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CD Review: Red Baraat - 'Shruggy Ji'

Brooklyn Big Band Brass Bhangra

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Red Baraat - 'Shruggy Ji'

Red Baraat - 'Shruggy Ji'

(c) Sinj Records
Red Baraat are unquestionably one of the strongest touring acts on the world music scene right now. They're a party band whose live energy is hard to match, and whose brassy big band classic funk and bhangra blend is nearly impossible to resist. However, trying to take that live show energy and put it onto a CD? That's tricky business. Thankfully, Shruggy Ji has largely succeeded in that regard.

This is a big, bold album that manages to convey a pretty massive amount of sound and energy. Red Baraat's horn section is six strong, and rounded out by a percussionist, a drummer, and bandleader Sunny Jain on dhol, the two-headed Indian drum that provides the rhythm for Punjabi bhangra and, indeed, forms the heartbeat of the band's sound.

Brass bands, whose instrumentation made its way into India on the trail of British colonialism, are an important part of Northern Indian culture, and form an important part of the traditional wedding celebration. They play during the baraat, the ceremony in which the groom travels to the bride's house, accompanied by his family, in one big, colorful, noisy procession. Thus, the joyful, celebratory nature of Red Baraat's music is well-rooted in tradition.

But the band has a distinctly North American sound, too, with an attitude that brings to mind New Orleans' finest brass and funk bands, and an urban aesthetic that is club-ready and far from folkloric. That said, Shruggy Ji is not a tremendously versatile CD, in that it practically begs for a dance-friendly or movement-friendly context. It feels sort of weird to sit on your couch and listen to, which is sort of the point, as far as I can tell. Get up! Move!

Highlights include the scorching opener "Halla Bol," the slightly eerie, pleading "Dama Dam Mast Qalandar," the softly swinging "Apna Punjab Hove," and the in-your-face hip-hop fusion "Private Dancers." The addictive hook of the title cut "Shruggy Ji" should make it the album's standout track, but it bears some sloppy, poorly-mixed vocal lines that stick out like a sore thumb and make for what is the album's only major misstep.

All-in-all, Shruggy Ji is a solid album that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend. And it can certainly stand on its own as a breakout CD in a genre that didn't really exist until Red Baraat came on the scene and named it (dhol'n'brass, that is). Still, it's just an approximation of how great this band actually is in their natural setting: on a stage, in front of wall-to-wall dancers. Pick up the CD for now, but go see them live the first chance you get.

Sunny Jain, Performing with Red Baraat at Festival International 2011

Sunny Jain, Performing with Red Baraat at Festival International 2011

(c) Megan Romer, 2011 / Licensed to About.com
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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