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Thursday, October 8, 2009

The History of Chutney Music in Trinidad and Tobago (conclusion)

Harry Mahabir     Enter Sundar Popo, as a contestant on the television program-Mastana Bahar. With a string of hits, that borrowed from local chutney and Indian film music, particularly with "Nana and Nani" he cleared the way. His melodies were simple, catchy, and his lyrics in a blend of Hindi and English were comprehensible to everyone. But Sundar Popo could not have done it without the help of Harry Mahabir, leader of the BWIA Indian Orchestra. Mahabir adapted Indian linear melodies to western techniques and the new beat was conceptualised.

     The 1970s made chutney ready for soca as it made soca ready for chutney. Mastana Bahar and the annual Indian Cultural Pageant, when it began to include a chutney segment, helped in this regard. And the weekend shows groomed the chutney singers for the international stage.

     Then India's singing diva, Kanchan and her music whiz husband, Babla, visited Trinidad to sing "Kaisay Bani," with Sundar Popo. She later performed her, "Hot, Hot, Hot," the lead song on the cover of Arrow's album along with other calypsos. That opened the door for Drupatie Ramgoonai to call on "Mr. Bissessar," to "roll up the tassa."



     Soca artist Rikki Jai, who won the Chutney Soca Monarch Competition in 1998 and 1999, returned to the fold with "Hold the Lata Mangeshkar Gimme Soca." The popular song instructed neophyte audiences to dance chutney by gracefully curling their hands in the air.

     Chutney soca was becoming a national fad, and for the first time an Indian musical form was being widely enjoyed, and even cultivated by Afro-Trinidadians. Prime Minister Basdeo Panday publicly hailed chutney soca as "a symbol of the type of complete harmonisation that must characterise our society in years to come."

     That season concluded with Brother Marvin's "Jahaji Bhai" (shipmate), a thoughtful and melodious hymn to racial unity which won him second prize in the Calypso Monarch Competition.



     Perhaps, the exhilarating heights and sobering limits of chutney's popularity, and of Indian acceptance in the Afro-Trinidadian mainstream, were illustrated most dramatically by the inclusion of chutney singer Sonny Mann in the Carnival season.

     Mann, 61, had been a second-ranked chutney and classical singer for years. In the early 1990s he recorded a catchy but fairly typical chutney song-"Lotay La." It enjoyed moderate success in the fickle chutney market, until, mid-1995 when it became a smash hit, breaking records for cassette sales and propelling the homely Mann to local stardom.

Everybody Dancing-Sonny MannLotala-Sonny Mann     During the Carnival season the song was at the peak of its popularity. A few steel bands adopted it as their road-march tune, and several African and Indian singers recorded their own renditions of it. Mann won a car as first prize when he performed the song with soca artists General Grant and Denise Belfon at the Chutney Soca Monarch Competition.

     To quote a colleague at the Express Newspaper, Kim Johnson: "The coupling of chutney and soca is like a dance, drifting now in the soca direction, drifting now in the chutney direction, like partners, none to skilled as yet."

     History would show that the crossover of African and Indian music began a long time ago. And the first moves to marry the two were made from the Afro-Trinidadian side. Calypsos about Indians in Trinidad often incorporated an Indian sound. The first was in the 1920s by Tiger, who sang a calypso with a Guyanese twang-"Gi Sita Ram Gi." And in 1947, Killer, another calypsonian sang, "Every time ah passin gyul yuh grinding massala."


     With chutney soca Indians had finally arrived in the mainstream of Trinidadian culture and on their own terms, rather than on the traditional steel band and calypso. And many Trinidadians are now speaking of their country not as the proverbial "land of steel band and limbo," but as the home of "steel band, calypso and chutney." In this sense, chutney has not only symbolised but also played a formative role in the emergence of a new social paradigm of multiculturalism.

     With the advent of the Chutney Soca Monarch and the National Chutney Monarch competitions, the traditional harmonium, dholak and dhantal were replaced by a music band. As a musical style, chutney is valued less for its intrinsic features than for its ability to accompany social dance and to express a distinctively local kind of Indianness. Chutney's style and structure reflects this character partly by their very adherence to stereotypical conventions. Chutney, like "wine and jam," soca, functions as dance music rather than listening music, and its lyrics are accordingly of relatively little importance.

