ListN Up: Sunny Jain (February 5, 2021)

ListN Up is a series of weekly artist-curated playlists. Born from a desire to keep artists sharing and connected during times of isolation, ListN Up offers an intimate sonic portrait of contemporary artists by showcasing the diverse and stylistically varied music that influences their creative practice. 

Sunny Jain is a composer, drummer, and dhol player. In 2020, he released his debut album, Wild Wild East, for Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. He’s also the founder of the pioneering global band, Red Baraat.

Hi, I’m Sunny Jain. I’m a composer, drummer, and dhol player. I made a playlist today looking back at influences from the South Asian diaspora that have impacted me and still inspire me to this day. So we’re looking at everything from 1950s Bollywood to 1990s raga, drum, and bass dance hall stuff. I hope you enjoy, and hit me up–I’d love to hear what you think of it.

“Awaara Hoon” by Shankar Jaikishan and Shailendra

My father was a lover of the famous Bollywood actor Raj Kapoor, and the songs from his films, largely sung by playback singer, Mukesh. He would regularly play 50s-70s Bollywood music on his reel-to-reel player. I love the melodic riffs and the melancholic voice and lyrics. Also, the layers of instruments, the orchestrations, are so uniquely Bollywood; something indicative of the industry during this time period.

“Making Music” by Zakir Hussain

As early as I can remember, there would be cassette tapes of Punjabi and Rajasthani folk music and Jain bhajans (devotional music) being played in the house. There were maybe only a few Hindustani classical records played, and I was always mesmerized by the sound of tabla. Zakir Hussain and his father, Alla Rakha, are the first tabla players I heard. Here is the title track of an album of Zakir’s I came to much later in life that I love.


“Mother Tongues” by John McLaughlin Trio (John McLaughlin, Kai Eckhardt, and Trilok Gurtu)

An Eastman summer jazz camp teacher, Chris Jentsch, had made me a mixtape of all these fantastic drummers for me to check out. This song and Trilok Gurtu resonated with me big time. He was the first person I had heard up until then that I could musically identify with. Coming from a jazz background and also growing up with music from my culture, I was yearning for this sound. Overall, this album opened up my ears to how music and sound could traverse people and cultures.

“River Pulse (Rain Mix)” by Nitin Sawhney

I remember this moment–I was visiting the UK for the first time and at a dinner party with friends. Someone put on a cassette tape of this album and I loved it immediately. I had never heard anything like it before. Really delicate and thoughtful, and it spoke to my spirit. Since that day, I’ve always loved whatever Nitin Sawhney puts out into the world.  The end tabla solo by Pritam Singh is also a very beautiful climax.

“Jaan” by Talvin Singh

My cousin from London brought me this album (on minidisc!) the same year it was released and I was blown away. I had never heard the past, present and future of music from my culture coming together in this manner. I had heard Squarepusher perhaps just months before this and was looking for more Drum n Bass. This album also turned me onto other pioneers of the Asian Underground, like State of Bengal, and led me to the next artist.

“Change” by Asian Dub Foundation

More of the DnB, but as the name suggests, Dub. Incredibly edgy and gritty sound. Hard.

Abida Parveen Live in Concert

In my mid 20s, I started delving deeper into Sufi music. There’s not much to say here. Just listen and be transported.


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