A Breakdown of Red Baraat’s Sound: Bhangra, Jazz, and the In Between

Welcome to the world of Red Baraat, where music not only crosses borders and regions but redefines boundaries, genre, and as many expectations as possible!

Red Baraat performing "Sialkot," "Zindabad," "Bhangale," and "Se Hace Camino,” courtesy of NPR Music’s YouTube channel.

Red Baraat is, quite simply, a party. But it’s a unique and diversely influenced one, merging New Orleans street band jazz with North Indian Bhangra, blending hip-hop, jazz, raw punk energy, and funk into an ebullient celebration. In the words of the band’s founder and frontman Sunny Jain:

The goal of our performances is to blur the line between audience and band, bring the highest level of musicianship and improvisation, and then mask it all with some serious party grooves and vibes. Our live shows are filled with a ridiculous amount of energy so it can really deceive the audience when they initially see six horns and three drummers. People might automatically think ‘brass band’ and we are completely something different.

The Brooklyn-based eight-person ensemble describes their music as “dhol ‘n’ brass,” drawing on instruments typical to North Indian bhangra, including the double-headed dhol drum, and to New Orleans brass bands such as trumpets, trombones, and saxophones. This combination of influences and genres play a large part in creating Red Baraat’s unique sound, so let’s dig in a bit more!  

The dhol, a key part of bhangra’s Punjabi sound

The dhol, a key part of bhangra’s Punjabi sound

J.W. Pepper’s sousaphone, part of the tuba family and an icon of brass bands, named in honor of American marching band leader John Philip Sousa

J.W. Pepper’s sousaphone, part of the tuba family and an icon of brass bands, named in honor of American marching band leader John Philip Sousa

Brass itself is a fusion genre, providing common ground between Old and New World voices in the Crescent City by combining marching band music, African rhythms, and the budding sounds of jazz. By the time of brass bands’ golden era in the late 1800s, the bands had agreed to work together. Each band often its own sound and influences, but in finding common ground, brass became a movement that was entirely new and unique to New Orleans.

Bhangra has its roots in Punjabi folk music and in recent decades has circled the globe as bhangra pop, drawing from Bollywood tracks and Western pop alike. Bhangra itself is the brainchild of artists Gurdas Maan and Daler Mehndi who made local Punjabi music a global commodity. Red Baraat’s “serious party grooves and vibes” come right out of bhangra’s dance feel, which you may have encountered in wedding montage in Bend It Like Beckham or the final dance scene in Slumdog Millionaire. Though Sunny Jain only founded Red Baraat and their particular funky fusion in 2008, bhangra has a much longer history that’s tied to key moments not limited to Partition in 1947, a music fusion explosion in the 1960s, and the hip-hop revolution of the 1980s.

Let’s explore how bhangra has changed over time, its roots and various influences, and bhangra in the world today!

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1940’s

Bhangra music and dance dates back to the mid 20th century in the Punjab region of India, where it was originally a folk dance performed to celebrate the success of the harvest on Baisakhi, April 13th.

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1947

When india was granted independence in 1947 a free form style of Bhangra developed. The dance and music became part of wedding and New Year celebrations

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1967

Bhujhangy Group was founded by brothers Balbir Singh Khanpur and Dalbir Singh Khanpur. They created the first song to combine traditional Asian music with western instruments, which would be followed by further developments of this in bhangra.

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1990’s

Many artists turn to original, traditional folk beats, incorporating more dhol drum beats and tumbi aided by DJs who mixed hip hop samples with folk singing.

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Today

Bhangra has become more modernized with remixes and rapping. It has also traveled all around the world, influenced by every genre imaginable. You can find Bhangra workout classes and videos all over the globe.

See modern bhangra come to life and join the party with Red Baraat with Bollywood Dance Scene at The Cedar on Monday March 25th. Get tickets here.

Red Baraat performing live in the KEXP studio, courtesy of KEXP’s YouTube channel.