     If soca songs lyrics are generally unimportant by virtue of their brevity and triviality, chutney lyrics are semantically insignificant because of their conventionality, and more obviously because of the fact that they are sung in a language (Bhojpuri Hindi) which is largely unintelligible to most Indo-Trinidadians. The lyrics themselves are derived from a number of sources. Some are traditional folk songs while others are composed by the singers. Chutney lyrics are simple and repetitive. If Indo-Trinidadians seldom understand the lyrics, they do intuitively recognise the formal structure, which carries its own musical momentum and flow.

     Still, Indo-Trinidadians cherish and enjoy the usage of Hindi for its cultural resonance. Inevitably, however, the use of English, or mixed English and Hindi, or even nonsense words is increasing, much to the scorn of traditionalists. And if chutney music is semantically unimportant, the musical style and structure of chutney songs are also simple and stereotyped, again reflecting chutney's function as a dance music.

     What is most important is that a song adhere to certain familiar conventions and meets certain basic criteria. Providing a fast, dance able rhythm is a primary requirement. The emphasis is on the animated singing, and the obligatory catchy refrain, sung in a clear strong voice. Since chutney's focus remained within the network of weddings and live fetes, its mass media dissemination has been relatively slow and limited. Chutney receives some radio airplay on the privately owned Indian radio stations in the country. However, most of the time is devoted to Hindi film songs.

     Nevertheless, the 200 or so cassettes of chutney music released each year enjoys their own niche in the market and are played as dance music at informal parties. Each of the leading singers generally records one cassette a year, the release of which is often timed to coincide with the Christmas season. These are sometimes produced at the expense of the singer. Most cassettes sell around a thousand copies, producers regard as a hit any with sales exceeding 5000. But cassette piracy dampens profits in Trinidad and completely stifles local production.

     In its own way, Chutney has become an international genre with New York City and Toronto, Canada, emerging as appendages to the West Indian scene. Top singers are routinely flown to these cities by promoters for chutney shows which are are attended primarily by immigrant Trinidadians and Guyanese, with the occasional handfuls of Asian Indians.  End.

Harry Mahabir's photo was sourced from RafiMohammed.com, all others from the internet.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The History of Chutney Music in Trinidad and Tobago (part three)

Sham Mohammed     The emergence of chutney music as a public dance phenomenon dates back to 1963, when cultural promoters Sham Mohammed, now deceased and his brother Moen, hosted shows with performances by a troupe of Surinamese singers, among them Ramdeo Chaitoe and Dropatie. They specialised in uptempo chutney music.

     In the following two decades Sham, Moen and another brother, Kamaluddin, radio personality and politician, introduced chutney to the airwaves on the Indian oriented radio programs and hosted public shows. They soon dominated the growing artform through their energetic entrepreneurship.

     One of their protégées, Sundar Popo, who is now considered a legend in the pioneer of chutney music, enjoyed great popularity from the 1970s onwards with his light chutney compositions, which included Hindi and English verses termed "local song."

     His inaugural hit, Nana and Nani, propelled him to national fame. And his follow up pieces, Kaisay Bani, Scorpion Gyul, Kunjagaliya, Hum Na Jaibay, Surajie, Unity and the immortal "Mother's Love," were examples of his creativity and versatility as a chutney singer.

     But more than a decade would pass before the definitive public emergence of chutney would take place, and quite dramatically, in the mid 1980s. Weekend chutney dance-fetes hosted by the Mohammeds, became for the first time, popular on a mass level, regularly attracting hundreds of patrons.

     From then on, one or more weekend chutney shows were held throughout Trinidad, usually on a Friday or Saturday nights or Sunday afternoons at popular venues like Rienzi Complex, in Couva, the Himalaya Club in Barataria and D' Triangle, in San Juan.

