Living Traditions: Plenty of horns, drums to kick off festival
Two words will help music lovers begin to feel the infectious North Indian-inspired funk of Red Baraat's music: drums and horns.
No electrified instruments, just drums and horns, fuel the sound of the Brooklyn party band's eight musicians. The band was named for leader Sunny Jain's favorite color, red, linked with the tradition of Bhangra funk music, drawn from the rhythms played at Hindi baraat wedding processionals.
Red Baraat musicians also inject their sound with American jazz, blues and gospel influences. When Red Baraat plays in Washington, D.C., listeners refer to its go-go funk. In New Orleans, listeners hear the spice of brass fusion, and in the United Kingdom, listeners think they're hearing a punk band.
"For everyone listening to the music, there's something they can grab onto," Jain says in a phone interview. "People hear various influences, based on what they're used to listening to."
Friday's Red Baraat show will kick off Salt Lake City's 29th annual Living Traditions Festival, bookended on Sunday night by the politically inspired roots Latino rock of East Los Angeles Quetzal, who will be familiar to many Salt Lake Valley music fans after three Red Butte Garden shows.
This year, the festival has added more than 30 additional performances on a KRCL-sponsored third stage, spotlighting local musicians and dancers. In addition, there are five new craft artists and three more food booths added to the lineup of an event sometimes referred to as the "Eating Traditions" festival.
Red Baraat, after playing for a TED conference and at the White House, will be making its first concert stop in Salt Lake City. Jain, a jazz drummer, says he launched the band in 2008 after he fell in love with the dhol drum, an instrument he remembers in trips from upstate New York to his parents' homeland in India's Punjabi region.
He describes the dhol as a simple instrument with the big sound made from a hollowed-out section of a mango tree, with two skins strapped on it. For the musician, the instrument's big sounds seem to come from your core, because the barrel drum straps over a musician's shoulder. "You're getting sucked up into it through your gut," Jain says.
HE describes the band's music as "joyous explosion," and the musicians' diverse influences add up to a heady mix, as the band's spinmasters acknowledge on their website: "If in theory, Red Baraat reads like some kind of ethnomusicologist's academic dream, let's agree that in practice, it's a peyote dream."
A peyote dream, that is, inspired by the musicians' divergent training. As a jazz drummer, Jain says, no matter how much he liked hiding behind the drum kit, he felt disconnected from audiences. Playing a drum strapped to his body means he can venture into the audience. "I can walk around while I'm playing my drum, which has released a different personality for me," he says.
Red Baraat is noted for the energy of its live shows, says Andrew Kopf, marketing coordinator for the Salt Lake Arts Council, which sponsors the festival.
"They get the same back from the audience that they give out," Kopf says.
"It's a party in the sense of community, a party in terms of expression," Jain says. "Whatever you want to do is cool. If you want to sit in a corner, that's cool. If you want to dance, that's cool, too. We're always exploring as musicmakers, artists and creators. We don't want to be boxed in to a way that music is supposed to be played. We want to make it work for the way we need to speak."
Organizers are excited to present Quetzal, after the band's "Imaginaries" album won the 2013 Grammy Award for best Latin Alternative, Urban or Rock album. The band's music draws upon the regional folk son jarocho traditions of Veracruz, Mexico, blended with indigenous African and Spanish influences, as well as salsa, R&B and rock.
In its lyrics, says singer/songwriter and percussionist Martha Gonzalez, Quetzal works to use music as a social tool, expressing the Latino community's struggle for self-determination.
Gonzalez, who earned a Ph.D. in gender studies at the University of Washington, works a day job as an assistant professor of Chicano and Latino studies at Scripps College. "I think we're all organic intellectuals," she says of her bandmates.
The band was founded in 1992 after the Los Angeles riots, while singer Gonzalez joined in 1995, later marrying leader Quetzal Flores. "We have a very acoustic-based percussive sound," Gonzalez says. "It's interesting melodies and arrangements, with powerful vocals, danceable at times, and at other times, very introspective, with beautiful arrangements."
At its Salt Lake City show, Gonzalez says the band will celebrate its 20-year anniversary, as well as showcasing songs about urban animals, from its soon-to-be released album. "There are moments where we will make people dance," Gonzalez says, "and other moments where we hope to make people think and cry."
The traditions of SLC's Living Traditions
P The 29th annual edition of the festival will showcase 70 performances on three festival stages, including national and local musicians and dancers. Also part of the event are 20 ethnic food booths and craft demonstrations and sales.
Hours • 5-10 p.m. Friday, May 16; noon-10 p.m. Saturday, May 17; and noon-7 p.m. Sunday, May 18.
Where • Washington Square, 450 S. 200 East, Salt Lake City
Admission • Free
Also • Kids 12 and younger are invited to make crafts under the instruction of local artists from 1-5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Info • Performance schedules at livingtraditionsfestival.com