The making of Trini chutney
Prior to Independence, the music of Indo-Trinbagonians remained for the most part in their community with the only people of other ethnic groups exposed to the music being those living in the respective areas where the Indo-Trinbagonians were.
Although some calypsoes prior to Independence did from time to time explore facets of Indo-Trinbagonian life and culture, it was not until after the Union Jack was replaced by the red, white and black that the chutney music genre and other East Indian music forms begin to cut major pathways into the wider society.
Chutney music was mainly heard at weddings and other celebratory events as well as whenever Indo-Trinbagonian family and friends gathered for limes. Chutney music is a derivative of traditional East Indian music into which the Indentured and their descendants injected their expressions to create a completely new music form.
The main instruments in traditional chutney are the harmonium, dholak and dhantal with the tabla drums sometimes being included. The songs were, like calypso, about the day-to-day life experiences of the people.
The singers and musicians explored a myriad of themes from family life issues, things happening in their communities, marital challenges, songs that told stories and also some religious in nature. These were sung in Hindi as well as what we can define as the Indo-Trinbagonian local dialect.
It was a young singer from Barrackpore who in 1970 made the crossover that opened the way for chutney to begin its journey from being a music heard only in pockets of the island to the widespread favourite it has become.
Sundar Popo released a recording titled "Nana and Nani," a song about the love between an elderly Indo-Trinbagonian couple and their comical escapades that was loved by everyone. Popo did the song in Hindi and English dialect, which made it easy for anyone to appreciate and the incorporation of conventional instruments helped make it easily acceptable.
His later release of many other hits, including "Scorpion Sting Meh" and "A Mother's Love", earned him the title of the King of Chutney Music.
From Popo, things progressed for the chutney music art form with it playing a role in the evolution of soca music when in 1973 Lord Shorty further blended the local Afro and Indo expressions to create timeless hits such as "Indrani" and "Om Shanti Om."
We would later see calypsoes like "Marajhin" by the Mighty Sparrow, "Prematee" by Wanderer, which was composed by him and Shorty. And who can ever forget "Nani Wine" by Crazy.
As we moved along, other calypsonians, including Sugar Aloes, Baron, Blue Boy, Brother Marvin and others, did calypsoes with elements of chutney in them.
The music form itself continued to reach out to wider audiences with shows and events such as Mastana Bahar and the annual Family Planning Association Telethon serving as platforms from which the chutney artistes such as Anand Yankeran, Boodram Holass and Rooplal Girdharie were introduced to the wider community when they competed and performed in these shows.
As we come into the mid-1980's, even more people were turned on to chutney music and chutney-influenced soca.
Another major breakthrough came when a young woman named Drupatee Ramgoonai burst on the scene with "Mr Bissessar (Roll Up The Tassa)," the infectious runaway hit which was composed for her by calypsonian Wayne "Kassman" McDonald.
Some years later, Ramgoonai would team up with Machel Montano to record "Real Unity," one of the best examples of blending ethnicities and generations through music.
Another interesting breakthrough around that time was the coming of Rikki Jai, who entered the arena with "Sumintra," a major hit at the Carnival fetes in 1989.
Jai, who has owned the Soca-Chutney Monarch title on several occasions, also went on to establish himself as a very good calypsonian and hard core soca artiste.
Around this time, Indian duo Babla and Kanchan were taking chutney music along with calypso and soca back to India as well as Africa and Europe with their remakes of music from our artistes. One also can't forget the crossover soca hits, "Golo" and "Dhantal" by soca band Second Imij, which won over an entirely new following for the chutney genre in the many young people that followed the band.
Music bands from the Indo-Trinbagonian community, among them Trevini, Dil-e-Nadan, the D Rampersad Indian Arts Orchestra that performed Indian classical and Bollywood songs, began to perform more chutney music as well as chutney soca and soca, entering the Carnival arena, which they had not been involved in before.
Sonny Mann took things to a frenzied level when he in 1996 enjoyed his biggest career success with "Lotala," which took him to the final of that year's Soca Monarch final as well as won for him the inaugural Chutney Soca Monarch title.
Over the years since the 1990's, we have seen more chutney/chutney soca bands emerge as well as the older band evolve as the children of the founders of these bands take over.
Trevini is now 3Veni and fronted by Kris "KI" Persad, who is the reigning National Chutney Soca Monarch and managed by his father Veerendra Persad, who in the 1980's led the band into becoming among the first chutney bands to cross over.
The Ramnarine brothers, Raymond, Richard and Rennie, now lead Dil-e-Nadan and have on occasion won the award for Best Playing Band on the Road for Carnival.
Then we have bands like Karma with Ravi B and Nisha B, Spread Pal Crew and Melobugs, which are also popular beyond the Indo-Trinbagonian community.
We also see Afro-Trinbagonian singers, such as Derek Seales, Moses Charles, Candi Hoyte and Carlene Wells, making their mark in the chutney and chutney soca arenas.
Even businessman Michael "Soca Elvis" Salloum, British-based soca artiste SW Storm and Japanese soca artiste Minmi jumped on the chutney train with success.
In recent years, we have seen what can be described as the rum invasion of chutney music as artistes seemed stuck in a rut as it were with the majority of hits being songs about alcohol.
Popular artistes such as Adesh Samaroo ("Rum Till I Die"), Ravi B ("Rum Is Meh Lover"), Rikki Jai ("Barman"), Hunter ("Bring It") and Neeshan "Hitman" Prabhu ("More Rum").
Many complained that the chutney artistes were taking things too far and encouraging the abuse of alcohol, but as many that objected, more seemed to embrace the songs.
Evidence of this is in the thousands that continue to pack events such as the Chutney Brass Festival and Chutney-Soca Monarch every year, with 2012 being the biggest year for both events. The audiences at these events represent a cross section of Trinidad and Tobago as patrons come from every ethnicity and age group.
We must also not forget the contributions of chutney and Indo-Trinbagonian artistes such as Anil Bheem, Andy Singh, Rakesh Yankaran, Heeralal Rampartap, Ramraji Prabhu, Boyie Basdeo and Sam Boodram.
The development of chutney soca is one of the signals that there is unity in Trinbago and that those who try to break this are fighting a losing battle because in the music of our nation there is always real unity.