     By 1982, chutney music began to cross the ocean from Trinidad and other Caribbean countries to the United States of America (USA). In the same year, Sundar Popo and chutney singer Drupatie Ramgoonai, thrilled audiences of some 2,000 at Madison Square Garden's Felt Forum. The show was hosted by Mohan Jaikaran, who at that time was chief executive officer of Jamaica Me Crazy Records. He now produces, promotes and markets 95 percent of the chutney artistes and chutney music in the U.S.

     The years 1995-1997 marked a consolidation of the East Indian presence in national culture and politics and the institutionalisation of a new, explicitly pluralistic conception of national identity. Chutney music blossomed one step further giving birth to another heady and raunchy offspring, chutney-soca. Defined by promoter of the annual Chutney Soca Monarch Competition, George Singh, as the melody of chutney mixed with the rhythm of soca

    That however, is still under debate by many, since some compositions have been dubbed as either too much soca or too much chutney. A clear definition of what chutney-soca really is, is yet to be determined.

     Chutney soca, however, played a symbolic role in the institutionalisation of this new pluralistic conception of national identity. Black Stalin, an Afro-Trinidadian calypsonian, won the Calypso Monarch Prize with a whimsical song entitled "Sundar Popo," dedicated to Sundar himself.

     Perhaps the most dramatic manifestation of the belated "Indian arrival" on the national scene was the unprecedented prominence of chutney in the 1995-1996 Carnival season. In December 1995, Scrunter, another Afro-Trinidadian calypsonian, won the soca parang competition with a chutney-style tune-Chutkaipang.

     The following month, the first Chutney Soca Monarch Competition was held to a crowd of more than 15,000. The timing of the event and the offering of prizes as large as those of the Calypso Monarch, effectively established chutney soca as a fixture in the Carnival season.

     Chutney soca also became a colourful part of the calypso/soca competitions. The season saw contributions from Marcia Miranda, Tony Ricardo, Chris Garcia, Brother Marvin, Luta, among others.
  
     But it was the Mighty Sparrow, who, with great subtlety managed to raise the hackles of Hindu Brahmins, by choosing to sing of a saucy, tasty "Marajhin," at a time when Indian women had begun to shake off the worst forms of paternalism, often by embracing "creole" culture. "Ah go wuk the land and gee yuh all the paisa," he sang with  uncharacteristic sentimentality and continued with, "Ah go even drink yuh jutha from the lota."
  
     Then came Brother Marvin. His "Jahaji Bhai," turned the joke back on the black people suggesting that the brotherhood of the boat was the brotherhood of both.

     But what is it that made Afro-creole music so comfortable with Indian culture? And how is it that Indo-Trinidadians became so amenable to calypso?

     Perhaps it stemmed from way back in 1971 with Lord Shorty, the Love Man, when he sang of "Indrani," his old Indian chick, so bony, skinny like a whip.

     He had been experimenting with Indian rhythms since the 1960s. His "Om Shanti Om," set a standard which is yet to be surpassed either lyrically or musically and his timing of release was perfect.

     But to consummate the marriage with soca, chutney needed to come of age.
  
  
 Sham Mohammed photo courtesy RafiMohammed.com, all others sourced from the internet. Conclusion...next entry.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The History of Chutney Music in Trinidad and Tobago (part two)

     Particularly important in the Hindu wedding ceremony is the matkor or matikor, maticoor, which takes place the Friday night before the actual marriage ceremony on Sunday.



     On this occasion, women accompanied by male tassa drummers proceed to the nearest water course or a stand pipe, and perform a ritual by digging a small hole in the earth to bury flowers and sindoor (vermilion) which were used in the matkor ceremony. The drummers stand at a discreet distance with their eyes averted while the women sing lewd songs and perform erotic dances. A similar session follows on the festive "cooking night" held on Saturday and after the wedding ceremony.

     After the tumeric anointment of the bride, the women also sing ribald songs behind closed doors and perform erotic dances. The same is done in private chatthi and barahie, childbirth celebrations. Such traditional women songs are clear antecedants of contemporary chutney compsitions.

     As the spoken Hindi declined, such songs often became "creolised" by the introduction of English words.

