Sharing Holi with Chicago Baraat

Parker’s Music Department spread some Holi magic with a Morning Ex performance and sharing featuring an Indian baraat band from Chicago, who taught students about the celebration of Holi in Indian culture and provided a brief history of baraat music, the instruments in baraat bands and the motivations behind the musicians who make the music.

Musicians Akshat Jain (sousaphone), Kabir Dalawari (dhol), Rajiv Halim (sax), Gustavo Cortinas (snare drum), Constantine Alexander (trumpet) and Parker music teacher Catie Hickey (trombone) opened the assembly with a booming performance, after which Jain took a moment to introduce himself, fellow bandmates and their respective instruments.

Jain then spoke about the festival of Holi and its origins in a Hindu love story: lord Krishna is unhappy with how his complexion differs from Radha’s, and asks Radha to color his face with any color she desires. Radha complies and, eventually, they become a couple. The festival of Holi—also the Festival of Spring, the Festival of Colors or the Festival of Love—celebrates this playful coloring of face and body.

After performing an additional tune, Hickey spoke about her history with the band and baraat music. After discovering baraat music as a musician in Toronto, she wanted to find similar bands in other cities where she worked and performed. When she looked for an outlet in Chicago, she couldn’t find one, so she reached out to Jain in February 2020 to start something.

She explained that the term “baraat” means procession, usually in a wedding celebration. A baraat band accompanies the groom’s procession en route to his bride and is responsible for bringing the energy, music and rhythm to the celebration. Hickey said the types of baraat-style music come from around the world, chronological time and different genres, from surf rock to jazz standards. As a group, they select a song and rewrite it for the baraat instruments with the goal of playing very loud in a high-energy way. Next, Hickey worked with percussionists Dalawari and Cortinas to demonstrate the differences and similarities between a snare drum and a douhl and point out the unique sounds the douhl adds to baraat music.

Hickey then provided a brief history of baraat music, which has origins from the end of Britain’s colonization of India in 1947. When the colonizers departed, they left much behind, including their brass. Local Indians picked them up, learned to play them by ear and used them to make a living.

These six dynamic performers offered up another “bombastic” number before fielding questions from the audience. Later that day, 4th grade students gathered with the visiting musicians during their music classes, asking additional questions, getting up close and personal with the instruments and making connections between their lives and those of the visiting artists.

Learn more about Chicago baraat under the group’s wedding band name, Jina Brass Band Chicago (@jbb_chicago).

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Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.