Red Baraat's joyous energy is instantly infectious. Eight musicians piled onto a stage, devotedly kicking out Brooklyn bhangra — a mix of North Indian bhangra, D.C go-go, jazz, hip-hop, and New York City edge — will put a smile on your face, and then make you move.
And that's really the point. The seeds for Red Baraat were planted at a wedding, after all. (A baraat is a groom's procession during North Indian and Pakistani weddings.)
Sunny Jain, the band's front man and dhol player, transcribed a few traditional songs for his wedding, and had a large group of his musician friends play him into the ceremony on a festive baraat.
"This quickly kind of spread to doing other weddings around" New York State, Jain says. "I found out that there was no baraat brass band, which is super popular in India; they didn't have any in the states in 2005."
His group started to play all over the place and Jain, seeing the potential, formed Red Baraat in 2008.
"It started out with that exuberance and that joy," he says. "And that's still there because I think the underlying idea that we have is community and unity. And diversity, which is represented out in the audience, and certainly represented on the bandstand."
Jain was born in Rochester and grew up with the North Indian traditions and classical music of his heritage.
"Growing up to Indian classical music, I was just drawn to rhythm," he says. Jain was a student in the Rush-Henrietta Central School District, and when he was 9 years old and able to take music lessons, he went for the drums.
But "the only thing they offered at that point were strings," he says. "So I took violin because my brother and sister played violin. I was horrendous at it — I remember getting a 'D for disgrace.'"
The following year, drums were offered and Jain hopped to it immediately. On his first lesson, he walked in and the drum teacher was doing an impressive buzz roll, he says.
"My jaw dropped," he says. "I was like, 'Holy shit, this sounds amazing. Who is this guy, and how is he playing this perfect roll?' And it was Rich Thompson.'"
Jain studied with Thompson, who is now an associate professor at Eastman, and was introduced to jazz, samba, and swing, and icons such as Art Blakey, Max Roach, and Elvin Jones.
"Jazz hit me because it was rhythmically fascinating to me," Jain says. "I grew up to Indian music and that rhythm is fascinating, and then jazz was another bend to that; it was something I could understand. My main motivation at that point was to understand."
Jain was heavily integrated into Indian culture and the local community, but he says he kept that separate from his drum playing while he was in school. It wasn't until he was in college, studying drums at Rutgers University, that the music that he grew up listening to started to come through in his own compositions.
"It really started happening when I started composing," he says. "It wasn't something that was coming through drumming; it was coming through melody, and the rhythms started coming later. I think it was a couple of my teachers who really pushed me and said, 'Write what you hear.'"
After finishing at Rutgers, Jain found his way to Brooklyn and started playing around the city while pursuing a master's degree in music business. But by the time that Red Baraat started to come together, Jain felt disgruntled and discouraged by the scene, he says, and "wanted to play with musicians who just feel more joy. I wasn't getting that for whatever reason, with the exception of a few."
When he put together Red Baraat, he "was specifically trying to look outside the jazz community that I knew, and tried to find musicians who played other kinds of music. I didn't want this to be another jazz project; I didn't want it to go into that community only. I wanted it to be more open, flexible, and malleable."
The diversity of Red Baraat's members and their tastes come through in the band's music. While Jain's bhangra influence drives the boat, the whole thing is really glued together by funky horns and rockin' guitar and shaped by an adventurous jazz spirit and charismatic attitude.
"Any music that is written, it really comes to life with the performers," Jain says. "Before that, it's something that lays on a sheet of paper. When a musician plays it, it has personality, and it takes on a whole different animal. And that's a huge thing for Red Baraat."
Red Baraat will perform Friday, July 1, at Harro East Ballroom, 155 North Chestnut Street. 5:30 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. Tickets are $30, or you can use your Club Pass. redbaraat.com
City Newspaper's guide to Rochester's biggest music festival. The 2016 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival runs Friday, June 24, through Saturday, July 2. For more reviews, blogs, photos, and the latest news, check our website every day of the festival.
The 2016 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival runs Friday, June 24, through Saturday, July 2, and City Newspaper will be out every night of the festival, covering multiple shows.