     Dance is the focus of chutney and is an essential aspect of the folk genres from which it emerged. Chutney dancing was performed largely by lower-class women in the sexually segregated contexts of the wedding or chatti. The dancers engaged in a fairly limited, but expressive set of standard movements, typically combining graceful hand and arm gestures with sensuous pelvic rotation, in Trinidadian parlance this simply means "wining."

     The loosening of social restrictions on dance occurred over a period of several decades. Alice Jan and Champa Devi, earned local renown as hired dancers at Hindu weddings in the country. Although such women were generally regarded as socially unrespectable, their prominence helped loosen proscriptions for the next generation.

     Equally important was the gradual relaxation of inhibitions regarding men and women dancing in the same space. Traditionally, men who danced with women, e.g. at a wedding, would have been considered effeminate, while a woman who danced with men, whether at a wedding or a rum shop would be considered of loose morals.

     In the 1970s such inhibitions gradually loosened as many Indo-Trinidadian private weddings included animated chutney dancing performed by women and a few men - not necessarily in couples, but in the same space, in merry disregard of prior taboos.

     In terms of music and dance, chutney is not, on the whole, original, but constitutes a revival and repacking of the folk genres described earlier in this text, some of which have otherwise declined in their contexts. Thus, what is dramatically new about modern chutney is not its form but its flouting of the social inhiitions previously restricing dance, and its recontextualisation as a form of public culture enjoyed and performed by men and women together.

     Accordingly, as a socio-musical phonemenon, its emergence has been conditioned by the broader transformation taking place in Indo-Trinidadian society since the 1970s. These processess include the decline of various ancestral traditions and of orthodox Hinduism, this however, should not be interpreted as a decline of Hinduism, per se. Chutney, in its own way serves to popularise songs about Krishna and is one part of the lively resurgence of Hinduism and Indian culture taking place in the country. Part three...next entry.

    

    

Monday, October 5, 2009

The History of Chutney Music in Trinidad and Tobago (part one)

The following is an address I delivered on Chutney Music at Yale University on Friday April 18, 2000.

Chutney music, a syncretic Indo-Trinidadian popular music and dance idiom, is little known outside its own milieu. It is the product of the East Indian communities of Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname.

     Indians had originally immigrated to the regions under a program of indentured labour sponsored by the British, and in Suriname by Dutch colonists from 1845 to 1917. Most of the immigrants came from the Bhojpuri speaking regions of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh in India.



  
     In recent years, Indo-Trinidadians have begun active participation in the country's mainstream economic, political and cultural lives. Partly by virtue of high birth rates and the fact that they also constitute one of the largest ethnic groups in the country. Accordingly, the East Indian society in Trinidad and Tobago has been in a state of dramatic transition.With the decline of traditions like caste and orthodox religion, cultural entities such as music and dance have come to assume unprecedented symbolic importance.

     Chutney music, traditionally performed by the use of a dholak (hand drum) a lotha (a brass jar) and two coins, has changed significantly since the 1970s provoking a storm of controversy within the East Indian community.

     As a socio-cultural phenomenon, chutney music has become a dynamic Indian diasporic artform and a prominent fixture of the Indo-Trinidadian music and dance world. It emerged from the rustic traditions of rural Caroni and Penal, rather than the bourgeois Indian community of Port-of-Spain, the capital of Trinidad. Hence, chutney appears to be yet one more instance of the familiar phenomenon of dynamic artforms emerging from the proletariat and only later being accepted by the social mainstream.

     It has given birth to versatile singers such as Devanand Gattoo, Rasika Dindial, Rakesh Yankaran, Heeralal Rampartap, Budram Holass, Ramraji Prabhu, Boyie Basdeo, Sam Boodram and the legendary Sundar Popo, whom you have just heard. There are many more names in the growing list.

     Chutney music is booming. It has become a lucrative specialty music market. It is new, exciting and prosperous and major recording companies are now making huge investments in this rhythmic ethnic beat. The market is unique and almost untouched. Promoters and music producers are quickening the pace by developing a vision to tap the resources and trap new talents that are daily flooding the chutney arena.

