Tag Archives: Red Baraat
October 4, 2012
Since I last caught up with Red Baraat in February, the self described “Brooklyn dhol’n’brass” by way of a second line, has been to the White House, played Bonnaroo and High Sierra, performed at the TED conference, toured Europe and the UK, and returned to Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. This is a busy group of guys with over 100 dates this year. One listen and the attraction of the east meets west meets stomp on your face swing and brass is obvious. No surprise they get around because there is nothing that comes close to what they do and their musical imprint is rather indelible. I’m not saying that Red Baraat will bring us world peace, but its totally infectious sound and ‘tude, may just get us a little closer.
I extolled the band’s virtues when they played the Mint earlier this year and in my limited vocabulary, attempted to describe my take to the uninitiated. I’m happy to be coming back so soon. The fundamentals bear repeating, though. Traditional Hindi percussion led by singer/dhol player Sunny Jain backed by ridiculous brass including sousaphone, trumpet, bass trumpet, soprano sax and trombone, as well as a trap kit and percussion. On paper, a total head scratcher. The frenzy of Hindi wedding music jumps on NOLA horns and funk. Really?
As Sunny Jain shared with me after the show, there is an Indian brass tradition that came with British colonialism and the relationship to NOLA horns is not as far fetched as it sounds. In fact, Jain likened it to “cousin brothers”. His vision of tapping that unlikely cross-cultural connection beginning as a child when he first encountered the two-headed Indian drum known as a dhol, an instrument at the heart of Bhangra music. Flash forward to years as a jazz drummer and the road to the only Brooklyn Dhol’n’Brass group I know was shaped.
The set began with rich horns layered over swaggering loping rhythms that so characterize the Red Baraat feel and featured some fine soprano work by Lynn Ligammari (sitting in for Alex Hamlin) intertwining with Sonny Singh’s trumpet, Ernest Stuart’s trombone and MiWi La Lupa’s bass trumpet. Three tunes in and the show had the feeling of a mass seduction. It was impossible not to groove with the bottom, your head following the horns wherever they led and Ben Stapp’s sousaphone (sitting in for Joe Alteiri) a constant reminder that the Mississippi doesn’t flow far from the Ganges. “Chaal Baby” (from the 2009 release of the same name) drove that point home with horn lines and a driving rhythm that wouldn’t sound out of place coming from Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue. Arms up and “hey ho-ing” one minute, buried under an avalanche of percussion (courtesy of Jain, drummer Tomas Fujiwara and percussionist Rohin Khemani) the next.
The hurry up pace of “Tunak Tunak Tun” (also from “Chaal Baby”) played like an unstoppable marching band cranked on something wickedly potent, then brought the band to its knees (literally), making sure we all “bowed down to the sousaphone”. The next tune went another way, with a mystical intro taking flight under Ligammari’s soprano and a dance floor of inward looking souls, only to swing hard in no time. “Aazzaadee Aazzaadee” the Punjabi word for freedom (if my transliteration is correct) was more Frenchmen Street funk than hot curry (Sonny Singh grabbing it good). “Shruggi Ji” (from their forthcoming release of the same name) started with jazz funeral horns morphing into a hefty mix of shake your shoulders, swing your hips, sousaphone driven horns and rhythm. Before the night was out, Red Baraat took to the floor with undeniable gravity and the rest of us were just helpless satellites. A damn cool moment if there ever was one.
As we bonded at the bar, Sunny Jain kept coming back to music as community, how it is embedded in eastern society and shares a common pull with the pulse of New Orleans. Cousin brothers to the end. Aren’t we all?
February 25, 2012
The cultural reach of New Orleans music makes for a different kind of eclectic. Blender eclectic. Not every combination hits the sweet spot but the willingness to try anything out mirrors New Orleans resilience, roots and diversity to a tee. Where else could native Swedes Anders Osborne and Theresa Andersonn plant themselves and flourish like native Orleaneans. Or birth the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars with their devoted legion of revelers to what can only be described as ethnically steeped music that approaches jam rock peaks, while remaining firmly grounded in both their New Orleans roots and Yiddish melodies. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
The latest in this jambalaya tradition of mixing cultures and sounds to catch my ear is Red Baraat (Baraat is the Hindi word for wedding procession). Self described as a “Brooklyn dhol n’ brass band”. The Village Voice dubbed them “raucous Indian bhangra and funky New Orleans brass”. My best shot to the uninitiated is NOLA brass’n’drums strained through hot curry. The adjectives fly hard and fast with these guys, and for good reason. Perhaps the band’s web bio says it best “… led by dhol player, Sunny Jain, the nine piece comprised of dhol (double-sided barrel shaped North Indian drum slung over one shoulder) drumset, percussion, sousaphone and five horns, melds the infectious North Indian rhythm Bhangra with a host of sounds, namely funk, go-go, latin, and jazz. Simply put, Sunny Jain and Red Baraat have created and deﬁned a sound entirely their own.” Yikes (and couldn’t agree more)!
