ISLAMABAD: Music became a unifying factor when composer, drummer and dhol player Sunny Jain and his band ‘Wild Wild East’ lifted the mood of music lovers on a cool evening, leaving them energised.
‘Wild Wild East’ encompasses myriad facets of Jain’s identity both as a first generation South Asian-American as well as a global musician.
He sourced musical inspiration from scores of Bollywood classics and Spaghetti Westerns, Punjabi folk traditions, jazz improvisation and rollicking psychedelic and surf guitar styles.
Delighted to welcome Sunny Jain’s ‘Wild Wild East’ from Brooklyn, New York on Wednesday night, US Ambassador David Blome introduced him as an artist with close ties to Pakistan, whose parents came from pre-partition Punjab, in the area now Sialkot.
“His music incorporated South Asian, Punjabi bhangra music, hip hop and jazz. Sunny is a great example of strong ties between our two countries,” Ambassador Blome told guests.
A master of his instruments, combining melodious, resonating beats with spectacular bouts of percussion, Sunny Jain and his versatile band members – vocalist Ben Parag, Alison Shearer on saxophone, Ryan Dugre on guitar and bassist Almog Sharvit – performed for a good one hour.
The sound of his music was peculiar, an unusual combination of western and Bollywood tones fused with cutting edge vibes of solid jazz elements.
Compositions such as the experimental sounding Immigrant Warrior and Hai Apna Dil to Awara took music to new heights.
Sunny Jain started playing symphonic drums at the age of 10, and was introduced to drum sets in school when he was 12. He fell in love with jazz music at that point, listening to the 1972 live album of Ali Akbar, Ravi Shankar and Ustad Allah Rakha on tabla. He did not go back to playing percussion from his cultural heritage until he was 18 years old.
“I was a frustrated tabla player. It was something that I should have learnt when I was four years old,” Jain told Dawn before the concert.
As a drummer, he had worked with the likes of Norah Jones, Ali Sethi, Marc Cary, Kenny Wollesen and Kyle Eastwood. He toured the world with the acclaimed Sufi rock band Junoon, performing Khudi ko kar buland itna, Sayonee and Dosti, recording the single Open Your Eyes with Peter Gabriel and performing at the Nobel Peace Prize concert. He also collaborated with rapper Himanshu Suri, tabla player/producer Karsh Kale, saxophonist Donny McCaslin and producer Andres Levin, among countless others.
“I kept an open ear and was inquisitive to learn different rhythms. It was not until some years ago when I fell in love with jazz,” he said, explaining that it took a few years to understand it melodically and harmonically.
Like many musicians, Sunny Jain too, battled with insecurities, but was privileged, honoured and grateful for the opportunities that had come his way.
He believed that music brought communities and cultures together.
“Music is my way to connect with my culture and roots. There is a little of everything for everyone in my compositions; that’s the beauty of music, it lets people explore,” Jain added.
Published in Dawn, December 1st, 2022