Smithsonian Folkways to release the new album from Sunny Jain, Brooklyn based bandleader, composer, dohl player & drummer

Photo by Ebru Yildiz
Photo by Ebru Yildiz




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“I see a global phenomenon of human beings moving from one place to another, certainly all to varying degrees and for various reasons. What’s irrefutable is the unease and courage that coexists when leaving one’s own community.”

“It’s interesting to note that the Indian subcontinent had the largest mass migration in history – approximately 20 million people displaced after British colonial rule and the partition of India – and also the largest diaspora in the world – almost 18 million people.” – Sunny Jain

Brooklyn-based bandleader, composer, dhol player, and drummer Sunny Jain is to release a new album Wild Wild East on the Smithsonian Folkways label on Feb 21st. 

Behind its idealism, the American myth of westward expansion has always been an irony-caked parable about what happens when you try to escape the known for the pursuit of new beginnings. The traits we think we’ve spotted in the cowboy — bravery, boldness, a willingness to sacrifice the known for the sake of the better — have always been suspect. But the courage to leave behind a homeland and head west, to boldly step into a new place and declare it home, to survey the scene and try to find your place in it? That’s still around. “The idea of the American cowboy is this romanticised idea that’s just false,” Sunny Jain says plainly. “The immigrant is the current-day cowboy or cowgirl.”

This dynamic — of interrogating American myths to make them fit the reality of our world, of both questioning and rhapsodising the notion of identity in a contingent world — is at the heart of his new album Wild Wild East. It’s also at the heart of his story — as the son of immigrants from India, as a kid from Rochester raised on the Cure and prog rock, as a fluid jazz drummer on his own and as a party-starter with Red Baraat, as an American of colour. Wild Wild East recognises a world that’s always changing: Today’s cowboy or cowgirl learns how to adapt to their conditions. They see that they’re just as conditional as everything around them. 

Accordingly, his view is broad enough to take in shuddering walls of post-rock guitar, howling tenor sax, the persistent thump of Indian brass band music, rhythms from Punjab and southern Pakistan, film soundtracks from around the world, and swaggering West Coast rap. Wild Wild East casts its nets wide. But like Jain himself, Wild Wild East can’t be reduced to a cosmopolitan series of signifiers taking their turn in the spotlight. The ease with which Jain braids his sound highlights the interconnectedness of global styles — and that sense of connection goes beyond the music itself, as Jain leads his group across genre borders he knows are arbitrary.

This isn’t a jazz record, though it’s impossible to imagine without jazz; nor is it a South Asian party record, though Jain’s persistent dhol playing is impossible to resist. He brings us out to the wide-open spaces of the American West, a different kind of Indian engaging with the tired old cowboy. The cresting hum of Morricone can still be heard, but Jain also reminds us that R.D. Burman’s Bollywood compositions were born in the same kind of heat.  These songs suggest a migration of sound from east to west that can’t be contained, only — thrillingly — accepted.

Sunny Jain’s Wild Wild East is raucous, powerful, gorgeous, jubilant, dissonant. It’s defined by its restlessness, daring enough to encompass many different identities. It’s an album built of a truly American spirit, singing in a new voice: I am large, I contain multitudes.


Immigrant Warrior
Wild Wild East (feat. Ganavya)
Red, Brown, Black (feat. Haseeb)
Aye Mere Dil Kahin Aur Chal (Remembrance)
Aye Mere Dil Kahin Aur Chal
Bhaagi (feat. Aditya Prakash)
Blackwell (feat. Alam Khan)
Hai Apna Dil to Awara (feat. Ganavya)
Tumse Lagi Lagan
Maitri Bhavanu (feat. Ganavya)
Brooklyn Dhamal

Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Wild Wild East is the first release in the Smithsonian Folkways’ Asian Pacific America series, which features exceptional contemporary voices and sonic expressions across diverse musical genres. Whether reinterpreting traditional repertoire and styles or speaking directly to collective experiences through song, the artists in the series expand the American soundscape through their creative explorations of identity, community, and diaspora.  This series supported in part through Federal funds from the Asian Pacific American Initiatives pool administered by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.

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