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Chutney music represents a quick-tempo genre similar to Calypso music and is popular in the party circuit in Trinidad and Tobago. It uses traditional Indian and African instruments fused with electronic instruments in modern times. Chutney music competitions are typically choreographed with female dancers in traditional outfits. The strong influence of soca, a West Indian style of music in Trinidad, leads some to refer to this style of music as chutney-soca.
Original chutney music incorporated only acoustic instruments, including a harmonium, hand drums, and a steel rod struck with a horseshoe device to keep rhythm. It provided a metallic beat that helped a group maintain its rhythm. Before the music became popular with the masses, its lyrics included references to gods that were deemed offensive. Women commonly performed chutney music in private.
Chutney is distinctive because previous music popular in Trinidad did not include acoustic instrumentation. The addition of keyboards and drum machines in the 1980s and 1990s helped chutney music break into the party circuit as a popular style. Modern lyrics combine religious, folk, and show tunes in Hindi and English. Some music scholars believe the addition of English words and popular dance beats appeal to a younger generation in Trinidad and Tobago who have been exposed to Western music.
When Indo-Caribbean people were taken by the British to work as servants in the sugar cane fields, they brought their musical styles with them. Chutney music with religious lyrics was heard in temples and in the fields. The first recorded version of chutney music hit stores in 1958 in the small South American country of Suriname. Randeo Chitoes’ album consisted of religious songs that soon became popular throughout the Caribbean.
It wasn’t until 1968 when the first album performed by a woman entered this genre. It contained traditional wedding songs popular in the Eastern Caribbean region. This recording eventually brought chutney music to many East Indians as a reminder of their heritage.
Chutney competitions are fused with African, Indian, and Western lyrics and musical styles. Several categories are judged at these competitions, including chutney-soca and groovy soca. Annual competitions rate the clarity of lyrics and how the voice blends with the harmonic instruments.
Some contests require original songs composed by Guyanese. If lyrics are in Hindi, they are described in English, but may not be offensive or libelous. Judges look at the rhythm and poetry of the lyrics and the overall showmanship of the performers. Attire that helps tell the story is encouraged. Men and women alike participate in these musical contests.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is chutney music and where did it originate?
Chutney music is a form of music that blends elements of Indian folk music with local Caribbean influences, particularly from Trinidad and Tobago. It originated among the Indo-Caribbean population in the southern Caribbean, with its roots tracing back to the 19th century when Indian indentured laborers brought their musical traditions to the region. Chutney music typically features instruments like the dholak, harmonium, and dhantal, and it's known for its lively rhythms and often includes lyrics sung in Hindi, Bhojpuri, or English.
How has chutney music evolved over the years?
Since its inception, chutney music has undergone significant evolution. Initially, it was primarily a form of folk music played at Hindu weddings and religious ceremonies. In the 1970s and 1980s, chutney began to incorporate elements of calypso and soca, leading to a more upbeat, dance-oriented genre known as chutney soca. Artists like Sundar Popo modernized the genre, while later musicians have continued to innovate by adding elements of reggae, dancehall, and even hip-hop into the mix.
Who are some notable chutney music artists?
Notable chutney artists include Sundar Popo, who is often referred to as the father of chutney music for his pioneering contributions. Other significant figures are Rikki Jai, who has won multiple Chutney Soca Monarch titles, and Kanchan, who, alongside her partner Babla, helped popularize the genre internationally. Anand Yankaran and Drupatee Ramgoonai are also key artists, with Drupatee being known for her hit "Roll Up the Tassa" which helped bring chutney music to a wider audience.
What role does chutney music play in cultural events?
Chutney music is a staple at many cultural events within the Indo-Caribbean community, especially in Trinidad and Tobago. It is a highlight at weddings, religious festivities like Diwali, and national celebrations such as Carnival. The genre's energetic beats and festive nature make it ideal for dancing and celebration, and it serves as a symbol of cultural identity for many Indo-Caribbeans, helping to preserve their heritage and connect generations.
Can chutney music be found outside of the Caribbean?
Yes, chutney music has a presence outside of the Caribbean, particularly in countries with significant Indo-Caribbean diasporas such as the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The globalization of music and the internet have also facilitated the spread of chutney music, making it accessible to a global audience. International music festivals and concerts often feature chutney artists, further expanding the reach of this vibrant genre.