East Indian Music in the West Indies: Tān-Singing, Chutney, and the Making of Indo-Caribbean Culture

Summary: Trinidadian sitarist, composer, and music authority, Mangal Patasar once remarked about tan-singing, ‘You take a capsule from India, leave it here for a hundred years, and this is what you get’. Patasar was referring to what may be the most sophisticated and distinctive art form cultivated among the one and a half million East Indians whose ancestors migrated as indentured laborers from colonial India to the West Indies between 1845 and 1917. Known in Trinidad and Guyana as ‘tan-singing’ or ‘local-classical music’ and in Suriname as ‘baithak gana’ (‘sitting music’), tan-singing has evolved into a unique idiom, embodying the rich poetic and musical heritage brought from India as modified by a diaspora group largely cut off from its ancestral homeland. In recent decades, however, tan-singing has been declining, regarded as quaint and crude by younger generations raised on MTV, Hindi film music, and disco. At the same time, Indo-Caribbeans have been participating in their countries’ economic, political, and cultural lives to a far greater extent than previously. Accompanying this participation has been a lively cultural revival, encompassing both an enhanced assertion of Indianness and a spirit of innovative syncretism. One of the most well-known products of this process is chutney, a dynamic music and dance phenomenon that is simultaneously a folk revival and a pop hybrid. In Trinidad, it has also been the vehicle for a controversial form of female empowerment and an agent of a new, more inclusive, conception of national identity. Thus, “East Indian Music in the West Indies” is a portrait of a diaspora community in motion. It documents the social and cultural development of a people ‘without history’, a people who have sometimes been dismissed as foreigners who merely perpetuate the culture of the homeland rather than becoming ‘truly’ Caribbean. Professor Manuel shows how inaccurate this characterization is. On the one hand, in the form of tan-singing, it examines the distinctiveness of traditional Indo-Caribbean musical culture. On the other, in the form of chutney, it examines the new assertiveness and syncretism of Indo-Caribbean popular music. Students of Indo-Caribbean music and curious world-music fans alike will be fascinated by Professor Manuel’s guided tour through the complex and exciting world of Indo-Caribbean musical culture. Peter Manuel, an authority on the music of both North India and the Caribbean, is Associate Professor in the Department of Art, Music, and Philosophy at John Jay College. He is the author of several books, including “Popular Musics of the Non-Western World” (Oxford University Press), “Cassette Culture: Popular Music and Technology in North India”, and “Caribbean Currents: Caribbean Music from Rumba to Reggae” (Temple University Press).
(source: Nielsen Book Data)

Peter Manuel.
Philadelphia : Temple University Press, 2000.
Physical description
xxiii, 252 p. : ill., map, music ; 26 cm. + 1 sound disc (digital ; 4 3/4 in.).
Studies in Latin American and Caribbean music

Related Articles

Bollyney or Chutwood? Chutney, Bollywood and the ‘Indo Soundscape’ of Travel in Trinidad

Baksh, Darrell. (2011). ‘Bollyney’ or ‘Chutwood’? Chutney, Bollywood and the ‘Indo Soundscape’ of Travel in Trinidad. The power of musical practice lies in its ability…

Indo-Caribbean Cultural Identity Struggles: We’re never Indian or Caribbean Enough!

You’re never Indian or Caribbean enough Chandani Persaud fears Indo-Caribbeans are forgetting their culture, so she’s organising the UK’s first Indo-Caribbean festival. Roti, doubles, Chutney…

Chutney Music – The Indo-Caribbean form of Music

Chutney music is the signature Indo-Caribbean form of music, indigenous to the southern Caribbean, originating in Trinidad & Tobago but also extremely popular in Guyana…

Mobilizing India: Women, Music, and Migration between India and Trinidad

Mobilizing India:Women, Music, and Migration between India and Trinidad By Tejaswini Niranjana Duke University Press DOI: https://doi.org/10.1215/9780822388425 ISBN electronic: 978-0-8223-8842-5 Publication date: 2006 Descendants of…

Where did chutney music originated?

Where did chutney music originated? Background. Chutney music, originating in Guyana and Trinidad, has its roots in Indian Bhojpuri folk music that was brought by…