The finals of the National Chutney Monarch competition takes place tomorrow night from 7 p.m. at Gilbert Park, Couva. The event produced by the National Chutney Foundation of Trinidad and Tobago is this year in tribute to former South African president, Nelson Mandela who died last year.
This may seem a bit odd for some people who may wonder what the purpose is of dedicating an event that is for the most part Indo-Trinbagonian in nature to the African icon. Founder and former president of the NCFTT, Dr Vijay Ramlal said that Mandela was chosen because of the direction in which the foundation wants to see chutney music turn away from and head into.
“Chutney music is not about rum, degrading women and gangsterism, which is what one may be led to believe because of what has been happening with the soca chutney. This year’s competition is about focusing on more intellectual songs and songs with positive values. Nelson Mandela was an intellect and very intelligent. So we decided to encourage the artistes to seek to create a certain standard of songs through the tribute,” Ramlal said.
The artistes will each have to perform two songs doing a chutney-soca song in the first round and then a traditional chutney accompanied by the traditional instruments such as the dholak, dhantal and harmonium. Not rum songs or songs promoting the disrespect of women, violence or any kind of illicit behaviour are allowed in the competition.
“We want to remind people what good chutney music is. We have no problem with chutney soca and I will tell you that there are a lot of really good chutney soca songs that don’t get any airplay on the media. So people only know certain types of chutney soca, which leads to the belief that chutney music is only about rum and women.”
“We are looking to help those good songs that don’t get airplay because we the NCFTT have a responsibility to the art form. I am saying, let’s say something to the nation and to the world through the chutney art form. You have songs from David Rudder, Bob Marley, Bunji Garlin that can be played anywhere for anyone, but where can you really go with a song about rum and water? We have to preserve the authentic chutney music,” Ramlal said.
The event is free to the public and it will be broadcast live on television. Ramlal said that there used to be an admission price, but the decision was taken that once the NCFTT received a subvention from the State the event would be free. Ramlal said that the Chutney Monarch was never meant to be a profit making venture, but a gift to the people in celebration of Indian Arrival Day.
The competition was always held on that holiday, but it was this year incorporated into the Sugar and Energy Festival in Couva as one of the major events of the three-day festival. This is the 20th anniversary of the Chutney Monarch competition, which started the same year as the Sugar and Energy Festival in 1994. This is why the finals are taking place one week after Indian Arrival Day.
When Ramlal spoke with the Express he said that the first prize had not yet been decided upon, but the entire prize purse stood at $150,000. He said the NCFTT was hoping that more sponsors would step up by today so the purse can be increased and the prize structure decided upon by the competitors themselves. Last year the first prize was $40,000 and in previous years it had been up to $100,000. A far cry from the $2M awarded to the Chutney Soca Monarch.
The defending National Chutney Monarch is Falco who told the Express that he is ready and very confident that he will successfully defend his title. He said that the theme choices were to sing in Tribute to Nelson Mandela or about respecting women. He chose the latter because, “You can never go wrong with singing about women.” Falco is also hoping that there will be much greater support for the traditional chutney art form and an increase in the prize monies.
Ramlal now serves as a consultant to the NCFTT, while Miguel Bermudez is the president and Wendell Eversley is the vice-president. They are all working to ensure the preservation of the chutney art form and also to ensure that the music continues to make positive contributions to the advancement of the nation and the people.
Order of appearance:
01: Nisha Kamaldai Ramkissoon
02: Lynn Khan-Mohammed
03: Lukapersad Sonnylal
04: Kavita Maharajh
05: Mohip Poonwassie
06: Melina Smith
07: Ramdeen “Falco” Maharaj
08: Anthony Batson
09: Marva McKenzie
10: Vishan Mohammed
11: Krishendat “Blues” Singh
12: Devanand Gattoo
13: Edward Ramdass
14: Mookesh Deonarine
15: Budram Holass