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.
In 2013 Red Baraat released Shruggy Ji, their second full length and first properly distributed record. It debuted at #1 on the Billboard World Music Charts. An even more estimable feat, considering the band chose to self-release the record on their own Sinj Records imprint. At the same time, Red Baraat occupied three of the top ten selling records on ITunes North American world music sales charts. In June, Red Baraat issued Big Talk, a platter of songs recorded during the Shruggy Ji sessions, which also includes remixes by friends and bandmates in TV on the Radio and Antibalas.
With their records receiving feature attention and critical praise in major outlets including the Wall Street Journal, NPR, Weekend Edition, and the BBC, the group’s frantic touring schedule continues without rest- touring nearly 200 dates a year, with major festivals like Bonnaroo, Central Park Summerstage, and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass behind them, and Austin City Limits, and Bumbershoot ahead. The group will also undertake tours of both India and Pakistan before the close of 2013.
If in theory, Red Baraat reads like some kind of ethnomusicologist’s academic dream, in practice, it’s a peyote dream. This is apparent from the needle drop on Shruggy Ji. 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. 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.
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. While searching for a set of tabla while on vacation 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.
“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.” Stepping away from the drum kit and an established career as a jazz drummer, Jain spent months seeking out specific players in the New York scene who he hoped could bring their own particular sound to bring his idea to life. “It’s the guys in the band that collectively come together to make up the sound of Red Baraat,” says Jain. Playing together for years it’s immediately clear that Red Baraat’s unique sound is as reflective of Jain’s original concept as it is of each of the individual member’s personality and playing.
While 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 criss-crossing the world’s stages. 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 August 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