Red Baraat puts on colorful celebration at SFJAZZ Center

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The indoor amphitheater of the SFJAZZ Center was glowing pink. Folk rock filled the room as the audience waited for the night’s performance. Red Baraat was touring to celebrate the Indian festival of Holi, and older couples, young adults and families from all around the Bay Area trickled in during the opening act, eager to take part in the festivities on Saturday.

Back in 2012, at Le Poisson Rouge — an “art cabaret” nestled in the heart of New York City — Red Baraat sold out its first stop on its inaugural Holi celebration tour. Six years later, Sunny Jain, band leader and dhol player, is on his seventh tour to spread cheer, music and color to more than a dozen venues across the globe.

Since the band’s inception in 2008, its members continue to reinvent themselves, continually making a place for their music on the charts. In 2013, the band’s second studio album Shruggy Ji topped the Billboard World Albums charts. The bhangra fusion sound of the album launched the band into national success — leading it to perform at the White House during the Obama administration and at the NPR offices for the Tiny Desk concert series.

Listening to the group’s recorded work, Red Baraat bursts through the speakers — the vibrancy of its work can make anyone smile and bounce along to the catchy rhythms. In Red Baraat’s live performances, this presence is amplified to an unbelievable degree.

When the set began, five of the eight rotating performers from Red Baraat walked onto the stage. Even in the low light of the intermission, their colorful, spray-painted, one-piece suits glowed. With the first bars, Jain — dhol slung around his chest — had the concertgoers out of their seats. In the pit, girls dressed in saris twisted their wrists in the air as they danced with friends. Parents held hands in their seats, grooving their shoulders to the infectious solos Sonny Singh performed on his trumpet.

Although Jain broke up a few of the songs to keep the audience members on their feet or to start a dance-off onstage, the band played continuously throughout. In between pieces, members of the band would take the opportunity to improvise, playing off each other’s talents and styles to create completely new rhythms and beats.

At one point in the concert, Jain and Chris Eddleton — the drummer from Red Baraat’s third studio album, Bhangra Pirates — came face to face. As Jain turned to Eddleton, he created a fast, crescendoing beat on the two faces of his dhol. Eddleton, tracking the speedy sounds of Jain, followed close behind on the drum set — the audience holding its breath as the two artists improvised. When Jain turned back to face the audience, the crowd burst into applause.

In the middle of their set, Jain, his trumpet player and his soprano sax player led a conga line through the pit, inviting the audience to dance along with them while they continued to play from the crowd. After they returned to the stage, Jain handed a microphone over to John Altieri, the band’s sousaphone player. With his instrument still perched around his chest, Altieri went to the edge of the stage and rapped an entire verse, backed by the band’s instrumentals — demonstrating the multidimensionality of the group.

The band’s raw musical talent, combined with its receptivity to fusion and stylistic evolution, keeps its music dynamic and simply fun. Although Red Baraat maintains its central, bhangra influences, its sound ventures into the realms of hip-hop, jazz and funk — demonstrating versatility and range.

After the band played the final number and left the stage, the audience chanted for an encore — a request to which the group responded excitedly. Red Baraat got its audience up and out of the seats, dancing and singing to the energetic night of music and celebration.

Annalise Kamegawa covers music. Contact her at [email protected].