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

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