Based in Brooklyn, the energetic world music ensemble Red Baraat celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2018, though without an official party or event to commemorate the milestone.
The band is touring steadily throughout the year in support of its new album, Sound the People, and has big shows lined up in New York City and Los Angeles, as well as an opening slot for The Roots in Kansas City, and are thereby treating the entire calendar stretch as one big party.
Looking back, founder, bandleader and dhol player Sunny Jain says plenty of highlights arise, often prompted by his or a bandmate’s memories of a past stop in a city as they’re coming back to that destination. On the group’s return to The Grey Eagle on Monday, Aug. 13, he recalls “jamming” crowds, a friendly staff and “awesome” food.
Two non-Asheville experiences also hold a particularly special place in Jain’s mind. In 2015, Red Baraat played the WOMAD Festival in the U.K., where heavy rains throughout the weekend put the band in a glum mood. Figuring attendance would be low for their set, they picked up their instruments and went out to play.
“When we went onstage, it was one of the couple times that it stopped raining, and the sun came out. Literally, the clouds parted, and the sun came out for the 90 minutes that we were onstage,” Jain says. “It was sick. The whole audience just crowded around us. We had everyone jumping up and down in this mud pit. I just remember this moment — it was kind of serendipitous that everything coincided right at same time and made the experience that much more intense and magnified.”
The second standout moment took place several years prior during a performance and workshop for 60-80 students and some locals at Elgin Community College in the Chicago suburbs. In attendance was a “big, biker-looking dude” who didn’t look like he’d be into Red Baraat’s fusion of bhangra, jazz and other musical influences. During the program’s discussion component, the outsider raised his hand and acknowledged a preference for metal and classic rock. He also spoke of having no idea what to expect with the band’s music but said he dug it and wanted to hear more.
“He just absorbed everything that was happening in the room, and the reflection of what came back, it was interesting,” Jain says. “It kind of stripped away my own stereotypes of what I had, looking at this person. You know? Stereotypes that we all carry for whatever reason, good or bad.”
He continues, “What was fascinating about it, and very humbling for me, was that experience changed him. He started asking, ‘Are there other bands out there that do what you guys do?’ And I was kind of at a loss, but [I recommended a few groups]. It was a memory that always stuck with me — just the power of music and the importance of what we do and why I continue to do this.”
Red Baraat channels that unifying mindset and then some on Sound the People. Jain, one of the band’s lead composers and arrangers, started writing the new material two weeks after Donald Trump was elected president.
“It just felt like a necessity and an urgency to, ‘I need to channel my energy into something positive right now because this is [messed] up. What’s going on?’” he says. “I was trying to find a path to address that, but at the same time not just have an album that was speaking about the rhetoric of Trump and politics, but to find a subtle way of weaving in social justice, political viewpoints — ideas that we hold to be true as a band and individually, but also weaving that into a landscape of creative art and dance and celebration of community. That’s always been our ethos in everything we put out.”
Playing alongside musicians with Punjabi, African-American, Jewish, Korean-American and Italian-American heritage, Jain has referred to Sound the People as “a call to action against the various inequalities and injustices that we’re seeing.” He identifies awareness and engagement as the most important responses. After a period of feeling overwhelmed and seeking advice from community figures with years of experience fighting for policy change, he now feels confident knowing that activism can be channeled in different ways.
“I remember talking to a few very close friends and just talking about the micro of what you can do and how important that is, and don’t lose sight of the music you’re giving,” Jain says. “Don’t lose sight of just who you are and how you affect your family and your community and your block. So, it’s really just about that. It’s not, ‘You need take to the streets, you need to do this.’ But if you feel inspired to do that? Hell, yeah.”
He adds, “We’ve got to find whatever we can do to resist and also to come together as people, not just as a nation. Not just these ideas of nationalistic tendencies, but this idea of just helping people across borders and across divisions.”
WHO: Red Baraat with Akita
WHERE: The Grey Eagle, 185 Clingman Ave., thegreyeagle.com
WHEN: Monday, Aug. 13, 8 p.m. $15 advance/$18 day of show