     With the advent of the new millennium, eclectic cultural mixes and ethnic diversity have become the most lucrative niche markets. The dynamism of the chutney beat is hypnotic and explosive. Recording companies and music producers such as JMC Entertainment Incorporated and Mohabir Records in New York, Moonesar Chanka and Praimsingh's in Trinidad are trying hard to capitalise on these ventures in order to secure the next big singing star.

     While they are injecting big bucks into the promotion of chutney music, artistes are competing for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash prizes and motor vehicles in seasonal competitions in Trinidad. Although the chutney vogue is a recent phenomenon, as a music and dance tradition, it derives from the oldest stratum of folksong culture brought by the immigrants.

     This musical legacy comprised a variety of genres, such as wedding songs, birth songs (sohar), devotional Hindi bhajans, narrative biraha, seasonal songs such as chowtal, hori, chathi, Urdu/Muslim qawalli and quaseeda and local classical music, commonly known as "tent singing."

     Modern chutney, however, derives primarily from a specific set of folk songs sub-genres, all of which share the use of fast tempo, simple refrain-verse and erotic Bhojpuri texts. By the early twentieth century, the word chutney, or "chatni" which denotes a familiar condiment made from the mango fruit, had become an informal term for such songs.



     It originated from the bowels of the Hindu wedding. Typically, the cooking night at a Hindu wedding started with classical music like drupad, thumri and ghazals and later switched to chutney to commence the merriment and danging. In recent years, however, the chutney singing has, in some instances, entirely replaced classical singing. Part two..next entry.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Saga of Sundar Popo - a continuing series

On the drive back to Queens, New York, from Yale University, Connecticut, Sundar Popo was in a fiery mood. Far removed from the journey there when he stretched off on his side and napped, with a casual, "wake meh when we reach."
     He slurped loudly on a can of Coca-Cola while I stared through the darkly tinted window into the night.
     "You know Susan, what we did today is a good thing." he said, sucked his teeth loudly and peered at me through his thick horn-rimmed spectacles.
     I sat opposite him in the sleek black stretch limousine as it snaked through late night traffic along the I-95 towards home. I was tired. Sundar, however, was not. It was past 10.30 p.m. on April 18, 2000, and I was relieved. I had been nervous all week, preparing to speak before an audience of teachers from colleges and Yale about Chutney Music in Trinidad. I worried that I would bore them, instead, they were fascinated and loved it. Afterwards they crowded around us for the Sundar Popo CDs we were handing out and to ask him about the harmonium and his songs.
     Sundar didn't sing out loud, he sang softly, miming from the boom box he had brought. Reason; he could not get his musicians, the dholak and dhantal players, to accompany us on the trip. He was upset about that, too. Still the audience was impressed with his harmonium playing and the way he, every so often, gesticulated his hand while singing. Those at the front, and myself, could hear him clearly.
     I spoke, he sang.
     Taking my attention away from the scenery, I asked. "What do you mean?"
     He again sucked his teeth several times. For a while I thought he hadn't heard me, then, he spoke. "The lecture we conducted at the University. How we talk about chutney music and how it developing in Trinidad and Tobago.What the people get from it and how it brings foreign money to the country. That is a good thing."
     He took a drag from the can, swallowed and shook his head. "Government should be proud of us. But they don't care about chutney singers in the country. Boy, I does get mad when I think about the kind of recognition we bring to the country with chutney music. In other countries people rushing we for autograph, when they don't have writing paper they putting money for we to sign and we own people doh care."
     Again he jabbed the can at his lips and sucked at the contents.
     "Should you be drinking that?" I asked, concerned.
     "What? The 'cokes'. I going for dialysis tomorrow, I could eat and drink anything today," he replied.
     "You are diabetic, Sundar, and that (coca-cola) could make you sick. It's not good for your sugar level. Aren't you afraid of having a sugar reaction?" I persisted.
     "You doh worry nah. When I get dialysis everything is drained from my body. If I follow that rule I will starve. The prime minister (Basdeo Panday) say he strong like a lion, but I am the tiger. I still have plenty life in me yet."
     "You sure?"
     " Doh worry nah. About what I was saying, them things you talk about, in the speech, all of that is true. Few people know about the real history of chutney music, it have money in it, too. Look way we chutney singers have to come to make some money, eh, yuh think it fair? We have to leave we country and come in a next man country, to be appreciated. Look at how them teachers and them listen and ask questions about the music.
     "I feel so good. Today I feel good about the chutney music, when educated people like them what to know about it. This, what we do here today, is history, you know. If we people know how to sell this thing we go kill them dead. Ah vex eh, but inside I feel I do a good thing. I really want to thank you for that, I glad for this kind of opportunity, girl, I telling you the truth, I really glad for this."
     Three weeks later he was dead. I played that conversation over and over in my mind every time my thoughts centered on him. It was the longest we ever shared. Sundar being a man of few words, and replied mostly with a nod, but on that night he was riled by his musicians and the fact that he had done such a memorable thing and his government didn't care.
     The stint at Yale was Sundar's last public appearance. He had accompanied me to demonstrate what chutney music was, while I delivered a paper on Caribbean Migration. The topic: The Development of Chutney in Trinidad and Tobago. Popo performed "Unity" and "Mother's Love".

