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.



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