Honouring Uncle Sam by Michael Mondezie
Sam Boodram will always be remembered as the grandfather of chutney music. He was an icon. His songs will live forever.
That’s how an emotional Nisha Bissambhar (Nisha B) summed up the memory of her Uncle Sam following the death of the chuntey music legend. The local music icon passed away on Tuesday two weeks shy of his 87th birthday.
Nisha B is related to Boodram through her mother. The Karma lead singer recalled growing up around a kind and humble man on and off stage who was always willing to lend an ear and sound advice.
“He was always so kind and humble. He would always treat us like his own children. Always say to us: ‘but we are family’ and embrace us. We called him the Lion of Cumuto. He would say you are the lioness. I admired his religious side and how strong he was. Even through his illness he showed so much strength. I am very proud to have lived in a time with him,” a sombre Nisha B told the Kitcharee on Thursday.
Sam Boodram was born in Aranguez in 1933 to the late Babonie and Boodram Balroop. Sam and his parents relocated to Cumuto when he was just ten years old. It was there he first started singing East Indian classical music at the age of 14.
In 1954 he wed Cynthia Panday, sister of former prime minister Basdeo Panday. Together they had six children, 12 grandchildren and eight great grandchildren.
Boodram’s career flourished in the late 50s and he went on to record over ,6000 songs including his standards: “Lalana Khoose”, “Doolhar” and “Mano Mano”. He also toured extensively over his 70-year music career performing across the Caribbean, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
The Cumuto Lion, a name given to him by the late Pat Mathura, was known to share all that accrued wisdom and experience openly with young and upcoming performers, Nisha B said.
“He has always been very positive to all of the younger generation, always offering advice on praying and keeping your head up. He was like the grandfather of the industry, always kind, yet so talented & humble.
“I will always remember passing by his house (in Cumuto) and seeing him sitting by his window always with a smile and responding with a wave when I called out to him. That will be my best memory beside having shared so many stages with him, observing him even when he was ill he would tear up an audience with his powerful voice. Now whenever I pass by his house, I will look at the window and smile,” Nisha said.
A man for all seasons
Boodram’s universal relatability was a credit to his ability to write and speak Hindi fluently. It made him a go-to resource for many chutney and chutney soca acts over the years including DIl-e-Nadan lead singer Raymond Ramnarine.
Ramnarine, who recorded the hit record “Lawa” with Boodram, called him “the pillar” of the genre when he spoke with the Kitcharee on Thursday evening.
“To me Uncle Sam was the pillar that was responsible for traditional chutney music. He sang songs pertaining to Hindu weddings, barahee and lawa (Saturday night before wedding) He stood for quality and preserved the raw tradition of our music. He defended traditional classical and chutney music so passionately,” an inspired Ramnarine said.
The chutney soca crossover star said he will forever cherish an exchange he shared with Boodram at New York’s JFK airport in the United States.
“We met at JFK (airport in) New York City and he told me: ‘Son, you and your brothers are the shining example of our culture. Keep singing good songs and God will bless you.’ I never forgot that. We had him appear on the ELR (Everybody Loves Raymond) concert stage and paid tribute to him. So many great memories. Will be sadly missed by the Ramnarines and Dil-e-Nadan,” Ramnarine said.
JMC 3Veni founder Veerendra Persad said modern chutney contemporaries have to look no further than the DJ set list at East Indian weddings to see how much of an impact Boodram has made on the local and regional musical landscape.
“Beyond a doubt he played an important role in East Indian culture with his local classical and authentic chutney style throughout the length and breadth of Trinidad. Hence the reason why his songs still play a significant part in most (East) Indian weddings and events,” Persad, who is currently in Canada, said via WhatsApp.
Persad, the founder and musical director of his son three-time Chutney Soca Monarch KI (Kris “KI” Persad’s band KI & The Band, said Boodram’s music is still winning over hearts to this day.
“Sam Boodram in his 80s was still able to capture the hearts of younger DJs and radio personalities who still rotate his songs at present. I had the opportunity to play for him on many stages. He was a great artiste who will definitely be missed, leaving a big void in his dynamic style,” Persad said.
His music will outlive us all
George Singh, founder of the Chutney Soca Monarch competition, visited Boodram and presented him with a $5,000 donation to assist with his medical bills less than a month ago.
Singh, who said he found a talkative Boodram in good spirits, honoured the music icon as a Legend of Chutney at CSM 2013. Four years later he watched in amazement as an 83-year-old Boodram rocked a sold-out crowd of young fans during a special appearance at the Ultimate Chutney Challenge at CSM 2017.
“His music will probably outlive us all. He was one of the most respected elders in our music industry, a musical icon in so many ways, and a legend to many in the industry.
“In 2013, Sam Boodram was honoured on the CSM stage as one of the Legends of Chutney among other greats like Rasika Dindial, Rakesh Yankaran and Boodram Holass. In an interview he did that year, he said singers today who sing, shout and scream on stage, should always understand that ‘singing comes from the heart’, and when something comes from the heart it will always be beautiful,” Singh told the Kitcharee via WhatApp on Thursday.
Singh said he would never forget Boodram’s 2017 CSM performance.
“I watched him from the side as he walked gingerly on stage, someone walked on with him while another placed a chair for our 83-year-old icon to sit. He was ready, he was in his moment, in his zone. I am always nervous at the beginning of any event, and here we were opening the show with an 83-year-old singer, with an audience that was less than half his age.
“I held my breath. From the moment Sam Boodram belted out his famous opening of the song ‘Lalana Khoose’, the crowd roared, 10,000 hands raised in the air, my pores raised. This 83-year-old singer rocked the stage and raised the dust at Skinner Park from the first few seconds of the start of the event.
“I can’t remember who was standing next to me, but I remember looking to the person at my side with a smile on my face. This was probably one of the top ten unforgettable moments in the history of my involvement in the entertainment industry.
Rest in peace icon,” Singh concluded.