Migrating from one nation or culture to another can lead to a loss of identity, as persons struggle to find that sense of belonging.
But Trinidadian-born Damian Sookram did not want to just fit in. He wanted to stand out and when he moved to the United States at age 13, Sookram carried with him his traditions.
He was raised in a family of Indian classical singers, musicians and dancers. Sookram began spreading his culture and soon became one of the most requested traditional chutney singers in North America.
“My grandfather Sookram Ramkhelwan was a singer, dancer and drummer. He sang and played dholak to all types of Hindi styles of songs such as Biraha, chowtal, bhajans and ramayan. My dad, Devanand Sookram, followed the footsteps of his dad, getting involved in his culture. He started singing at the early age of 11 years, bhajans, film, classical and chutney,” he said.
Sookram recalled that his father had placed third in finals of the popular Mastana Bahar competition and was also a finalist in the Indian Cultural Pageant.
Sookram began playing the dholak at age five, trained by his uncle, Harry Sookram.
“At the age of 10, I started playing dholak professionally for my dad all over Trinidad, accompanying him at weddings, maticoors, chutney competitions and shows,” he said,
His sister, Denisia Pixie Sookram, who also lives in the United States is a professional dancer. She is the owner and founder of NJ Based dance group Shri Shakti Dance Company.
Sookram, now a father of one, said his dream was keep his culture alive, even in the United States.
He was trained by the late classical singer, Sharm Yankaran, and his father.
And one year after he arrived in the United States, Sookram performed at an event alongside Trinidadian chutney singer, the late Anand Yankaran, and Guyana’s Terry Gajraj.
Then, there was no turning back. Sookram has become a well-recognised Indian classical and chutney singer. He plays the harmonium, dhantal, dholak, tassa, keyboard and drum machines.
He has performed at numerous events and his music is played on radio stations in the US and Trinidad.