Live Concert Photography: Red Baraat Festival of Colors at Le Poisson Rouge 3/16/17 feat. Red Baraat with The Kominas and Ganavya
Led by its Rochester, NY-born, Brooklyn-based bandleader dholi, drummer and composer Sunny Jain (a dhol, is a shoulder slung, two-headed drum, typically one of the main instruments of bhangra), who has recorded several jazz albums with his Sunny Jain Collective and has collaborated with Norah Jones, Peter Gabriel, Q-Tip, the acclaimed Pakistani Sufi rock band Junoon and others; and featuring John Altieri (sousaphone), Ernest Stuart (trombone), Jonathon Haffner (saxophone), Sonny Singh (trumpet), Chris Eddleton (drums), Rohin Khemani (drums), and their newest member Jonathan Goldberger (guitar), the Brooklyn-based octet Red Baarat, derives their name from a baraat, a wild wedding procession that Jain explains in press notes frequently includes the groom riding a horse, an enormous group of extended friends and family singing and dancing, lead by a brass band and for what the color red symbolizes both in Indian and Western culture — fiery, red-blooded passion; the sort of passion that Jain and company have towards creating and playing music and the passion they inspire and elicit from their listeners.
Although the band formed in 2008, it was the release of their critically applauded and commercially successful sophomore effort Shruggy Ji that put the Brooklyn-based collective on the map for a seamless, genre defying sound that drew from Indian classical music, bhangra, hip-hop, rock and pop, complete with rousingly anthemic hooks and a dance floor friendly sound, which interestingly enough was rooted in Jain’s utopian vision and faith in the power of music and art instilling empathy, creativity and love to anyone, who accepts it with an open heart and mind. And as a result of Shruggy Ji‘s critical and commercial success, the band has played some of the world’s biggest, most renowned music festivals, including Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD Festivals in Australia, New Zealand and the UK, have played sold out headlining shows at the Luxembourg Philharmonic, the Bowery Ballroom and have performed at the request of The White House, TED and the Olympic Games. Considering that we’re living in a presidential administration that is ruled around hate and distrust of outsiders and others, Jain and company’s mission seems not just hopeful; but proudly, defiantly revolutionary.
The band’s recently released third full-length effort Bhangra Pirates is the first album with the band’s latest addition, guitarist Johnathan Goldberger, who adds psychedelic and surrealistic textures and percussive guitar lines. But along with the addition of Goldberger, the band has expanded their sound as the dhol and sousaphone also have been processed in a subtle fashion — while retaining the enormous, propulsive, tribal stomp and equally enormous New Orleans brass-leaning horn section that won them international attention.
Holi, or the Festival of Colors is a Hindu holiday routinely marked by public gatherings of families, friends and strangers rejoicing in song, dance and the exchange of colors while signifying the arrival of Spring, as well as celebrating the Earth’s continued renewal; but on another level, the holiday is an opportunity to meet friends new and old, to play and laugh and to forget and forgive. Over the past four years, the band has hosted and sponsored the Red Baarat Festival of Colors, a showcase curated by Sunny Jain that focuses on the South Asian Diaspora here in America. And interestingly, this year’s Red Baraat Festival of Colors which also featured the Boston-based punk band The Kominas and jazz fusion act Ganavya may arguably be the biggest in its history, as this year’s lineup played shows in at Le Poisson Rouge, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Boston, Seattle, Portland, OR, Philadelphia and elsewhere. I was at the Le Poisson show earlier this month, check out some photos from a fun night of music, below.
Currently comprised of Basim Usmani, Hassan Ali Malik, Shahjehan Khan, and Karna Ray, the Boston-based Pakistani-American members of The Kominas are pioneers of a punk subgenre, Taqwacore, sometimes simply described as Muslim Punk. Sonically, their sound draws from a variety of things including 1977-era punk rock, world psych rock (in particular, from Turkey and Iran). Punjabi folk music, surf rock, reggae, disco and dub. Thematically their material focuses on the Muslim experience in America post 9/11, the sociopolitical issues concerning the larger Muslim world, religion, and race in general, while frequently forcing listeners to challenge their preconceived notions and assumptions on what it actually is to be Muslim, American and even punk.
Caption: The Kominas at Red Baraat’s Festival of Colors at Le Poisson Rouge earlier this month.
Ganavya Doraiswamy is a Tamil Nadu, South India–born, Stateside-based jazz vocalist, who was trained as a vocalist, dancer and multi-instrumentalist in Tamil Nadu, South India where she learned how to play jalatharangam, a near-extinct instrument championed by her late grandmother, Kalaimamani Smt. Seetha Doraiswamy, briefly learned to play the veenai under the tutelage of Smt. Subhadra Raghuram and learned the Karnatik vocal technique under Karaikkal R. Jaishankar, a senior student of Kalaimamani Sri Vairamangalam Lakshminarayanan. For the better part of a decade Doraiswamy learned extensively from and toured with the troupe of Sri Tukaram Ganapthy Maharaj, and became well-versed in the varakari tradition of singing abhangs — or devotional poems written by Maharashtrian Hindu saints around the 13th century.
As a dancer, Doraiswamy was taught by the Bharatanatyam under Smt. Radhika Vairavelavan (née Ganesh), student of Smt. Ambika Buch, of the renowned Kalakshetra College of Fine Arts. And as a result, the Tamil Nadu-trained vocalist, dancer and multi-instrumentalist has cataloged hundreds of mudras or hand gestures found in Bharatanatyam and published the document for Florida International University’s SRAI Conference under the title”Rasam for the Dancer’s Soul.”
Adding to her impressive accomplishments, Doraiswamy holds undergraduate degrees in Theater and Psychology and gradaute degrees in Contemporary Performance from Berklee College of Music and Ethnomusicology from the University of California, Los Angeles. And she was awarded one of Berklee’s first Post-Graduate Fellowships, for which she constructed and taught a course titled Sounds of Indian Music, for which she also wrote and published the course textbook.
As a vocalist and bandleader, Doriaswamy has begun to develop a reputation for translating jazz standards, pop and classic rock songs to her native language of Tamil — her Le Poisson Rouge set included a Tamil translation of one of my favorite Paul McCartney songs “Blackbird” — and for re- contextualizing classical Indian songs and compositions into contemporary jazz. Her forthcoming full-length debut Aikyam will reportedly further cement her reputation for a sound that effortlessly meshes East with West, while revealing an artist with an eclectic array of influences.