The Bowery Ballroom was packed to the edges. People had come to watch Red Baraat celebrate Holi, the Indian festival of colors. But on this Sunday night it was aptly to be described as a festival of sounds. Holi is a Hindu holiday marked by song, dance, and the “exchange” of colors. Well, tonight colors were exchanged for sound, in what might have been a case of 500 plus people all experiencing synesthesia for the first time.
Red Baraat has built a reputation as one of the premiere party bands in New York. They’ve led a TED talk and tour constantly. They wrapped up four straight days of performing for Holi with a return home to Manhattan’s Lower East Side and proceeded to blend bhangra, jazz, rock, and plenty of jumping to blow the doors of the joint. Frontman Sunny Jain works his two headed drum, a dhol, like it’s the last time he’ll ever play the instrument. Beating every last melody out of it. All the while jumping up and down and spinning around. Rounding out Red Baraat are drums, trumpets, gutairs, sousaphones and more.
All those instruments meant, last Sunday wasn’t just a night celebrating Red Baraat’s Punjabi roots. It brought influences from all over the musical map. You had jazz, funk, hip-hop, rock, Spanish melodies and more. Eight musicians on stage each one complimenting the other. It was a wall sound coming at you. A wall that you could hear how exactly it was built, brick by sonic brick. On this night, it didn’t matter what your musical affinity was, you were bound to find something you loved made into something new by Red Baraat.
Before Red Baraat filled up the stage Madame Gandhi brought drums and duel DJs to fuel a poetic display of strength and liberation. Madame Gandhi is the outlet for drummer Kiran Gandhi, that is, when she’s not out touring with M.I.A. Before the set had officially began Gandhi was grooving along to the beats provided by two DJs on stage, Alexi Riner and Ayes Cold.
Once she began lording over the drums, there was an undeniable presence to be felt. One that brought out themes of independence and equality. It doesn’t take her reading a passage from “The Feminist Utopia Project” or a glance at her glowing ovary tattoos on her arm to understand her message that “the future is female”. But it’s a larger message than that. It’s about freedom, empowerment, and rights. And when’s it wrapped in electronic beats, soulful vocals, and pounding drums, it becomes a message everyone facing a struggle can appreciate.
And opening the night was the ensemble Rajas. It’s classical Indian meets jazz brought forth by Rajna Swaminathan who plays the mrudangam, a percussion instrument that looks like a smaller version of the dhol. Swaminathan was joined by a vocalist, two violins and keys in what was a soothing and spiritual start to the night. It was in stark contrast to what followed but yet it fit and primed the audience for a night of blending musical genres.
Article: Omar Kasrawi