LIVE: Red Baraat @ the Music Haven, 7/12/15
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu, Andrzej Pilarczyk, Stanley Johnson
Change isn’t just inevitable – it’s unavoidable. As you go through life, you learn things and see things that impact your life whether you want them to or not. Red Baraat started out in 2008 as percussionist Sunny Jain’s souped-up take on Punjabi wedding bands and the Bhangra music that drives them. Since then, though, so many different influences have kicked the group’s driving, infectious sound up more than a few notches. Make no mistake, Jain and his partners still throw the best dance party ever; but as the crowd at Schenectady’s Music Haven saw, the music has moved well beyond Bollywood.
The opener “Horizon Line” (from RB’s latest release Gaadi of Truth) had equal helpings of Brooklyn and Bhangra as the front-line horn players boomed out the opening lyric while sousaphone player Kenny Bentley and drummers Chris Eddleston and Rohin Khemani helped Jain turn the beat well past 11. Jain stood center stage, wearing a shirt that was as resplendent as his Brooklyn-quality mustache as he beat his double-ended dhol drum like it wouldn’t stop stealing stuff. The mournful break by trombonist Ernest Stuart and trumpeter Sonny Singh had elements of the East to it, but John Goldenberger’s guitar solo was definitely Western as the dancers started forming to the left of the stage.
By the third song “Zindabad,” the whole area in front of the stage was a chock-full dance floor. That was more than okay for Jain, who preceded “Gaadi Of Truth” by asking the entre audience to move up to the front of the stage. “We need to feel you,” he implored. Once he had most of the crowd in front of him, the charismatic Jain gave them a quick tutorial in the “Punjabi fist pump” and then urged us all to “MAKE SOME NOISE!” If this sounds more like a hip-hop show, you’re not wrong: Between Jain’s ripping beats and Singh’s manic Hindi raps, throwing your hands in the air and waving them as if there’ll be no repercussions was less an activity as it was a duty.
Mind you, Red Baraat isn’t all about the beats. The musicianship this band exhibits is world-class. Jonathan Haffner’s soprano sax wailed all night long, while Singh’s trumpet solo on “Azad Azad” was tremendously soulful, as was Stuart’s spotlight moment during “Samaro Mantra.” The Sufi tune “Akhiyan Udeek Diyan” let Goldenberger work figures in and around Singh’s trumpet as the whole group took us off into space, while the drummers made it clear that a Second Line was always a possibility.
The closing pieces “Chaal Baby” and “Mast Kalander” were closer to Red Baraat’s early days, but by that point, those who had survived the band’s 90-minute onslaught were locked in to whatever Jain and his partners conjured up. When Jain began looking for volunteers to enter “the dance-off” during the wild “Shruggy Ji,” he could have filled the stage! The multicultural musical stew Red Baraat serves up tastes like nothing else you’ve ever had. It speaks to all ages, races, colors and creeds, and while the group may have started out as a “wedding band,” it can bring joy and laughter (and lots and LOTS of dancing) to any occasion!
Music Haven mastermind Mona Golub gets big love for choosing Boston’s Hot Tamale Brass Band as an opening act. When I first heard Red Baraat in 2010, I thought they were what the Rebirth Brass Band would sound like if they’d moved from New Orleans to New Delhi. Hot Tamale is steeped in the tradition of the NOLA street scene that created Rebirth and Dirty Dozen, and drummer Mickey Bones completed the picture by marching the band from behind Music Haven’s natural bleachers to right up on the stage, knocking out “Feel Like Funkin’ It Up” in fine, fine fashion. It was all NOLA, all the time for Bones and his red-hot sextet, up to and including their trip around the seats to a rollicking take on “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Ain’t no party like a NEW ORLEANS party… especially when Red Baraat takes it around the world.
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union