Bajao Baja!: Brass Bands of India

Manohar Brass Band

Manohar Brass Band

The brass band is a long-standing and much loved part of Indian (and Pakistani) soundscape.  At weddings and political rallies and religious holidays the crowds are drawn and moved to dance by the keening squeal of the clarinet chorus and sucker punched by the tuba/trumpet brass section. All the while the bass, snare and dhol beat out ancient rhythms. The ears ring and neophytes run for cover.

I’ve written a bit of the history of Indian brass bands in other more distant posts, but I’ve never shared an entire album of Indian brass band music.  Today that changes.

I played the trumpet as a lad. Alas, neither very well nor very long. In those years the sound of a wedding band, playing with the subtlety of a sumo wrestler, grated. Perhaps, because, to my undeveloped ears the sound sounded undisciplined and chaotic, somewhat like my own playing. I didn’t need the reminder.

Yet, as I listen to the music of these bands more, with a little more attention and without the excess baggage of a pimply teenager unsure of his chosen (torture) instrument, I no longer find it be a chaotic sound. Loud, yes. Unsubtle, for sure. But these little bands play with great discipline and precision. This is no more a free for all then any other tight musical unit. Each ‘caste’ of instrument from the Brahmanical clarinets, to the Bania brass and the Dalit drums, has its place and role to play. Rather like Hindu society, really! Each supports, in its own place and way, the superstructure of the tune, which is derived from Bollywood or the village songs of the local area.

Of course, these tunes are transformed completely into something fresh and wild. Not dissimilar to what be-bop pioneer Charlie Parker did to the standards of his day, the Indian brass bands takes the basic melody and constructs a shimmering, glitzy over-amped façade around it, as ornate as the carvings of the Sun Chariot at Konarak.

In a way, this is not music for ‘listening’ in the way one would listen to a ghazal or even a qawwali. You don’t stop by for heart strings to be pulled or connection with the Other.  Indeed, you stop by to watch as much as to listen. God knows you can hear them from a block away! This is spectacle and pomp. This is pronouncement of great happenings. This is the entrance of the Emperor after victory into the city once again.

But on the other hand this is not a freak show of jugglers and clowns. The music these men play is serious. Just listen to the intensity and urgency coming from the winds, brass and drums. This is not ‘ho hum’ stuff. The same vital intensity that marked Coltrane and Davis comes through here as well. And so without further ado, khawateen o hazraat, welcome if you will, the brass bands of India.

Approach with wonder but respect!

Band Baja

Track Listing:

01 Aapan Chakri Mein Jhulalan [Manohar Brass Band]

02 Chirmi [Manohar Brass Band]

03 Pallo Latke [Manohar Brass Band]

04 Deorani – Jethani [Manohar Brass Band]

05 Diggipuri Ka Raja [Manohar Brass Band]

06 Lehariyo [Shyam Brass Band]

07 Kalyo Kud Padyo Mela Mein [Ramzan Brass Band]

08 Bana Re Bagan Mein [Shyam Brass Band]


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