I put that instrument around my neck and started playing it, something started happening to me, a new animal started coming out of me. When you are sitting in the back of a band, in a dark club, it is a different vibe, when you are playing bhangra dhol, you are physically involved.” Though Indian audiences may find no surprises in their music, Red Baraat’s performances are usually charged with the makings of a manic shindig giving western audiences a taste of what it feels like to be a baraati. So it’s best if you lose your sense of structured music and traditional song when you head for a Red Baraat concert. “I might just conduct something and boom, turn gears or someone else in the band might do something, so that improvisatory, spontaneous reaction is key to what we do. So we’re always kind of straddling the points of like yeah we want people dancing, but we’re always going to throw you a curve-ball and give you something like woah!” says Singh.

Also See  Jazz Corner: The Jazz Scene

Shruggy Ji, which releases in January, features interpretations of popular Indian numbers like “Laal Meri Pat”, “Chunnari”, “Mast Kalander” and “Tenu Leke,” mixed with originals “Halla Bol,” “Shruggy Ji,’ “Burning Instinct” and “Private Dancers.”

Sample the first single, which is up for free download, here:

Watch Red Baraat at the Montreal Jazz Festival: 

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