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Terry Gajraj, Guyana's Chutney Pride


Since I met him in 1998, the Saki Boom era, Terry Gajraj has changed very little. Before that initial meeting, I had never heard his name nor any of his songs. Yes, the same singer who has been dubbed Guyana Baboo after his famed Bangali Baboo in 1992. Shame on me, I know, for my lack of knowledge of this Guyanese pride and chutney music idol.

     Granted he'd been singing long before Bangali Baboo, and Saki Boom was following in its fame when Shah Rukh Khan and his entourage performed in Trinidad and he was bowled over by the "Boom Boom," song as he called it, I was in no way connected with the local music scene until I entered the media and became interested in the promotion of Indian culture. By then I was grappling for information about this young boy whom every one else seemed to know. And he wasn't the only one, I would later hear names of singers that I knew little about. Yes, more shame, since they lived in Trinidad, too.

     At that time, Terry, as I was informed, was a newcomer to the local stage and especially, chutney music in Trinidad. I was introduced to him backstage at Skinner Park, San Fernando. As I indicated earlier, it was my first meeting with the singer, but it would not be the last. I would meet him several times again, and at one time in Brooklyn, New York, where he performed at a high school. And again, when he would introduce me to his wife and their delightful son.


     As I approached him that night, I thought he looked shy, reserved, and wondered how he managed on stage. His smile was immediate, broad, and boyish. That has not changed, though his face has become fuller. He was slim, lean. with wide eyes. Dressed in a white three-piece suit, he appeared more conservative than the entertainer. His voice was soft, unlike that of the man who took the stage minutes later and his demeanor was immediately transformed. His  face was animated, his body supple and his voice carried across the park. The Guyana Baboo was singing Bangali Baboo. I must admit, I liked the song. His other performances were delivered with aplomb. The ladies in the audience, yep, young and old, made sure he knew how much they adored him. That, too, hasn't changed. My conclusion, he was indeed a stage performer with appeal.

     Recently, I happened to glimpse Terry in New York. His signature smile was what caught my attention, just before there were shouts of, "Terry, Terry, Terry," coming from every direction. He waved, shook hands, slapped shoulders. I was too far to be noticed, not that he would have recognised me.

      Terry Vivekanand Gajraj was born in Berbice, Guyana, in South America. His singing career started, possibly, before he could string a sentence together. And if his parents and grand-parents were anything like mine, he would have been learning to clap, dance and sing from the moment he could wave his hands. It is an unspoken rule in most Indian homes, babies are taught to appreciate song and music from an early age. Terry's, however, extended to the mandir where he sang bhajans alongside his grand-father, a pundit (Hindu priest). He learned to play the dholak, harmonium, dhantal, guitar and keyboard, from his father and uncles. In a home so rich with Indian culture one would have to be deaf to ignore it. Consequently, Terry lapped up every iota of it and used his passion for singing to establish an enviable position as a top rated singer in his chosen career. While growing up he experimented with different types of songs. Today, he sings Indian film songs, chutney, calypso, reggae, soca, chutney soca and ballads and writes his own compositions and commentaries.

