With “world music” rapidly gaining in popularity, today’s scene features numerous bands who meld multiple genres into their oeuvre. However, one would be hard pressed to find another band who accomplishes this feat as successfully and as smoothly as Red Baraat. The Brooklyn-based outfit led by percussionist Sunny Jain utilizes dhol (a double-sided, North Indian shoulder drum), percussion, and horns to fuse elements of Indian Bhangara, New Orleans secondline, drum and bass, klezmer, and Balkan brass into one thrillingly cohesive sound. Their raucous debut album, Chaal Baby, showcases the band on their own original numbers, traditional Punjabi songs, and Bollywood tributes.
From the opening “Punjabi Wedding Song (Balle Balle),” it’s evident that this ensemble is in a celebratory mood. A constantly bubbling sousaphone and drum combination form a steady base for the horns to layer in their happy riffs while vocals accent the proceedings with jubilant chants. The intensity is immediately ratcheted up with the heavily percussive “Tunak Tunak Tun.” Those horns revel in a darker Eastern European mood until the four-minute mark, when everyone suddenly drops into a funk breakdown that would make any secondlining buckdancer smile. But just when you think you have you have a solid grip on what’s happening, the band is speeding up, gradually escalating the tempo toward a full-throttle finish.
The title track begins inside a cloak of Bollywood, but it’s not long before it’s sounding more like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. “Mehndi Laga Ke Rahkna” follows the now familiar formula of shifting tempos, although this particular number takes it to the extreme before crashing in an exhausted flameout. If a Northern Indian married an Orthodox Jew in Harlem, “Drum and Brass” would likely be a featured song in their wedding, as it blends a hypnotic riff with a swirling soprano sax and a funky bass groove. Said groove gets even funkier on “Arcana,” which sees its percussion fade in and deftly evolve from a straight-up traditional New Orleans rhythm, while its horns begin gently before moving to a raunchy apex and then quickly dissolving into the ether. Fans of riotous drum jams will dig the breakneck speed of “Hey Jamalo,” whose ending serves as a fine counterpoint to the steady opening pace of the dramatic “Aaj Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai.” Of course, by now, it would be foolish to expect any Red Baraat chart to languish in one place, so naturally, this one features a joyous detour through Western Africa before meeting its conclusion.
If one wanted to describe Chaal Baby in a single word, it would be “moving.” Not only does this music tug at one’s heartstrings and provide numerous moments of unbridled joy, but Red Baraat is a band who seems to be in a state of perpetual motion, incessantly alternating between the gas and break pedals. The word “moving” also applies to the listener because it’s damn hard to sit still while listening to these sprightly and often funked-out tunes. If Red Baraat can generate this much energy in the studio, it’s hard to fathom how many walls they could tear down live. Citizens of Jericho, consider yourselves warned.