Red Baraat keeps its music celebratory even when delivering serious messages

by Marty Lipp
RED baraat


Sunny Jain of Red Baraat.

Little did Sunny Jain know that his wedding would lead to a second passionate partnership — a musical adventure called Red Baraat.

As he prepared to get married in 2005, he got the idea of organizing a baraat, a traditional North Indian wedding procession to give a rollicking start to the celebration. Raised in Rochester, New York, Jain studied jazz drumming at Rutgers and played for a time with the popular Pakistani rock band Junoon, so creating the band was a bit of learning curve. He pulled together both amateur and professional musicians and took up the two-headed dhol drum, which is slung over the player’s shoulder.

The procession’s success led Jain to create The Red Baraat Marching Band, adding “red” because that is the color worn by brides at Indian weddings and symbolizes love and energy. The new band made its first appearance in Livingston at a friend’s wedding, and the word quickly spread in the Indian community, leading to similar gigs at weddings throughout the region.

“I think at that point, I literally just wanted to make a band so I could just play more dohl,” says Jain, whose upcoming shows with Red Baraat include one at ArtYard in Frenchtown, March 10. “I was just falling in love with this instrument.”

Jain eventually jettisoned the “Marching Band” from the name, coalesced a core group and brought it to performing arts venues and festivals. Their debut album Chaal Baby was released in 2009.

“This idea of the Indian brass band tradition that’s dating back to 18th century and also jazz music that I grew up with over here … I was just loving how they’re very symbiotic,” Jain says.

Red Baraat in action.

The band has toured the world and released several albums, but what has powered Red Baraat’s success has been the galloping, banging swing of its live performances. At their shows, audience members and musicians come together in a joyful, sweaty celebration. International audiences may not be familiar with Indian music, but the band’s brass and percussion evoke visions of an off-the-chain party in New Orlean’s French Quarter.

“It’s an exhausting performance,” Jain says. “I do come out, like, just high on adrenaline and vibrations and energy. And not just myself, but the entire band. We’re all going hard … Everyone’s tired afterwards, but we’re also filled with so much energy. It’s a wild experience.

“I think that’s what keeps us going. There’s something cathartic about it. And there’s something that’s just really beautiful about it.”

Jain adds that the audience is an integral part of the show. “There’s no border between us and the audience,” he says. “We’re engaging with them the entire time. We have a dance competition, get people up onstage and get them to chant. We’re very much relying on people in the audience; we’re not playing in a silo for ourselves. We’re there to communicate through vibrations and through sound, and it’s absolutely wonderful and ecstatic.

“We have to enjoy ourselves onstage: We rely on one another to bring in energy. But once you add in an audience that’s enjoying it, it’s just like triple pleasure.”

As much as Red Baraat is first and foremost a party band, the multi-cultural makeup of the members and the social-justice message of their lyrics add resonance to the dancing rhythms.

The cover of Red Baraat’s 2009 album “Chaal Baby.”

“It became increasingly more apparent that I wanted to deliver some type of message versus just making music to make music,” says Jain, who is currently doing a residency at The Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. “But I knew there was no reason to stand on a soapbox and be dogmatic about anything. You end up just preaching to the choir and you shut yourself off from meeting other people that have very different viewpoints. That ethos has kind of always been in Red Baraat. It’s kind of masked around this party idea.

“A lot of my songs really come from experiences and emotions and stories. I’ll sit down and write out concepts and storylines that I’m pulling from my own journeys, and then I translate that into music.

“Ultimately, it’s like we’re a motley crew of folks looking to connect with people — not just South Asian people, not just jazz. Like, everyone or anyone. I think that’s been a blessing of ours in terms of the varied audience that we pull.

“The path has always been a learning experience. Discovering new rhythms, discovering new songs, working with a wonderful band of different folks that have come and gone. But you know, you’re learning from everyone that you encounter, so I always try and approach everything in that manner.

“Music is spiritual. For me, it, literally, is my religion.”

Red Baraat will perform at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia, Feb. 29 at 8 p.m. (visit; Brooklyn Bowl, March 8 at 8 p.m. (visit; and ArtYard in Frenchtown, March 10 at 7 p.m. (visit

For more on the band, visit

We need your help!


Since launching in September 2014,, a 501(c)(3) organization, has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of any amount to via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.


Custom Amount

Personal Info

Donation Total: $20.00

Explore more articles:

Leave a Comment

Sign up for our Newsletter