Q&A with Sunny Jain


He’s the founder and front man of the band you should all be listening to, Red Baraat, the masters of Desi fusion who hail from the streets of Brooklyn, and have gone on to perform for President Obama at the White House and the 2012 Paralympics in London.

Sunny Jain is the king of the dhol drum and creative lyricist who has, without knowing it, set the band on a course for world domination.

So, first and foremost, what was the idea behind forming Red Baraat?

Red Baraat was really something that was a natural progression in my creative process. Having seen brass bands in the streets of India during childhood visits, I wanted to meld those sounds with the American sounds of funk, jazz, go-go, hip-hop, rock that I grew up with as well. For me, music serves as a bridge for the two cultures I grew up with, the Indian culture and American culture. I had difficulty growing up balancing and intertwining these two sides, so music has always served as my expression and/or attempt to reconcile that. So while I was leading a jazz quartet as a drum set player for the past 10 years and fusing Indian sounds with jazz, I found myself gravitating towards the dhol drum. In the Fall of 2008, I started up Red Baraat, with the intention of creating a large, acoustic band that brought a powerful, primal sound. As I started thinking of instrumentation, I also knew that I wanted a wide variety of musical voices and to make up the sound of Red Baraat and no electrified instruments, just drums and horns. I knew all these guys by living and playing in NYC through a variety of settings. It’s the guys in the band that collectively make up the sound of Red Baraat. Drumset player Tomas Fujiwara is a noted jazz drummer and was also part of the percussive theatrical show “STOMP” for several years. Percussionist Rohin Khemani plays jazz, pop and is drum kit player in addition to being a world percussionist. He also has a background in Indian classical music, such as tabla. Trumpet player Sonny Singh comes from a ska/reggae background and also adds dynamite vocals in Punjabi and Spanish. Our sousaphone player, John Altieri lays down the funky bass lines, has a background in classical music and also raps. Mike Bomwell really soars on the soprano sax and plays a variety of styles. Trombonist Ernest Stuart, aka, Surfer Brown, comes from a jazz background and is a powerhouse horn player. MiWi La Lupa, our bass trumpeter, is the glue in the horn section, hitting those melodies, soloing, but also creating some wonderful harmonies. He also adds vocals in the band.

What is your reaction to the success the band has seen in a very short period?

It’s great to see our audiences grow and to see how diverse it is. It was never my intention, but with some sense of success, comes the responsibility of wanting to be able to bring all communities together as human beings, separated by nothing else. Personally, we’re all still musicians that have a desire to create and perform, and that passion is worn on our sleeve at every show, no matter if it’s a hundred people or thousands of people.  That being said, we’re all super grateful and happy to see our music resonating with so many people and we plan to continue building a community of pluralism through our music.

What gets your audience most excited about your music?

I think it’s the uniqueness of our sound, the energy we put out onstage and the sense of inclusion and community we emit. There is loads of energy onstage sound-wise and movement-wise and we aim to transfer that to our audiences so that the line between band and audience gets blurred.  It’s a big party.  Our goal is to get a sea of humanity jumping, dancing and vocalizing with us. It’s music that brings people together and builds community. The Brooklyn Bhangra sounds of the wooden barrel dhol and drums and the brazen clashes of the horns will surely incite any soul.

Is it ok to say that Red Baraat music is a genre in itself?

I grew up with various types of Indian music such as Hindustani, Bhangra, Bollywood and Bhajans, along with the Western sounds of jazz rock and hip-hop.  All these musical influences inform my compositional process.  So while our sound is rooted in my experience as an Indian-American, the band’s diverse musical sensibilities make up our collective sound. Most of us have a background in jazz music and so that improvisational character is a crucial component to Red Baraat’s music, however, some of us also have a background in Hindustani music, funk, ska, classical, go-go, Latin, Brazilian, and R&B. There’s a mash of global influence entering into Red Baraat’s sound and it’s something that’s just developed organically, as a band playing together a lot. Is it a genre unto itself? Perhaps, but it’s not something we focus on.

How was it to perform at the White House?

The experience of performing with Red Baraat at the White House was a personal and career milestone. It was an honour and privilege to be asked to perform and join the National Philanthropic Briefing on the Initiative on Asian-American and Pacific Islanders. It was illuminating and inspiring to be among so many talented and committed individuals working on behalf of the AAPI community, because my artistic vision has always cantered on expressing my culture as a first generation Indian-American through music. And it was great to see all these political leaders dancing to our music!

When are you coming to India?

There’s a tour being put together by the US Department of State to Pakistan and we’d most likely come to India at that time. It’s a bit early right now and so I don’t have concrete dates, but we’re very much looking forward to getting to the Motherland.

What’s next for you and Red Baraat?

We’re about to release a digital album, Big Talk, which has some unreleased material and remixes by some great artists/friends: Chico Mann, Dave Sharma, Caleb Burhans and Smoota. We’re also touring a bunch this Summer and Fall: Wakarusa, Central Park Summerstage, Stern Grove Festival, Vancouver Jazz Festival, Austin City Limits.

Where to catch Red Baraat…

Jun 28 – Vancouver, BC @ The Vogue Theatre – TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival
Jul 14 – New York, NY @ Central Park Summerstage
Jul 19 – Los Angeles, CA @ FIGat7th Downtown Festival
Jul 21 – San Francisco, CA @ Stern Grove Festival
Jul 27 – Boston, MA @ Copley Square – WGBH / Boston Globe Summer Arts Weekend

Do check out their latest album Big Talk.

You can follow Red Baraat at redbaraat.com, facebook and twitter.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter+1Share via email