By Samir Shukla
Red Baraat is a rollicking dhol 'n' brass band that can get the sleepiest crowd shaking their booty and moving their feet with leader Sunny Jain's first beats on his dhol. The band's interaction with the audience when performing live, including jumping in the middle of the dancing mass and leading them around like pied pipers, only fuses that connection further. The diverse musicians combine their individual specialties into the Red Baraat alchemy, constantly experimenting and expanding the possibilities of their sound.
Red Baraat is back with their third recording Bhangra Pirates. The album is bhangra (that unmistakable beat of the dhol), New Orleans brass, rock, jazz improv, Bollywood kitsch, and hints of hip hop all rolled into Red Baraat's wholly original sound. This time around there is the added layer of a guitarist while Jain also infuses effects into his dhol beats for an occasional whirling sound. The brass section is tighter than ever as are the percussionists.
The fluid instrumental “Horizon Line" kicks off the album while the title track “Bhangra Pirates" begins with the dhol and guitar leading the horn section to kick open the dance doors goaded on by a mix of Hindi and English lyrics. It's too infectious to sit still through. “Bhangale" (feat. Delicate Steve) is a scat-filled number while “Se Hace Camino" is a Latin and bhangra blend. The songs can wander and skitter off into all sorts of angular sounds.
There are two rockers on the album that benefit with the added guitar including “Zindabad," a skewed wedding march-like song that turns into a jazz scorcher and returns home halfway through with a decidedly Punjabi twist. The other is “Gaadi of Truth," clearly the most rocking song on the record with guitar riffs sparring with the horns and percussion.
“Tunak Tunak Tun" is a scats-laden take on Daler Mehndi's hit song.
“Rang Barse" is the Red Baraat version of the classic Amitabh Bachchan song. It begins as a jazz and Indian classical swirl that dives into a percussive instrumental mélange. The cut is interspersed with the horns going in and out of the mix, turning it into a long jam.
“Akhiyan Udeek Diyan" is a lingering showcase for the musicians as individual players do their solo bits and melt back into the groove.
“Layers" is an experimental track that flows on its own accord and nicely wraps up the record.
By Samir Shukla
Parallels, the new recording by Indian-Canadian singer Vandana Vishwas is a study in genre-bending. She has woven five songs recorded in two distinct styles - think two parallel tracks each colored differently yet moving in the same musical direction. She brings Canadian and Indian musicians into the fold that enhance her voice that is embedded into varied styles. The album kicks off with the tropical flamenco track “Mai Bequaid" where one feels the lilting guitar and dreams of soft sand between toes standing on sunny beach, a lovely Bollywood actress in a sari swaying along. The same song is later given a country treatment that makes the listeners feel like they are strolling in the foothills of Appalachia. “Piya na Mose Bole" is sung along to a new age version and also in a traditional Indian version, both showcasing the longings of a woman as if on different days or in different moods. “Dhula Dhula" is a feisty number first sung with African beats and later treated to Afro-Indian beats. Vishwas's voice fully blooms singing the ghazal “Fiqr E Manzil" with the musicians taking the compositions into higher elevations with traditional music. The track also gets a rock treatment with an amped electric guitar in the second version. The closing track on the album, “Hum Gum Huye (Unplugged)" is a sparse, haunting version that really showcases her voice. The ballad version of the song fills in the lines with thicker musical accents. In Parallels, Vishwas shows her range and adaptability in multiple musical genres.
Mai Beqaid (Flamenco)
Piya Na Mose Bole (New Age)
Dhula Dhula (African Beats)
Fiqr E Manzil (Ghazal)
Hum Gum Huye (Ballad)
Mai Beqaid (Country)
Piya Na Mose Bole (Traditional Indian)
Dhula Dhula (Afro-Indian)
Fiqr E Manzil (Rock-E-Zal)
Hum Gum Huye (Unplugged)
Photo by Samir Shukla
News Note: The music festival MerleFest 2017 will take place from April 27 - 30. MerleFest was founded in 1988 in memory of Eddy Merle Watson as a fundraiser for Wilkes Community College and to celebrate "traditional plus" music. The music of MerleFest was best explained by the legendary musician and festival founder Doc Watson as posted on the festival website: “When Merle and I started out we called our music ‘traditional plus’, meaning the traditional music of the Appalachian region plus whatever other styles we were in the mood to play. Since the beginning, the people of the college and I have agreed that the music of MerleFest is ‘traditional plus’.” MerleFest has now grown to a 4-day event with hundreds of musicians, bands, and performers showcasing many genres of music on several stages throughout the grounds. It is the festival's 30th year and is now internationally regarded as one of the finest such gatherings in the world. The lineup of performers is as intriguing and eclectic as ever. Dozens of bands and musicians will perform over the course of four days with some of the headliners that include Zac Brown Band, James Taylor, The Avett Brothers, Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives, Del McCoury Band, Leftover Salmon, and Jim Lauderdale. This year the festival will mark a few one-of-a-kind happenings, like a museum of MerleFest History, special backstage tours, a tiny home display, and more yet to be announced. There will be plenty food vendors on hand along with impromptu jam sessions taking place. Bring your acoustic instrument and join in the fun. MerleFest will also feature the festival favorites including, the little pickers tents for kids, the family and environmentally-conscious atmosphere and the cool air of the Blue Ridge Mountains on the campus of Wilkesboro Community College in Wilkesboro, NC. For more details visit, www.MerleFest.org.
(News Notes are edited press releases sent by publicists, labels, bands, or musicians)