     He graduated from a stage performer to a professional singer 19 years ago. In 2000, he released a 30-song double CD titled X, the roman numeral for the number ten, to mark his tenth year as a recording artiste and professional singer. Included in it were some of his biggest hits of that decade; Balay Roti, Na Na Re, Gimme Chatni, Saki Boom, Gori Mosey, Tun Tun Dance, Lilawattie, Come Leh We Go Sooky, etc. And more recently; Dance the Maticoor, Berbice River, Guyana Guyana, Hot Hot Choka, Richmond Hill, etc.

     Terry was enthralled with the late Sundar Popo's release of Nana and Nani, especially the mixing of Hindi and English lyrics. In an interview he had said that that was what he wanted to do: mix up the lyrics and the music. Since then he has been mixing it up for audiences in America, Holland, Australia, Canada, Spain, Suriname, England, and other countries of the world.

     Although he lives in Connecticut, he is still Guyana's most famous Indian cultural ambassador. He has performed alongside "too young to soca" badboy Machel Montano, calypso legends, Mighty Sparrow and Calypso Rose, soca band, Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, India's top music duo, Babla and Kanchan, chutney hot shots, Sundar Popo, Sonny Mann, Rikki Jai, Ramdeo Chaitoo, Anand Yankaran, among others.

     To date, he has recorded hundreds of songs in 29 albums and is working on his latest. Among his albums are: Terry Goes Bollywood, Blazing Chutney Dance Mix, Berbice River, Boom, Raga-Ding-A-Ling, Guyana Baboo, Voice of Guyana, Baita Gana, Soca Lambada, Terry Gajraj 2009, I Really Want a Larki.

     As of this writing, Terry was filming a new music video in Queens, New York. On Saturday October 3, he will begin recording his 2010 CD for release in November. The following day he will shoot a new video with Supertones Music Band for their latest DVD. Each performance in every country he visits earns Guyana props for producing such a talented and dynamic son. He is truly Guyana's chutney pride.

     The photographs included in this blog were taken from Terry Gajraj's website. Hopefully, he does mind me borrowing them. The first is of the singer performing solo and the second is with him and Calypso Rose. They performed at the Music Awards at Club Tobago, Queens, New York, recently. For more photos check out: http://www.terrygajraj.com




Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bhojpuri and Chutney Music

Long ago, in traditional India society, women groups sang erotic songs at wedding and "sohars," special songs at childbirth. These bhojpuri folk songs were lewd and suggestive and provided a way to hand down traditions and customs to later generations.
Chutney music is a bhojpuri offspring. It was brought from the bhojpuri region in North India to Trinidad by indentured labourers. Arguably, chutney music's origin dates back to1845 when the first batch of indentured labourers, east Indians, from various regions of India landed on Trinidad soil. Their lives were centered around the sugar cane field. And many evenings were filled with drinking rum and singing nostalgic bhojpuri songs, folk songs indeginous to India, late into the night. As time went by the lyrics gradually changed to reflect the development of their new lifestyle.
As history dictates, chutney songs, were sang by women, and only at childbirth and  traditional Hindu weddings for "maticoor," Friday night,  and the "cooking" also known as the "farewell,"  Saturday night, before the wedding. Because of the erotic nature of the lyrics, which centered around what the married couple would do on the wedding night, men were not allowed. The women gathered with the dholak, dhantal and harmonium and performed raunchy songs about the couple. Sometimes they enacted skits and dressed up in costumes and stuffed cloth under their dresses as if pregnant.
The song and the music continued to evolve; rhythm and melody changed and by the late 1960s the traditional song had undergone a complete change, a new genre was taking shape. A blend of Hindi and English with a new melody, chutney music was cooking. It took on greater influence when the late Sundar Popo released his Nana and Nani local composition. From then it became revolutionary. Song after song was released by local artistes and by the mid 1970s chutney music was widely accepted as a new form of Indian music in Trinidad. Following in its wake was a new breed of dancers, chutney dancers. Songs were laced with eroticism and dances were equally as wild. Chutney culture was firmly entrenched in society. No longer a wedding and childbirth act, chutney music was on the airwaves and artistes were competing on stage for large sums of money in annual competitions. More...

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