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Chutney Music: An explosion of Indian talent

An explosion of Indian talent
By Adrian Boodan
article taken from the online Trinidad Guardian on 31st August, 2004

The last 42 years, more so in the past two decades, the local Indian music industry, fueled by increased media exposure, has witnessed an explosion of talent in the areas of chutney, chutney-soca and the remaking of Bollywood film music.

Like any good product, local Indian music continues to evolve to meet market demands and has produced icons in the field such as Sundar Popo, Rikki Jai, Drupatee Ramgoonai, Sonny Mann, Adesh Samaroo, Rakesh Yankaran, Anand Yankaran, Rasika Dindial, Boodram Holass, Heeralal Rampartap and Rooplal Gildharie.

The roots of local Indian music began with the indentured laborers who brought with them several traditional musical instruments which served, in many cases, as a cultural umbilical cord with Mother India when they worshipped or celebrated.

The landscape of Indian music underwent a radical change with the introduction of sound in Indian cinema. The birth of Bollywood in India saw the marriage of Indian playback singing with Hindi films. The first set of “talking” movies to arrive in T&T back in the first half of the last century created such an impact that budding artistes were spurred on to emulate the playback greats.

Indian movies acted as the vehicle which cemented the bonds of the local Indo population back then and is comparable to the effect Indian radio had in the 1990s when it contributed to a cultural rebirth and a social explosion amongst the Indo-Trinidadian community.

Radio Trinidad became the first station to sink roots in T&T in 1947.

Kamaluddin Mohammed, one of the founding fathers of the famous Mohammedville clan, brought many melodies into homes equipped with a bulky vacuum tube radio during his short programmes.

It was at that time new stars of the vinyl came into the limelight.

Listeners got a taste of and became immediate fans to the memorable voices of Shamshad Begum, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh Chand Mathur and Kishore Kumar.

Names such as Jhagroo Kawal, Kunjh Beharry Singh, Taran Persad and James Ramsewak dominated the local scene but none could surpass the legendary voice of the late Isaac Yankaran who is surprisingly making an impact today as some of his works were re-recorded in 2004 by US-based Indian singer Rupa Ragbirsingh.

With Independence came television in 1962 and Mastana Bahar came on the scene in 1970, this programme became a medium to project local Indian talent through competition and gave much needed exposure to our artistes.

Mastana’s first winner, Parvati Khan, later became a popular pop music icon in India.

Khan, who last visited T&T in 2003 gave an exclusive interview to the Guardian on her role as an international messenger of peace.

In the ‘70s local artistes concentrated on doing cover versions of Bollywood hits. It was not until the arrival of the great Sundar Popo that the shake up started. Popo was the first who dared to blend local dialect with Hindi to give us timeless classics as Nana and Nani, Scorpion and Oh my Lover. The latter is still a very popular hit.

Chutney was pushed into the phenomenon that it is today when Anand Yankaran came on the scene.

The Waterloo-based singer, son of Isaac Yankaran, combined the music from the dholak, dhantal and the harmonium with spicy lyrics to give us Nanda Baba in the latter half of the 1980s. It was after the commercial success of this song many classical singers sought to venture the chutney arena.

The freeing up of licenses for radio broadcasting in the early 1990s paved the way for the launch of six radio stations dedicated towards pushing Indian music.

Indian radio fused the local Indian community tighter with a bond of culture and the avenue was now open for more artistes to come on stream and have their works played on radio to a wider audience throughout the day.

It was close to that period Samraj Jaimungal, who is better known to his thousands of fans as Rikki Jai, shot his way to the top to become a legend in his time when he released the hit Sumintra, written by Gregory Ballantyne which had the famous lines “hold the Lata Mangeshkar, gimme soca.”

It was during Carnival ’89, Jai’s name became a household word following his debut performance at Spektakula Forum where he survived what many have termed as a baptism of fire and emerged unscathed before a highly appreciative audience.

Jai who helped to nail some of the boards on the bridge between T&T’s two dominant cultures placed second in the Chutney Soca Monarch competition in 1996 and went on to cop first prize in this competition in 1998/1999 and he claimed the National Chutney Monarch Title in 1999/2000. Jai tied for first place with Bunji Garlin in 2001 for the Young Kings Monarch title and 2002 represented the fourth time in five years Jai was chosen as the Chutney Soca Monarch.

Drupatee Ramgoonai is best know for her onstage duets with numerous calypsonians. She started gaining national attention in the chutney soca arena in the late 80s with her offering of M. Bissessar, which included fast paced tassa drumming and the famous line “roll up de tassa Bissesar,” followed by her trademark “wheeeeee.”

Sonny Mann, who is still performing abroad, has been on the musical scene for decades. However, it was not until he struck it big with Lootay La in 1996 that Mann, who hails from Caparo in central Trinidad, became recognised nationally. Lootay La earned Mann the Chutney Soca title in 1996. Mann told the Wire in 2001 the money he made from Lootay La was enough for him to build a house.

Unfortunately, the grandfather was sent off the stage during the National Soca Monarch Finals. Mann went on to re-record the track with General Grant.

In 1999 the Copyright Organisation of T&T awarded him for having the best Chutney composition, Tere Gowna.

Rasika Dindial who has earned the title the “Rani,” or Queen of Chutney, is yet another Icon of popular chutney culture. Rasika is the daughter of veteran classical singer Basdeo “Lappo” Dindial and sister Jairam Dindial.

Rakesh Yankaran, another talented son of Isaac Yankaran, has given chutney lovers Moray Laylay and Mousie. Rakesh is also known for rendering classical and religious songs with the same expertise as he does his chutney and is one of today’s better paid chutney artiste.

Heeralal “Hero” Rampartap from Rio Claro has won the Chutney Soca Monarch on two occasions, In 1997 he took home the crown with Basmatie and in 2003 with the patriotic hit I’m a Trini. Heeralal was dethroned in 2004 by Rooplal Gildharie.

Popularly known as Rooplal G, this artiste is often referred to as “The People’s King.” Gildharie placed second in the National Chutney Monarch Competition in 1997 and received the people’s choice award in 1998/99.

Today’s brightest star in the Chutney Soca arena is undoubtedly Adesh Samaroo who shot on the scene in the latter part of 2002 with the contemporary classic Rum til I die.