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Enjoy Magazine

Red Baraat Brings North Indian Bhangra to Chico

07/20/2016 11:00AM ● By Phil Reser

Drumroll Please

August 2016
By Phil Reser

Red Baraat is wild, and loud. It’s also a genre unto itself. 

This Brooklyn ensemble self-identifies as “dhol ‘n’ brass,” a hybrid of Indian bhangra, contemporary Indian dance music that mixes Punjabi folk beats with popular contemporary genres, and New Orleans brass band music. 

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. 

The creator of this 8-piece band, known as one of the best party bands around, is drummer and musical composer Sunny Jain. 

Jain is recognized as a lead voice in an emerging movement of South Asian-American jazz musicians who bring together America’s greatest original art form and the ancient sounds of their cultural heritage.

He took up formal drum instruction at age 10 and studied jazz two years later, citing the work of masters like Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Max Roach, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones and Roy Haynes as early influences, while later studying jazz at Rutgers University and New
York University.   

Jain was also moved by the music of Indian-born percussionist Trilok Gurtu and the Indian fusion projects of British guitarist John McLaughlin, but the London-based electronic dance music of artists like Talvin Singh and the Asian Dub Foundation exerted the greatest influence on him. 

He 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. He appeared regularly in DownBeat magazine critics’ polls as he led his own bands and kept beat for folks like Norah Jones, Kenny Wollesen and Kyle Eastwood. He also played and traveled the world as drummer with Junoon, Pakistan’s pioneering Sufi rock band.

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. 

The instrument inspired Jain 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 as a first-generation Indian American raised in Rochester, New York with Western rock music like Led Zeppelin, Genesis and Rush.

Spending time as a highly regarded jazz drummer, Jain worked with the likes of Peter Gabriel, David Byrne and St. Vincent, and was used to being out of the spotlight at the back of the stage, knocking out his complex drum patterns.

But after creating Red Baraat in 2008, he became their frontman, playing the dhol, a barrel-like Punjabi drum that is slung over a shoulder. This allows Jain the freedom of movement for the band’s live performances, which entails lots of call-and-response, Punjabi singing, rap and unpredictable, contagious physicality. 

“I wanted the dhol to become the lead Indian instrument, as opposed to a sitar, tabla or Indian vocalist, where it was a big band – where all instruments were acoustic, where the sound and vibe of a large acoustic band would unexpectedly overcome people with exhilaration.”

Red Baraat has performed at the White House, the flagship TED Conference in 2012 and Google’s Mountain View Campus, and the band closed the London 2012 Paralympic Games. It is building a startling history of performances in iconic settings, but its bread and butter remains the sweaty clubs, festivals, packed performing arts centers and college auditoriums that have kept the band on the road for nearly 200 dates a year. 

Besides Sunny Jain on the dhol, the band members are percussionist Rohin Khemani, Chris Eddleton on drum set, guitarist Jonathan Goldberger, soprano sax player Jonathon Haffner, Sonny Singh on trumpet, trombone player Ernest Stuart, and Steven Duffy on sousaphone.

As Jain points out, “The strength of our band is that the spotlight changes throughout a performance, giving each member the limelight to display their talent and virtuosity. The goal of our performances is to blur the line between audience and band, bring the highest level of musicianship and improvisation, and then mask it all with some serious party grooves and vibes. Our live shows are filled with a ridiculous amount of energy so it can really deceive the audience when they initially see six horns and three drummers. People might automatically think ‘brass band’ and we are completely something different.” 

Thursday, Aug. 25

Lost On Main, Chico • 319 Main St. •