The Indo-Trinbagonian influence on our music
Celebrating 169 years of East Indian arrival in T&T
The Indo-Trinbagonians contributed much to the development and advancement of this nation through their hard work, dedication and achievements in the spheres of business, agriculture, politics and academics. They have also helped to shape the unique cultural identity of Trinidad and Tobago with their religious practices, food, fashion, literature, dance and music.
The rich diversity of Trinidad and Tobago’s music as it exists today is as a result of the blending of the peoples who were here originally and those who came either as settlers, African slaves or indentured labourers from India, China and elsewhere. Over the years, as they assimilated into life on these islands, some of them adapted their cultural expressions to this place and, in so doing, discovered who they were as a people of Trinidad and Tobago.
In the case of the East Indians, they came with their religious and folk songs which they played and sang among themselves. In time, as technology stepped in and the era of recorded music came, they would listen to popular songs from India brought here. The local Indo-Trinbagonian musicians would however begin to express themselves eventually in a manner more at home to them.
Although they still sang the traditional songs from India and in the language of the old country, they also now did songs in the local dialect and using terms they had developed through the years. The rhythms, too, began to feature new nuances, featuring elements of this adopted homeland of the East Indians.
Out of this came chutney music, spawned in the early 1900s and coming into its own by the 1940s, spreading to the Indian communities across Trinidad, Guyana and Suriname, among other Caribbean islands.One of the pioneers of this genre was Lakhan Kariya, a singer from Felicity who was a popular artiste who took the music to Indo-Trinbagonian communities across the island.
As the peoples of the island began to mix, many moved from the rural areas into places like Port of Spain and San Fernando, in search of higher learning and job opportunities. The culture of the Indo-Trinbagonians left their communities and ventured to the wider society where it was, though initially shunned, embraced by the wider populace.
One of the singers responsible for this acceptance is the late Sundar Popo, who after debuting his chutney song “Nana And Nani” in 1971, competing in the Mastana Bahar competition, became a household name overnight. This prompted music producer Moen Mohammed to record Popo singing his hit and other original chutney songs that became favourites for not only Indo-Trinbagonians but the entire nation.
Popo served as inspiration to many Indo-Trinbagonian artistes who realised that the nation at large was ready for what they had to offer and they stepped confidently forward. From Popo came songs such as “A Mother’s Love”, “Don’t Fall In Love” and “A Scorpion Sting Meh” that are not just seen as chutney classics but important excerpts of the musical heritage of Trinidad and Tobago and virtual folk songs of our nation, loved by all.
We must also acknowledge the contribution of Moen Mohammed, who used his resources to record and deliver the music of Sundar Popo to the people. His vision was the spark that ignited what has become a local chutney-music industry, lighting up the world with our artistes taking the culture to the United States, Europe and even to India.
We must also remember Sham Mohammed, who established the Mastana Bahar competition on television in 1962, providing a platform from which was launched the careers of many of our top Indo-Trinbagonian artistes. This series became a favourite for not only the Indo-Trinbagonians but many citizens, who tuned in weekly to see the performances and also enjoy special segments like the Pick-a-Pan trivia contest. Mohammed and his family members who succeeded him played a major part in uniting the nation, especially Indians and Africans.
In the way of the pan, one can’t deny the contributions made by the legendary Jit Samaroo, whose name has become synonymous with bpTT Renegades Steel Orchestra. Born Jit Sukha Samaroo, in Surrey Village, Lopinot, in 1950, Samaroo started playing the pan as a child and played guitar pan in a parang group consisting of him and his siblings. By the time he was 14 years old, Samaroo was a member of the Lever Brothers Canboulay Steelband where he had mastered all of the instruments.
Samaroo joined the Renegades in 1972 as arranger, and he took the band to a record nine National Panorama championships. Samaroo also led his family steelband, the Samaroo Jets, which also won a number of competitions and awards. The band was also the resident steelband at the Hilton Trinidad for years. Samaroo’s success encouraged other arrangers to study his style, which helped in the evolution of arrangements for Panorama, the pan music festival. The Samaroo Jets were also pioneers of the pan ensembles.
You can’t speak about rock music in Trinidad and not say thank you to Bees Hi-Fi, whose real name is Muktiram Bartoo. As the owner of a music store in Chaguanas, Bees, during the 1980s, realising there was no viable platform for local rock musicians, started to produce and promote rock music shows featuring local bands. He was also instrumental in the creation of the Guitar Wars competition, which pitted rock musicians, guitarists, bassists and drummers against each other. This helped in developing some of the best such musicians in the country and throughout the region.
Nicole Ballosingh was among the first local gospel artistes to use soca music in her ministry, which she started doing in a time when many Christians held the belief that soca, calypso and other musical forms were, well, evil. Ballosingh took a leap of faith and showed everyone how wonderful it is to praise God with our own home-grown music—soca, calypso, chutney and more. Ballosingh helped to usher in a new day for gospel music and give local gospel artistes their own identity.
In 1987, Drupatee Ramgoonai coined the term “chutney soca”, actually, she spelt it “chatnee soca”. The major breakthrough happened in 1988 when Drupatee released “Mr Bissessar”, written for her by Wayne “Kassman” McDonald. Like Sundar Popo had done before, Drupatee took the nation by storm with “Mr Bissessar”, which was a contender in the national Road March race. Chutney singers took the cue from Drupatee and entered the chutney soca arena.
In 1987, a young bandleader, Veerendra Persad, led his band, JMC Treveni, into unchartered territory when they became the first traditional Indo-Trinbagonian music band to cross over into the soca arena. Until then, Treveni, like other local East Indian bands and orchestras, played only religious music, East Indian folk songs, classical music and Bollywood songs, but in that year, Veerendra took the band on the road for Carnival Monday and Tuesday.
The new repertoire opened many doors for Treveni, which is now known as 3Veni and is fronted by Veerendra’s son, reigning international Chutney Soca Monarch KI. In time, other Indo-Trinbagonian bands followed suit, creating a whole new platform within the local music arena that boasts successful bands like Dil-e-Nadan, which is a foundation band of the movement, Karma, Melobugz, BMRZ and others that are taking chutney, chutney soca and soca to the world.
There are so many other Indo-Trinbagonians that have made important contributions to the development and advancement of the nation’s music as part of our culture and as a blossoming industry. This article does not allow the space to honour them all. The Express will however continue to highlight them as we go along. For now, we wish you a blessed celebration of Indian Arrival Day and express our appreciation of what our Indo-Trinbagonian brothers and sisters have done for this our nation.