Gaadi of Truth
There are few bands who have ventured down the path of combining Bhangra music with jazz and funk. Fewer still can claim to have down so with as much success as Red Baraat, a Brooklyn-based musical collective whose line up swells and falls as required, although currently stands at eight strong, spread across an array of predominately percussion and brass instruments. Led by superbly moustachioed frontman/dhol drum player Sunny Jain, the band’s latest release Gaadi of Truth finds them effortlessly hurling themselves into the business of making riotous and irresistibly uplifting music. They have famously been dubbed “the best party band in years”, and rightly so on the evidence of their third full length studio effort.
While Jain’s apparently boundless musical ambition and hypnotic dhol playing are the lifeblood of the band there is little doubt as to the collaborative nature of this cacophony of sounds, with all members given their chance to shine.
The album’s titular opening track sets the tone with an outrageous explosion of instrumentation; in the absence of a bass guitar the relentless pedal-enhanced sousaphone playing of John Altieri gives the album it’s groove, propelling a multilayered brass section over some understated guitar riffs that help set this LP apart from Red Baraat’s previous releases. The persistent chant of “Drive, drive, drive this way” pulls you in before a call of “Horn, please!” is dutifully answer by a sudden burst of excitable brass.
It is these sonic motifs that have become synonymous with the band’s sound. The infectious trumpet-led hooks of Horizon Line almost make you forget that you’re listening to a track shunning the need for vocal melodies, while Bhangale opens with frenetic Hindi chanting before losing itself in a glorious whirl of intricate, Bhangra-inspired horns.
‘Gaadi’ translates literally from Hindi as ‘train’ although more loosely as ‘vehicle’ or ‘journey’, and if nothing else, Gaadi of Truth is certainly a delightful musical expedition. Acid house licks creep in throughout, giving the album a psychedelic flavour that pervades tracks like the hypnotic Zindabad, which drifts in on a wave of dreamy synths before switching up to pounding percussion. Elsewhere, Se Hace Camino deftly interweaves a Latin rhumba vibe into the mix while the smoothly melodic Layers gets an electronica remix courtesy of fellow Asian Underground pioneer Karsh Kale.
But for all the carefree party vibes whipped up by Jain and his troupe of musical travellers there’s a reflective side to the music as well. “A lot of the songs are addressing the multiplicity of viewpoints”, explains their eloquent frontman. Racially conscious 1980s hip hop-inspired vocals are in evidence on Gaadi of Truth and Zindabad, built on lyrics which riff on the multiplicity of the band’s racial make up and the prejudices they have encountered over the years.
In spite of their admirable social conscience, Red Baraat rarely stray too far from their true purpose. “We’re not just slamming beers and going onstage and having fun — though there is that element to it, as well”, laughs Jain. As a Bhangra party band they’re arguably unrivalled, but it’s their spirit of egalitarian brotherhood and musical collaboration that truly sets them apart. Come for the raucous good times, stay for the undeniable feeling of wellbeing this eclectic combination of upbeat tunes elicits.
Words: Henry Wickham