Yes In My Backyard is a semiweekly column showcasing MP3s from new and emerging local talent.
Brooklyn nine-piece party-starters Red Baraat are thus far the most exciting local prospect of this short year, a fiery blend of raucous Indian bhangra and funky New Orleans brass. Yeah that’s right–New York doesn’t even have a fusion restaurant that mixes those two. The result, needless to say, is completely riotous, a blustery groove machine with the comforting hoot of a tuba, two backbeats fighting for attention, saxophones that spiral and wail, and the violent percussive scamper of a lead dholi Sunny Jain. Their debut CD, Chaal Baby (available now for download, and in physical form at their CD release party on the 30th) is an unstoppable blend of Bollywood hijacks and funk freakier than anything Madlib picked up on his trip to India. Opening track “Punjabi Wedding Song (Balle Balle)” is a cover of a track featured in the Bollywood rom-com Bride and Prejudice, but Red Baraat kicks it up until the drums are tommygun blasts and the melody is a punkish scream.
What is “Punjabi Wedding Song” about?
It’s essentially a playful song between the men and women before a wedding is about to take place. One translation of some of the lyrics is: “These beautiful girls dangle in front of us like flying kites without a string.” Balle Balle is a Punjabi term that has no direct meaning but is used during good times as an exclamation of “bravo!” It’s such a fun song to play and it works so well in brass band context.
How did you put such a unique band together?
Red Baraat, before the band was even named, had its birth on my wedding day, August 27, 2005. In typical North Indian tradition, I had a baraat–a wedding processional consisting of singing, dancing and music from groom’s side to meet the bride’s side–that a bunch my musician friends brought me in with. Shortly thereafter, I started receiving calls as people heard about there being a marching band in town for Indian weddings. I put a 5-piece band together and we played our first couple of baraats in the summer of 2006. The word spread very quickly after that and since then we’ve been playing close to 30 weddings or more a year. I didn’t form what’s now known as Red Baraat and take it public until late 2008. As I started thinking of instrumentation and players, I knew that I wanted a wide variety of voices and musical personalities to make up the sound of Red Baraat and no electrified instruments. The musicians that make up Red Baraat were all the first calls for the band. I pretty much told them that I was starting a project akin to Fela Kuti’s Afrobeat, but on the Indian tip and that it’s going to be all acoustic… I wanted the band sound to develop organically with everyone imprinting their background into the music and not just approaching it as a typified genre. After all, everyone in the band is a musician living in New York City, which has a host of global sounds swirling around and all of this may find its way into Red Baraat.
How did you get into playing the dhol?
I picked up the dhol around 2002 and instantly fell in love with playing it. I grew up with various Indian music, from Bollywood to bhajans [religious songs] and bhangra, and so it was a sound I was familiar with. I just took to it. There’s something very primal and exciting playing the dhol that gets people going and simply resonates with me. I had seen various dhol players in India and so in the beginning, I tried teaching myself but then ended up needing to take some lessons from a good friend, Dave Sharma. From there, YouTube and audio recordings became my teacher. My first “real” gig playing dhol was actually subbing for Dave on the Broadway show Bombay Dreams.
Are there traveling challenges with a sousaphone in your lineup?
We’ve been fortunate enough to link up with local musicians and or schools to borrow sousaphones when out of town. While in town, John Altieri, our sousaphone player, has a car and so it’s all good.
What’s your favorite place to eat in Brooklyn?
Hands down, it’s Abistro, right in our Fort Greene neighborhood on Carlton and Myrtle. Just ate there this past weekend and try to go at least once a month, if not twice. It’s Senegalese-French fusion and the head chef/co-owner, Abdoul Gueye, makes the most amazing sauces. What makes it even more killing is that they can substitute just about any of their entrees with tofu, which works well for me because I’m vegetarian. On top of that, it’s BYOB! Just bring a bottle of wine and let the food tantalize your taste buds.
Red Baraat’s CD release party is at (Le) Poisson Rouge on Janury 30, with Pistolera & Gabriel Teodros