Red Baraat’s “Dhol and Brass” takes campus by storm

Lauren Nokes

If you missed the Red Baraat concert in Esch-Hurvis on April 9, the finale for this year’s World Music Series — man, did you miss a good party. I don’t know if there has ever been such a fun Monday night on the Lawrence campus.

“Baraat” refers to the traditional Indian wedding procession of the bridegroom to the bride’s house, accompanied by jubilant singing and dancing. From the beginning, Red Baraat emphasized that they were not so much here to perform, with audience and musicians separate, but to share a celebration of music and life with us.

They invited the audience forward to dance in front of the stage, and by the end of the first song almost everyone had ran up to lose themselves in the music. The infectious rhythms of the percussion and wall of joyous, brassy sound surrounded and occupied the audience, making them forget for a few hours that anything existed but the music and the movement of their bodies.

Based in New York, the band fuses the north Indian rhythm bhangra with music from around the world, including jazz, Latin, go-go, hip-hop and funk. Dhol drummer Sunny Jain leads the nine-piece ensemble which includes percussion, saxophone, trumpet, drum set, trombone, and sousaphone. They even rap on some songs.

Red Baraat is a live band through and through. They had an almost magnetic effect, making mere observation impossible and participation irresistible. For the first two songs I remained in my chair, happily tapping and nodding along to the music, but once I joined the crowd on the dance floor, the concert changed from a spectacle to an experience.

The audience danced frantically and screamed their appreciation. The music elevated mood to a feverishly blissful pitch and made the body’s cells sing. The temperature of the room rose and personal space disappeared, but no one seemed very aware of other people. They were too lost in joy to judge others’ less-than-graceful dancing.

In addition to crackling energy and stage presence, the members of Red Baraat have serious technical skill, not to mention endurance. At moments the audience gasped and laughed at the band members’ displays of skillful cleverness. These were serious musicians engaged in challenging music, making their performance look effortless through their talent and pleasure in playing.

The end result of the ensemble in concert was something like a small explosion, leaving no one unaffected. Their sound blasts across cultural borders, creating simultaneously inclusive and anarchic music which calls to all human beings to get up, and get down. Red Baraat reminds us that music doesn’t have to be simple or tepid to appeal to a wide variety of people. Their big, bold, brassy and complex sound powerfully and triumphantly sweeps you off your feet.