When Sunny Jain found inspiration to create Red Baraat, a funky bhangra brass band led by his dhol’s high-energy Punjab rhythms, he did not realize he was designing a band tailor-made for a blowout in New Orleans.
Growing up, Jain split his time between New York and India, exposing himself to the wonders of jazz music and to the rhythms of Punjab that are wildly popular in Indian culture. Upon discovering the dhol, an Indian drum, as the driving force of Punjab music and realizing that no one had developed a band with the dhol as lead, Jain set off to find a band made to support the drum. “You play [the dhol] during harvest season,” he says. “It’s very connected to the earth. It’s very primal, so I wanted something that stayed in the realm of that primal instinct. That’s why, specifically, there’s no guitars, there’s no keyboards, there’s no electrified instruments. We could hit the streets or we can get onstage.”
Red Baraat is quickly becoming known for its high energy concerts that leave both audiences and band members exhausted by the second set. “Our goal is to get the energy so ridiculous that everyone leaves the show drenched,” he says. “We just played the Mercury Lounge, a rock club here in New York, and after the show all my clothes were wet—my shirt, my pants, my socks, half the crowd was wet.” Red Baraat wants the “audience and the band to be inextricable from each other,” so that “there’s no audience over here and a band onstage, so that everyone experiences it all together.”
According to Jain, brass instruments came to India from Europe in the 17th Century, and the Indians who tried out their own Eastern melodies on the horns made Indian brass bands commonplace in today’s weddings and celebrations. For Jain, an Indian folk brass band led by a dhol was not a huge leap. Yet, for some not exposed to the traditions of Punjabi culture, the music finds a home in other ways. “A lot of people hear different sounds and one of the main sounds is a New Orleans brass band, which I never really intended at all. There are Brazilians that hear the samba or maracatu in it. It can be taken in by anyone that has a musical background; they hear something in our music that resonates with them.”
Red Baraat plays Friday, October 28 at 6:15 p.m. on the WWOZ Stage.