Red Baraat

The place: a club in the middle of Brooklyn renowned for its sophisticated clientele, its receptivity to innovation, and its ideas from abroad. On a small stage in a tight, dimly lit back room, several musicians are whipping a New York City crowd into a frenzy with an unprecedented, high energy, gut-busting fusion of jazz, hip-hop beats, rock muscle, funky go-go, and scalding hot bhangra. A horn section blares, percussionists pound, everybody shouts, and the group’s charismatic leader, Sunny Jain, holds the explosive songs together with rhythms from his dhol – the Indian double-headed drum played slung over the shoulder that provides bhangra with its frenetic heartbeat. And just as it was the month before, the line of patrons who came to this club in Park Slope stretched out the door and down the block because they couldn’t get enough of Red Baraat – a riveting ensemble that NPR has dubbed “The best party band in years.”

Versatility is one the band’s hallmarks. Red Baraat can mesmerize an audience with a funk groove, turn a switch, and drive the same crowd to the brink of delirium. Since its formation in 2008 and those storied nights at Barbes in Park Slope, the magic of Red Baraat has spread far beyond New York City. The group’s second studio album in 2013, Shruggy Ji, debuted at #1 on the Billboard World Music charts and propelled the band on a nonstop three-year world tour that included appearances at Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD Festivals in Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Along the way they sold out rooms as diverse as the Luxembourg Philharmonic and New York City’s iconic Bowery Ballroom, and performed at the request of The White House, TED and Olympic Games. Yet no matter how much success and notoriety Red Baraat has achieved, Sunny Jain and his comrades have never stopped experimenting or adding new elements to their peculiar alchemy.

The group’s 2017 and third studio album, Bhangra Pirates, features a key element that the first two did not: guitarist Jonathan Goldberger, whose surreal textures and percussive playing is the ideal complement to Jain’s thunderous dhol. Additionally, the sonic pallet has further expanded with processed effects on both the dhol and sousaphone. The formidable Red Baraat horn section remains intact, while drummer Chris Eddleton draws his inspiration from hip-hop and rock. The album debuted at #4 on the World Music Charts Europe.

Each musician in the band pulls from distinct traditions while speaking through their instrument with their own particular musical vocabulary. That it works so well is a testament to Sunny Jain’s utopian vision and his faith that communication across cultures doesn’t have to be vexed in the slightest. All it takes is empathy, creativity, love, and willingness to abandon reservations and surrender to the spirit of music and the moment. This effortless outlook empowers Red Baraat to do 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. “The universality of what Red Baraat does is undeniable,” says Jain. “Bhangra Pirates embodies that push and pull in all of us…free spirit, community, rebellion, tradition, and new journeys.”

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A baraat, explains dholi and bandleader Sunny Jain, is an Indian wedding procession – one that includes a groom on top of a horse, friends and family singing and dancing, and usually led by a brass band. (The “red” part of the group’s handle refers both to the symbolic meaning of the color in Indian weddings and the passion he elicits from his musicians and from listeners). Jain was born and raised in Rochester, New York, but his family maintained close ties to India, and with regular summer visits throughout his childhood he applied what he learned from his cultural heritage to his musical education. The drummer and composer recorded several accomplished jazz albums with the Sunny Jain Collective and has collaborated with Norah Jones, Peter Gabriel, Q-Tip, and the acclaimed Pakistani Sufi-rock band Junoon, among many others. Yet he always dreamed of applying the celebratory energy of the Punjabi wedding bands he had encountered on his trips overseas to American jazz, rock, funk and pop. With Red Baraat, he has realized his ambition and taken the project in wild improvisatory directions he’d never anticipated.

Breaking English, the Anti- Records debut of New York composer and guitarist Rafiq Bhatia, seeks to shatter preconceptions about how much can be said without a word—and, for that matter, who can say it. Bhatia’s audacious first album as a producer sets out to challenge existing musical vocabulary with a language of its own.

