Many in the large, lively crowd seemed to be of South Asian ancestry and responded warmly to the few numbers that resembled Bollywood tunes, or at least included a call-and-response refrain in Punjabi.
Most of the time, though, Red Baraat sounded more like a New Orleans-style marching band or one of the horn-driven Afro-funk groups inspired by Fela Kuti. Or like something even closer to Washington’s heart: “This has a little D.C. go-go flavor,” announced bandleader, drummer and occasional vocalist Sunny Jain to introduce “Shruggy Ji,” the title track of Red Baraat’s coming album.
Actually, the song had a lot of that flavor, thanks largely to the Latin syncopation clattering from Rohin Khemani’s timbales. Jain played the dhol, a double-headed barrel drum that’s slung over the performer’s shoulder. But that was the only traditional Indian instrument in the group’s lineup, which featured three percussionists and five brass or woodwind players.
Unlike most beat-oriented contemporary acts, Red Baraat forgoes keyboards and drum machines. This uncommon strategy didn’t always yield distinctive music. The style-hopping sometimes seemed predictable, or even inevitable, as when the group shifted to a reggae shuffle or interrupted one tune for a rap — even if this may be the only group on the planet whose rapper plays the sousaphone. (That’s another D.C. link — the tuba-like instrument was developed at the request of U.S. Marine Band leader and march composer John Philip Sousa.)
Trumpeter Sonny Singh handled the vocals on a freedom song whose singalong chorus demanded “no borders, no walls!” Most of the other numbers made the same point, but not with words. While its music didn’t always have a discernible Indian accent, Red Baraat rarely lost the globalized groove that kept the crowd moving freely.