Formed in 2008, Red Baraat is a pioneering eight-piece band from Brooklyn, New York. Conceived by Sunny Jain, the group has drawn worldwide praise for its singular sound — a merging of hard driving North Indian bhangra rhythms with elements of jazz, go-go, brass funk, and hip-hop. Created with no less a purposeful agenda than manifesting joy and unity in all people, Red Baraat’s spirit is worn brightly on its sweaty and hard-worked sleeve. And is being returned to them in cities all over the world, as word spreads of the band’s incredibly powerful live performances.
Sunny Jain first made a name for himself as a rising star in the jazz world – awarded the designation of Jazz Ambassador by the U.S. Department of State and the Kennedy Center, and appearing regularly in Downbeat magazine critics polls as he helmed his own bands and kept time for folks like Norah Jones, Kenny Wollesen, and Kyle Eastwood. He played with Junoon — Pakistan’s pioneering Sufi rock band, and traveled the world as a kit drummer.
While searching for a set of tabla in a music store in New Delhi, India, Jain picked up the dhol, a barrel shaped double sided drum, which hangs over the player’s shoulder. The instrument inspired the artist immediately and he started to look back — at Punjabi music and Bollywood rhythms he’d listened to his whole life — and inward, to his own identity, a first-generation Indian American raised in Rochester, New York, navigating the spectrum of cultural dissonance with a home for both Neil Peart and centuries old traditional South Asian drum forms.
The creation of Red Baraat in one of the world’s most dense and diverse metropolises began as an expression of that identity, and has now become more than that. “I had a desire to create a large, acoustic band that brought a powerful, primal sound – just drums and horns. As I was thinking of instrumentation, I knew that I wanted a wide variety of musical minds. It’s the guys in the band that collectively come together to make up the sound of Red Baraat,” says Jain.
If in theory, Red Baraat reads like some kind of ethnomusicologist’s academic dream, let’s agree that in practice, it’s a peyote dream. This is apparent from the needle drop on Shruggy Ji, [Sinj Records] the group’s second full-length studio record, released in January 2013. Red Baraat’s sound is infused with a soul and energy that bursts through the seams of its songs. “Halla Bol” is a power-to-the-people anthem sung in Hindi, literally translating to “raise your voice.” “Burning Instinct” plays like a Tarantino car chase. The title track sits as a perfect testament to the album and the band itself. Impossible to define by genre, it’s just an incredible party jam that moves your parts. The record was produced by Sunny Jain and follows the band’s 2010 debut Chaal Baby, and the digital only live document Bootleg Bhangra.
Live, these songs take on a new life. Night by night, the whip-smart, road-tested band challenges itself, dipping in and out of improvisation, teaching the audience dance moves, and visibly having a blast. Jain’s vision is on clear display – watch closely and you might see the bass horns change course at seemingly no more than the raised eyebrow of the bandleader. But there is no single front man on stage. Each player commands his own space with unique style and verve. Notice has come from high quarters, and the band has found itself in some incredible places.
Red Baraat performed their own TED Talk at the flagship TED Conference in 2012, in front of a dancing audience of thought leaders including Al Gore, Matt Groening, and David Byrne. They accepted an invitation to the White House, where an assembly of elected and business leaders expecting a string quartet were treated to a full throttle bhangra thrown-down. They were brought clandestinely to Google’s Mountain View Campus by a fan on the inside – and second-lined the joint—with Google employees streaming in from all directions as the event went from zero to viral within two songs. And were handpicked to close the London 2012 Paralympic Games in the center of Trafalgar Square.
But even as it’s clear that Red Baraat is building a startling history of performances in iconic settings, the band’s bread and butter remains the sweaty clubs, festivals, packed performing arts centers, and college auditoriums that have kept the band on the road all over the world for nearly 200 dates a year. It’s here where the band does what it does best- communing with their audience in a joyful, near hedonistic celebration of music and dance, which tellingly, draws a crowd even more diverse than the players on stage. Here, the universality of what Red Baraat does is undeniable. And this is no happy accident. It is the product of intention and design. Says Jain, “We are simple creatures that desire community. If we can unite people of all backgrounds and ethnicities to partake in the exuberance of life through the universal language of music, then life is that much sweeter.” Brooklyn, NY January 2013
Red Baraat is:
Sunny Jain, Dhol/MC
Rohin Khemani, Percussion
Tomas Fujiwara, Drumset
Mike Bomwell, Soprano Saxophone
Sonny Singh, Trumpet/Vocals
MiWi La Lupa, Bass Trumpet/Vocals
Ernest Stuart, Trombone
John Altieri, Sousaphone/Vocals