Sunny, Red Baraat has a lot of brass instruments going on, but in the center of them all are you playing your dhol drum. Is that type of drum used all over India or is it bound to a certain region of the country?
Sunny Jain (dhol): "It's really from the northwestern part of India, from the state of Punjab, a region that was partitioned between India and Pakistan in 1947. The rhythms from Punjab are very prevalent in the music that's often used in Bollywood movies."
Is this music to be situated rather in the Muslim than in the Hindu culture or is it the other way around?
Sunny Jain: "Neither really, it's not really bound to any of the religions, be it Islam, Hinduism or Sikhism. One of the great dhol masters is a guy called Pappu Sain. He must be in his sixties now and he still plays outside of the Tomb of Shah Jamal (the tomb of Sufi Saint Baba Shah Jamal is located in the city of Lahore, the capital of Punjab, Pakistan, red.) every Thursday. The dhol itself has its origins in Persia and entered India and Pakistan when Mughal dynasty rose to power (The Mughal Empire was an imperial power in the Indian subcontinent from about 1526 to 1757. The Mughal emperors were Muslims and direct descendants of Genghis Khan through Chagatai Khan and Timur. At the height of their power in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, they controlled most of the subcontinent, extending from Bengal in the east to Balochistan in the west, Kashmir in the north to the Kaveri basin in the south, red.). It is most probably derived from the Persian dohol."
On stage I also heard you doing those scatting type sounds used in India and Pakistan to learn various drum rhythms.
Sunny Jain: "Yes, they are called bols, which translated from Hindi means "to speak". In northeastern Indian classical music they are used to teach tabla, the traditional Indian finger drums. Nearly all Indian classical musicians from that region know this vocabulary and it definitely sounds somewhat similar to scatting in jazz."
How did you come to play the dhol? Is it an instrument that was passed down from generation to generation in your family?
Sunny Jain: "I was born and raised in New York, but I grew up with that type of music around. My family is originally from Punjab but moved to the United States in the nineteen seventies. As I just said I grew up on bhangra and Bollywood music, but living in New York I was also introduced to rock and pop and jazz. As a musician I actually started out as a jazz drummer. I fell in love with the dhol about ten years ago, when I rediscovered the instrument during a trip in India.
Where does the Red Baraat band name come from?
Sunny Jain: "A baraat is a procession that in northern India is traditionally associated with weddings; it involves the dhol drumming and brass playing. The brass tradition in India dates back to the seventeenth century when these instruments were introduced by the English when they colonized the country. A traditional wedding baraat is when the groom's entourage slowly processions from his house to the bride's. Depending on how far the two families live from one another the baraat can sometimes last over several days. Red is just a color of excitement, love and joy and, more important, it's my favorite color! (laughs) It's also the color that is traditionally worn at Indian weddings."
Hearing you play, I couldn't shake the impression that the brass playing you guys do is also in some part influenced by the marching bands like they appear at American football games.
Sunny Jain: "Well I guess that's the American influence of what I grew up with shining through. New York is just a very diverse place and you're bound to soak up the sounds that you hear around you. I never started this project with a preconceived notion of wanting to create something; it's just the next evolutionary step in my creative process. In the past I'd been mainly fusing jazz with Indian music, but for this project I wanted to do something acoustic and although the foundation of what we do is this Indian baraat tradition, our music keeps evolving the more we travel."
When talking about the Indian or Pakistani community, people in Europe will automatically think of places like Birmingham or London in the United Kingdom. What's the Indian community in New York like?
Sunny Jain: "Historically the United Kingdom has of course a unique relationship with Pakistan and India which resulted in big migration streams in the 1950's and 1960's. The situation in the United States is completely different; in the late nineteen sixties the United States adopted an immigration policy that concentrated on only bringing in people with higher degrees and educations, the so-called brain drain (the large-scale emigration of a large group of individuals with technical skills or knowledge, red.). In the United Kingdom you will find a mostly Punjabi community whereas in the US it's more of a mix of people from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Bangladesh and India. Musically speaking that creates much more of a diversity then maybe is the case in the UK where the Punjabi influence is so dominant."
The music you guys play is mostly instrumental in nature. Does the content of the scarce lyrics you do use hold any importance or are these vocals nothing more than an added sound?
Sunny Jain: "It's a bit of both to be honest. To me, Red Baraat has never been about being a typical band with one lead singer, but at the same time it's not just about instrumental improvisation either. To me, music has to reach the listener on multiple levels: mind, body and spirit. If you can reach their minds through playing catchy rhythms, you get their bodies moving; put that together with some interesting vocals and you can transcend and even reach their spirit. In Red Baraat there isn't a central focus in the band; apart from me playing the dhol, there's Sonny Singh who sings and MiWi La Lupa who raps, everyone has their solo moment really. By doing that we just want to show that everyone in the band has his strengths."
This kind of music above all else seems to be a live experience. How difficult is it to transfer that feel to a recording studio?
Sunny Jain: "Recording music is completely different than performing it live. As you say, Red Baraat is a band that is very much a live experience. We're all about engaging our audience; we try our best to make each concert we play a unique experience. Transferring all that to an album is not easy, but that still doesn't mean it can't be done."