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.

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