In 2012, Bhatia issued two improvisation-driven recordings whose surreal sonics “set them miles apart from the vast majority of records by jazz musicians” (New York Times). These releases earned immediate acclaim; the Washington Post observed, “Instead of haggling over jazz’s traditional perimeters, both recordings employ the sonic language of hip-hop and electronic composition to press toward a more interesting future.” But with his next project, Bhatia felt compelled to find a more personal path forward. For most of his listening life, he’d loved records in which familiar sounds were refashioned into wonderfully alien strains, where iconoclastic ideas met cutting-edge technology to yield a new lexicon. Making music like this would mean reaching beyond his six strings and customarily collaborative approach, especially his reliance on outside producers. To get where he needed to go, he would need to learn how to sculpt sound for himself.

It was during this period of reinvention that Bhatia joined Son Lux, a studio-centered project in which producer Ryan Lott used software to warp found sounds into dazzling electronic experiments. Son Lux afforded Bhatia the chance to record with the likes of Lorde and Sufjan Stevens, but, more important, it gave him the support he needed to develop his voice as a producer—the process that ultimately yielded Breaking English.

The resulting album ruptures the hermetic vernacular of ambient sculpturalism with the emotional intensity of avant-garde jazz, using the techniques of the former to achieve the feeling of the latter. Its language is centered on contrast, with opposing strains juxtaposed in order to throw each other into sharper relief—the organic feels more vibrant in the context of the mechanical, the otherworldly more ethereal in light of the ordinary. Throughout, Bhatia’s guitar is just one part of a teeming, much bigger picture. Tense violin, exhaled gospel vocals, ricocheting drums and foreboding bass also populate Breaking English, all characters in an enveloping piece of musical cinema.

Bhatia is the first-generation American son of Muslim immigrant parents who trace their ancestry to India by way of East Africa. Early influences such as Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, and Madlib—as well as mentors and collaborators including Vijay Iyer and Billy Hart—prompted him to see music as a way to actively shape and represent his own identity, not limited by anyone else’s prescribed perspective. Bhatia’s embrace of the electronic realm bolsters his ability to express hybridity. At times, he uses the studio to destabilize, twisting the stereotypes of Indian music he heard as a child into noise beyond recognition. But frequently, he exaggerates the human qualities of the sound he mines, conveying intimacy and tension through elements many producers would scrub clean.

All told, Bhatia seamlessly integrates dozens of different ideas throughout Breaking English. Take the title track, a marvelous chimera of deconstructed soul, where skittering drums dodge explosions of white noise as a detuned choir gasps for air. Trips to the Great Rift Valley of Africa and the mosques of Istanbul inspired the swirl of sculpted noise that begins the album. His horror with the news of these last several American years and his empathy for the Black Lives Matter movement supercharge the menacing “Hoods Up.” A fascination with avant-garde cuisine actually helped to shape “The Overview Effect,” a breathtaking piece that expresses the overwhelming fragility of the Earth as seen from outer space. The contaminated orchestra of “Olduvai II — We Are Humans With Blood In Our Veins” bottles the nightmare of waking up brown in America on November 9, 2016.

From start to finish, Breaking English suggests one very deep breath, one instant capable of carrying so much. Beauty, violence, death, rebirth—it’s all tucked into the two-movement “Perihelion,” an eight-minute descent into the sun that uses distance and perspective to ponder the line where what dazzles us can destroy us, where something so sustaining can turn sinister. That Icarus-like enticement speaks to Breaking English, an album that required an already-accomplished musician to abandon what he knew and test his own limits. That risk rewards repeatedly here, on a record that funnels a universe of anxiety, hope, and inspiration into one singularly provocative and mesmerizing statement.

Anti- Records will release Breaking English on April 6, 2018.

$18.00 - $22.00

Tickets

RED BARAAT FESTIVAL OF COLORS is a touring celebration of HOLI, a Hindu holiday marked by public gatherings of families, friends, and strangers rejoicing in song, dance, and the exchange of “colors." The holiday signifies the victory of good over evil, the arrival of spring, an opportunity to meet others, play and laugh, forget and forgive, and repair ruptured relationships. It is celebrated at the approach of vernal equinox on the Phalguna Purnima (Full Moon). 

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