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What Is Chutney-Soca?

By Carol Luther
Updated May 23, 2024
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Chutney is an Indian condiment or side dish made with pickled fruit or vegetables, except when it is a music genre. The original musical genre from the Indian subcontinent underwent a radical transformation in the Americas, after Indians emigrated to the Caribbean and South America. The result was chutney-soca, a crossover genre that combines two musical styles and their common instruments.

Chutney music has its roots in India, where large drums called tassas carry the rhythm line for the music. This genre was originally folk music with songs created for religious and cultural ceremonies. The dholak and dhantal are Indian percussion instruments that provide additional music for the song’s melody. Chutney in the Caribbean and South America adopted the harmonica as part of the musical repertoire. In Trinidad, chutney music also features the sitar, a stringed instrument similar to a guitar.

Soca music has its roots in the uniquely Caribbean calypso genre. Soca song lyrics often provide a political, cultural or philosophical commentary. The tempo for soca music is much faster than it is for calypso, with bands generating pulsating, rhythmic dance music. The musicians commonly use mainstream Western musical instruments, sometimes with rhythms provided by conga drums. Unlike chutney, soca music often blends electric and acoustic instruments.

Chutney-soca got its name in the late 1980s from Indo-Trinidadian singer Drupatee Ramgoonai, who produced an album with that title. It contained music selections in Hindi and English that combined the melodies, rhythms and instruments from both the chutney and soca music genres. Although she was not the first artist to perform chutney-soca, this music genre had no formal name prior to the release of Drupatee’s now famous album.

The islands nation of Trinidad and Tobago is the unrivaled source of chutney-soca, mainly because of an Indian population that approaches 50 percent of its inhabitants. This music genre’s integration of the artistic styles derived from Indian and African roots is not unique to Trinidad and Tobago. The Indian musicians of Guyana and St. Vincent and the Grenadines also have produced chutney-soca musicians who have achieved international acclaim.

The world’s largest chutney-soca competition takes place in Trinidad each year during Carnival season. Regardless of the artist’s native country, the champion, or Chutney Soca Monarch, receives a substantial cash prize and has a captive audience for his or her hottest releases. Radio airplay and Carnival fetes or parties can boost both sales and a chutney-soca artist’s name recognition.

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Discussion Comments
By SarahSon — On Feb 15, 2012

@LisaLou - Chutney-soca music is very upbeat and fun to listen to. I heard a lot of this music when I was in the Caribbean.

I have played the harmonica since I was a teenager, so I was interested in the way they incorporated the harmonica in to this type of music.

I love to listen to this music when they use drums as part of the rhythmic beat. It is hard to sit still and not get up and dance when they really get going with this.

It is not uncommon to hear this music in many of the villages in the Caribbean. There are a lot of music styles that are associated with this style of music, and all of them are unique in their own way.

There are some good chutney soca music videos online if someone wanted to hear what this sounds like.

By LisaLou — On Feb 14, 2012

I was surprised to read that chutney-soca is a type of music genre. The only reference I had to chutney was a type of food. I just figured the "soca" part of the term was a specific type of chutney.

This sounds like it would be very upbeat music to listen to. I love all types of music and I can imagine this would be easy music to dance to.

I have never been to Trinidad, but if I was ever planning a trip there, I think I would go during the Carnival season so I could hear all the different artists playing their chutney soca songs.

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