So, I caught Red Baraat at the Jazz and Heritage Stage at last year’s Jazzfest upon hearing they “killed it in Lafayette” the day before and were not to be missed. Heck, they had me at traditional Hindi drums and trumpets, but “killed it in Lafayette” put me over the top. Throw them in front of a Jazz and Heritage crowd towards the end of the first Sunday and I was there, even if as much out of curiosity as musical expectation.
I’ve been anticipating how my Red Baraat experience would translate from the Louisiana sun to the living room intimacy of The Mint, ever since the show was announced in mid-January. With one studio album to their credit (2010’s Chaal Baby) an imminent follow-up (Shruggy Ji) and a live album (Bootleg Bhangra) from their Brooklyn turf, Red Baraat has plenty of material to draw from. This is a band I am getting to know by feel and infectious spirit, not a set list.
As the 10 PM start time pushed closer to 10:30, the crowd filled in and not your usual Saturday night Westside mashup for a change. This was the first real West Coast swing for the band with dates in Santa Cruz and San Francisco before their Mint gig.
Sunny Jain stood center stage flanked by reeds on his right, brass on his left and percussion behind him. From the get go, the room was filled with swirling brass and horns fed by blazing eastern rhythms and a sousaphone anchor. Yeah, it made perfect sense. “Chaal Baby” from their debut of the same name jumped straight into a deep percussive groove mixing Tomas Fujiwara’s traps, Jain’s dhol and Rohin Khameni’s percussion that had everyone’s hands up and feet moving. “Baraat to Nowhere”, also from Chaal Baby, was chunky enough to bring sousaphonist John Alteiri to the front to blow and rap (both part of his job description, according to his band bio). The fast and furious “Tunak Tunak Tun”, from Chaal Baby, featured some dazzling soprano turns by Alex Hamlin. At the end of the tune, the vibe of the crowd was nicely expressed by a distinct “fuck, yeah!” from the floor. “Shruggy Ji”, from the soon to drop second album of the same name, started with a brief dirge-like decoy, then kicked into a brass driven bluesy swing that wouldn’t be out of place at a second line funeral. The set closed with “Private Dancers” featuring the brass section of Sonny Singh (trumpet), MiWi La Lupa (bass trumpet) and Ernest Stuart (trombone) in high gear. The rap infused piece showcased Mike Bromwell’s baritone growling at just the right bandwidth (as he did all night) with Sonny Singh putting his jazz chops on full display (more impressive as he was somewhat under the weather). The encore capped the nine-song set with more dexterous soprano work by Alex Hamlin.
Time changes were rare – rather, Red Baraat swung and stayed with their beats from the beginning with start/stop tension gratifying enough to bust out a smoke and ask for their number. Sunny Jain was the perfect host for this affair, the complexion of his dhol adding rhythmic texture and pulse not traditionally found in a brass heavy context, yet echoing a marching band’s snare in other moments. His energizer spirit was uncontainable throughout, both band and audience in perpetual celebration.
A band like Red Baraat shows us that music is truly a world party and that borders are overrated. Who’d a thunk? This is a buzz in the best sense of the word. Live from planet earth, not to be missed.
Shooting the Fest is akin to an endless buffet, musical whiplash and constant discovery. Instead of full sets, joy is more concentrated, fleeting. Depending on the stage and act, three and done translates to here/now/next move. The fan inside is stifled and exhilarated. Mental focus is at a premium, especially when now doesn’t want to go. My coverage has been exhaustive some days, less intense on others, leaving the observer behind to just soak up the experience. Nature stepped up with beautiful weather, the rest was on me.
Friday opened strong, and this photographer had to bond with the mastery of Jeff Beck, but close with a smokin’ set by the New Orleans Nightcrawlers at the Jazz and Heritage Stage. The reborn roots of Robert Plant, paired with Patty Griffin and the amazing string work of Buddy Miller were also especially captivating.
Whether shooting or not, where else could anyone experience the Kentucky bluegrass of Ricky Skaggs, move on to Robert Cray’s deep and soulful well and then witness an absolutely stunning performance by Ahmad Jamal, as I spent Saturday afternoon. Bluegrass, blues and straight ahead/to your head jazz – and that’s just a taste of a day, one of seven. Sunday could not have been a more diverse experience. From the “indie-folk-rock-grass” flavored and cheeky humor of Portland’s The Decemberists, Glen David Andrews joined by Marcia Ball, Amanda Shaw, Paul Sanchez and brother Troy ruling the Blues Tent, the consistently transcendent Terence Blanchard, the Bhangra Funk of Red Baraat, and yes, even John Mellencamp closing out Acura with Pink Houses and Crumblin’ Down.
Sure, some folks complained about sound and noise bleed from Congo Square or into the Jazz Tent. It’s all part of the gumbo that’s the Fest. Pretty tasty if you ask me.