Arts Desk

Red Baraat’s Sunny Jain on Marrying Bhangra, Brass, and Go-Go

Red Baraat’s musical approach almost seems too contrived: Bhangra meets New Orleans brass meets jazz and funk and go-go. But since this Brooklyn nine-piece group formed a little over three years ago, it's made this largely instrumental style work, and garnished a following to show for it. The group includes three percussionists and six horn players, and tonight they're playing an early show at U Street Music Hall. I traded a few emails recently with Sunny Jain, the group's leader and dhol player.

Jain says he formed the group to bring together the various musical cultures that are a part of his life. “Much of my composing centers around my identity as an Indian-American, and music has always served as a bridge to the two cultures that felt so disparate when growing up,” he writes.  “While leading a jazz quartet as a drum set player for the past 10 years, I found myself gravitating towards the dhol drum. In the fall of 2008, the next natural step in my creative process was to start up Red Baraat, with the intention of creating a large, acoustic band that brought a powerful, primal sound."

The dhol is a double-sided barrel-shaped North Indian drum slung over one shoulder. The instrument "is synonymous with Bhangra, the folk and dance music of Punjab,” Jain writes. Brass bands are not just an American thing.  ”Having seen brass bands in the streets of India during childhood visits,” says Jain, “ I wanted to meld these sounds with the American sounds of funk, jazz, go-go—a musical collection reflecting global unity, which is not only found in the make-up of the band, but also in our audiences.”

Red Baraat has released two albums that are each reflective of the times when they were recorded. The songs on the studio-recorded Chaal Baby were largely composed or arranged by Jain, while a subsequent live album, Bootleg Bhangra followed two years of performing. For the band's upcoming sophomore studio record, Shruggy Ji, several members of the band contributed compositions. "The sound of the band has grown tremendously by depth and emotion since our inception, and this next album captures that,” Jain writes.

As a consumer, Jain’s own musical interests go beyond the speedy dhol-and-brass party rhythms of the group.  “I’ve been listening to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan while running.  The way Sufi numbers unfold creates a meditative space that I lose myself in…which also benefits my exercise time, “ he says. “Otherwise, my playlist shuffles pretty regularly depending upon mood….Deerhoof, Prefuse 73, Nitin Sawhney, Talvin Singh, Pains of Being Pure at Heart, My Pet Dragon, Coltrane.”

Red Baraat performs tonight at 7 p.m. at U Street Music Hall. $15.

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