5 Questions with Sunny Jain of Red Baraat

Red Baraat will be in New Orleans for three shows and two parades leading up to Fat Tuesday. They headline the Blue Nile on Sunday night, open for Galactic on Monday night, and play at the Hi Ho Lounge on Mardi Gras. I caught up with the band’s leader and dohl player Sunny Jain to get some insight on what they are expecting for their first visit to New Orleans during Carnival.

Your Jazz Fest performance in 2011 really put the band on the map in New Orleans. I was there and noticed that the crowd was really diverse. Mardi Gras Indians and east Indians, young hipsters and old hippies were dancing like crazy. To what do you attribute such a broad fan base?

That was the band’s first time in NOLA and what an amazing time…so much love in NOLA. It’s always struck us how diverse our audiences are and I think it’s because there’s something in our music for everyone. Even though rooted in Punjabi rhythms and Indian melodies, there’s a heavy component of jazz, go-go, hip-hop, and rock.

People can always relate to something in our music, no matter what background they are coming from. Moreover, we are always having a blast onstage performing and we’re throwing out tons of energy. Audiences see and feel that and I think are naturally drawn to it.

Before you started the band, you were known as part of the jam band scene. How did those experiences influence the sound of Red Baraat?

Well, I was actually more part of the jazz community, although I did have some crossover shows. It’s really been my musical journey and upbringing as an Indian-American that spawned Red Baraat and shaped our sound. Ultimately though, it’s each band member’s openness to all types of music and musical background that has influenced our sound. We’re able to balance maintaining individuality in a collective, unified sound.

Many observers have noted that the instrumentation of the band roughly corresponds to that of a New Orleans brass band. How does your rhythmic beat differ from the clave beat at the heart of New Orleans and Caribbean music?

Music is a beautiful thing. It’s a universal language that no matter where you travel and what language you vocalize, you can communicate with any musician through sound.

Punjabi rhythms, specifically Bhangra, has a swing and buoyancy that comes together with so many types of music, especially New Orleans brass music. But there are other Indian rhythms we are playing, such as dhammal, which is related to Sufi music and involves a trance like state. Hard to describe the differences and similarities without playing music. But I can say NOLA will hear more similarities than anything, but with a twist. A Red Baraat twist.

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You are opening for Galactic at Tipitina’s on Lundi Gras night, and then you have a full day of parading and a show on Fat Tuesday. Their shows typically end at dawn. Are you and the other band members doing anything specific to prepare for such a marathon day?

I don’t know that there is anything we can do to prepare except get excited and join in on the festivities, ha! We’re psyched to be coming down for Mardi Gras and honored to be opening up for Galactic. We’re gonna just keep the party going whenever given the opportunity.

You have been to New Orleans and soaked up the culture and vibe, but Carnival is a whole different animal. What are you most looking forward to?

Surviving…haha. But seriously, performing, hearing Mardi Gras Indians, seeing friends, meeting new folks, eating amazing food…having an experience of lifetime. We love NOLA!

Top photo: Erin Patrice O’Brian | Bottom photo: Stephen Welsh

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