Red Baraat incorporates three drummers, four horns, a guitarist and well-placed electronic effects
The inspiration for the band Red Baraat stretches back decades to when, on a trip to India, founder Sunny Jain first saw an Indian brass band. He was only 5-years-old at the time, but the experience stayed with him. When it came time to create his own brass band, however, Jain didn’t stick to traditional parameters of instrumentation or style.
“I wasn’t trying to just replicate an Indian brass band,” he says. “I wanted it to be a reflection of who I am as an Indian American, and also all the other guys in the band. While [the Indian brass band] was a seed of inspiration, I told the guys, ‘I want to be open to whatever ideas you might have and whatever sound you want to bring to the band as well.’”
The resulting sound is something special. With three drummers, four horn players, a recently added guitarist, and some well-placed electronic effects, the Brooklyn-based band is a full-sensory, multicultural experience that makes staying seated a challenge.
Jain is generally up front playing a double-headed Indian drum called a dhol, but that wasn’t always the case. An acclaimed jazz drummer who has worked with Norah Jones, Q-Tip, Peter Gabriel and others, Jain originally alternated between a drum set and the dhol, moving back and forth from the front of the stage to the back. But leading a band from behind has its challenges and Jain eventually asked one of the other drummers if he would stay on the drum kit so Jain could stay on the dhol.
“I enjoy the liberation and freedom of having my legs free, and standing up, and I can still play,” he says. “I can bounce around and even drop out sometimes because there are two other drummers.”
Red Baraat doesn’t have a designated frontman. This has always been the vision for the band—that various personalities can come forward on different songs. While Jain writes the majority of the music, the band helps to tighten it up, bring in new elements, and make changes. All that is just to get the foundational composition down; once Red Baraat takes to the stage, the songs change and evolve.
“Things take shape on the bandstand,” says Jain, explaining that in any given moment, the band will decide to stretch a song out, or open it up to improvisation just to see where it goes.
“Sometimes we realize, ‘Hey, that was cool, let’s just do that,’” he says. “Once you get onstage, things come together a lot quicker—there’s more focus and you’re feeding off energy from the audience.”
Jain equates this open style to jazz bands that play the same tunes night after night, but play them differently each time. After six years of playing together, Red Baraat embraces the approach and challenge.
“[The songs] travel differently and are interpreted differently from gig to gig,” he says. “We try to do that so we’re not dialing it in, and getting bored ourselves, and feeling [boredom] from the audience as well.”
With the multicultural makeup of the band, people regularly ask how they all met. Jain finds the question more than a little perplexing.
“In this day and age, how do we not know the other people?” he asks. “Why are we not taking it upon ourselves to educate and understand different cultures and other human beings? We’re all really connected,” he adds. “There’s no excuse for that ignorance to persist.”
On the new album, Gaadi of Truth, Red Baraat touches on stereotypes the members face, including being singled out by airport TSA and being inexplicably pulled over by police. On the title track—one of the few non-instrumental tracks—the lyrics recall the band being on the road and contending with racism: We feel a lot of love and see it on your faces / But sometimes we confront fear and hatred in certain places.
In addition to taking on social and cultural issues, Red Baraat’s music joyously balances the ancient and the modern. Jain doesn’t consciously try to do this—it’s just what naturally occurs when he draws from his own life, experiences and emotions.
“Everything is thrown into the pot,” he says. “Whether it’s the Indian influence, the rock influence, the Motown influence, the jazz influence—whatever music is in there … then it’s there for full use.”
Red Baraat will perform at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 22 at Moe’s Alley, 1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. $14/adv, $18/door. 479-1854.