An unlikely musical marriage

An unlikely musical marriage

Chutney music

An unlikely musical marriage

The word chutney can only mean one thing for us — the side dish that we South Indians can’t do without at the breakfast table. Well, it was so for me till a few days ago, till my visit to the twin-island Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Exploring the music scene of the place, I was bitten by the curiosity bug when I came across a genre named Chutney music!

Yes, that’s right. Chutney music. A genre that’s a blend of Bhojpuri, Western and Caribbean music. Wondering what the connection is between Caribbean and Bhojpuri? The answer lies in the history of Caribbean islands. It so happened that many Indians from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were taken to the Caribbean islands in 1838 by the British to work in sugarcane fields as indentured labourers after the abolition of slavery.

The descendants of these labourers, the Indo-Caribbeans, form a sizeable population of the country today, and are the creators of chutney music. This musical form was named chutney as it was quite ‘spicy’, with suggestive lyrics and fast-paced beats that forced people to get up and dance. It fast gained popularity with the Indo-Caribbeans, as they considered Chutney music as their ‘own’ music with lyrics in Caribbean Hindustani or English, and tunes that were Indian, but influenced by calypso and soca rhythms, the Afro-Caribbean rhythms they had grown up listening to.

Chutney music is a true reflection of the culture of Trinidad and Tobago as it is a fine blend of all the influences the twin islands has come under — Indian, Western and African. To begin with, this contemporary fusion of genres was religious in nature. However, over the years, the nature of lyrics has undergone a sea change, with the present Chutney music being all about life and love, and food and drink. For a while, the lyrics were very suggestive, too.

Typically played with dholak, dhantal and harmonium, Chutney music suits the beats of drums as well. Of late, the use of bass and electric guitar, synthesiser, and the drum machine as accompaniments for Chutney music is also quite common, accounting for its popularity spreading outside Trinidad and Tobago, to Canada, the US and UK, too.

Speaking of popularity, it is Sundar Popo who is credited for Chutney music’s appeal outside Trinidad and Tobago, as he was the first artiste to blend it with other rhythms like calypso and soca, as also include western guitars and early electronics in it. Since then, a number of artistes have tried their hand at Chutney music, and tasted success. Especially an album named Kuchh Gadbad Hai, cut by Jagessar, Kanchan & Babla, that became the biggest selling album of the genre in the 1980s, and also earned the distinction of being No. 1 in over 50 radio and print music charts in several countries. Live concerts also followed, taking Chutney music to a new high. To this day, it remains so, with an identity of its own, and a fan following of its own.

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