There’s a scene in Satyajit Ray’s classic 1959 Indian film Apur Sansar (Bengali: “The World of Apu”) where a terrified bridegroom is escorted to his nuptials by a brass band blaringly exuding a rendition of “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” My sixth sense at the time told me that this was a poke at the English monarchy ruling the subcontinent during the storyline. Later I found out that the Indian wedding brass band is indeed an institution and as much a part of the ceremonial ritual as the costumes. So naturally in today’s world of music, there should appear Red Baraat, a cross-pollinated octet of the real thing, with the usual touches of Western pop instrumentation and approach to keep ears and eyes interested when they hit Hemming Plaza in Downtown on Saturday, Oct. 3.
Red Baraat are an unabashed party band but with enough twists and turns to keep them booked at venues as prestigious as Bonnaroo, Monterey Jazz Festival, Austin City Limits, NPR’s Tiny Desk Series (“One of the best party bands around”), concerts with The Luxembourg Symphony; even The White House.
Their release, Shruggy Ji, topped Billboard World Music Charts and, as a non-stop road machine, they’re earning new listeners everywhere. Thus Red Baraat’s Sousaphone (the marching tuba) player feeds his horn through a multi-effects processor to add more “oomph” for which the instrument had been intended.
On the downside, as a multiethnic, multiracial band, they arouse their fair share of suspicions wherever they go. They’ve been pulled over by cops in the South — two members are African American and trumpeter Sonny Singh is of the Sikh religious sect and is routinely detained by TSA in airports from sea to shining sea … it’s the turban, folks. Interestingly enough, however, they were a hit at the 2013 Mardi Gras, smack dab strutting their way through Vieux Carré and fitting right in. There’s gotta be some irony in that, readers: Punjabi Hindus, a Sikh horn man, et al. as ingredients for instant acceptance in the birthplace of all that’s good in American music.
As a brass-based band, it’s hard not to hear the world in their music. One moment it’s jazz funeral from New Orleans, and a somber reggae/ska pulse the next. Elements of a Fourth of July New England town concert and Ives-like polytones make their way in as well. Coloring the proceedings throughout is a joyful percussion section, making beats from Bollywood show numbers to Latin timbales.
I hear as much Tito Puente as Alla Rakha in their beats.
Back to the party band, though; I’ve always held that music is more for unifying than expression, or perhaps it’s the desire for expression that arouses and unifies this essential human spirit. The wheel will keep going around and around if you let it. Ceremony also brings people together and few musicians take on that gig day to day. Eight guys doing the real thing in Red Baraat … I believe they’d agree.