Sonic Transportations

With their solid debut release Chaal, Baby, Red Baraat instantly transports us all to the long lost, future-envisioned sonic world that exists between New Orleans and Punjab, India. Featuring an astonishingly wide range of percussive elements and horn arrangements, the album is an explosive example of what can happen when musical cultures from the streets successfully converge: high voltage sound that everyone can instantly flash mob to.

Balance between fusion and confusion, the two ends of the creative spectrum as noted by the great Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, is always something difficult to achieve when cultures come together in front of the mic. Red Baraat deftly avoids confusion and emerges with celebratory aplomb. What the group, led by dholi and percussionist Sunny Jain, displays with Chaal, Baby is an obvious reverence and knowledge of the music of the streets, both in India and New Orleans.

"Tunak Tunak Tun," the album's second track, opens with a classical tabla (north Indian drum) composition adapted to dhol (Punjabi folk drum). From there, the track accelerates to full throttle. Tight horn arrangements support a technically expressive sousaphone solo followed by a soprano solo. Are we in India or on the streets of Nawlins? We soon get our answer when the track switches to a steadily faster swing feel, featuring a trombone solo supported by dhol and sousaphone. Nawlins for sure...

These kind of beautifully orchestrated rhythmic and cultural shifts are featured throughout the album, keeping Chaal, Baby's energy evergreen and constantly engaging.

In this album, Red Baraat is talking about street music of human beings everywhere featuring horns and super loud drums. They are talking about parades. They are talking about music of the mustard seed harvest. Most of all, they are talking about weddings taking over city blocks and village squares. It is music that connects people where they commune everywhere on the planet. It's music that can't be contained inside four walls, and can only exist in the streets. Every culture has it, and when put together well, the sound can be infectious.

And Chaal, Baby is definitely infectious. The entire time I was listening to it, I wanted to turn it up. I wanted to see it live. Each track is peppered generously with wicked drum solos, dynamic rhythmic shifts, and plenty of room for raucous solos by horn players and more. It's a very rhythm focused album, but not all the rhythms are straight. The arrangements and solos dance in triplets and increasing tempos, like those in any well-oiled marching band. It's an obvious consequence of having a true drummer driving the band. Sunny Jain's arrangement prowess is on full display in this album, all the more so because he understands rhythm. Just listen to "Hey Jamalo," a track that features Sunny Jain delivering a frenetic and clearly articulated dhol breakdown mid way through the track.

Sunny also understands Bollywood. Tracks like "Dum Maro Dum" give much love to the beloved brilliance of RD Burman, among the greatest Bollywood film composers of all time. The arrangement in this particular track creeps into the hook, known to millions around the world, and then quickly brings us two gorgeous solos before returning us to a brilliant closing arrangement ending in "Hare Raam." Nicely done.

Raw energy pervades the overall recording itself, captured in obviously near-single takes with little post-production artificiality. These are pure instruments with no electrical amplification, powered by humans, and captured only through mics. It comes through brightly in the production and engineering of the album, and ultimately why Red Baraat's debut recording succeeds. It harkens us all towards that same street energy captured in the recordings of the legendary Rebirth Brass Band.

Although the album triumphs in most areas, I think the album could benefit from more direct feminine influence. With so many drums, and so many men playing them, it just seems that between these two complex musical cultures, surely there is room for a woman drummer?

Although not overtly, a kind of feminine sweetness shines through most on the album's closing track, "Samaro Mantra." The track opens with funeral dirge snare drum, and gently introduces a bhajan like melody that sweetens the sadness. Like all power infused mantras, it gives us a sense of balance and closure. The track features an especially clear and lofty soprano saxophone solo backed by groovy sousaphone. It's the perfect ending to a heart thumping series of tracks, and a clear indication of Sunny Jain's overall musical sensitivity and versatility.

If you love marching bands, you will like Red Baraat. If you like your marching bands rocking out slick New Orleans basslines with Punjabi dhol and Bollywood insanity, you will definitely love Red Baraat.


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