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Dear Editor: Chutney has a place in Carnival no matter what Cro Cro says!

“[George] Singh’s outburst was a public exposé of what the Indo-Trinidadian (Indian) community had always known, i.e. Indian culture (e.g. chutney, pichakaree) is given marginal or no space in ‘national’ and regional shows (e.g. CARIFESTA). […]

“In all his anger, Singh was careful not to confirm what almost every Trinidadian suspected i.e. that Government had initially denied him funding because he was allowing ‘Massive’ to perform his chutney hit, ‘Rowlee Mudda Count’.”

The following Letter to the Editor on the importance and relevance of chutney music to the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival was submitted to Wired868 by anthropologist and author Dr Kumar Mahabir, who is an assistant professor at UTT.

Photo: Dr Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist, author and assistant professor at UTT.

When people get angry, they tend to speak their mind. Their emotions explode in words that they have been suppressing for some time.

Psychologist Dr Jeffrey Huntsinger proved this theory after conducting experiments at Loyola University in Chicago in the USA in 2012.

Chutney Soca promoter George Singh really spoke his mind when he became upset on learning that his 2018 show was not going to be funded by the National Lotteries Control Board (NLCB), an agency of the Afro-dominated Government in multi-ethnic Trinidad and Tobago (T&T).

At a news conference which he convened, the Express reports Singh as saying that “the decision by the Government not to support chutney soca was an insult to the art form.”

“The Government, over the last three years, has consistently reduced funding to Chutney Soca Monarch,” Singh raged, “and various members of the present administration have stated directly to me that chutney soca brings no value to Carnival.” (emphasis added).

At the same news conference, Singh said that the Government had approved a budget of TT$146 million for the National Carnival Commission (NCC).

Photo: Multiple Chutney Soca Monarch champion Rikki Jai.
(Copyright Power 102FM)

“I think this administration is hell-bent on seeing that it [chutney soca] has no place in Carnival,” he said. “It is a slap in the face to Indo-Caribbean entertainment.”

Singh’s outburst was a public exposé of what the Indo-Trinidadian (Indian) community had always known, i.e. Indian culture (e.g. chutney, pichakaree) is given marginal or no space in “national” and regional shows (e.g. CARIFESTA).

Singh’s rant is more revealing since he has admitted that he has “family ties” to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi (Express 27/12/17).

In all his anger, Singh was careful not to confirm what almost every Trinidadian suspected i.e. that Government had initially denied him funding because he was allowing “Massive” to perform his chutney hit, “Rowlee Mudda Count.”

The satire on Prime Minister Keith Rowley’s mother has been arguably the most controversial song in the history of calypso, soca and chutney in the country.

I have always contended that chutney concerts, competitions, tents and fêtes must be recognised as part of Carnival and must be given an equitable share of culture funds, media space and stage presence.

Photo: Soca chutney singer Nermal “Massive” Gosein.

My argument is contained in detail in the book Caribbean Dynamics: Re-configuring Caribbean Culture (2015), in a chapter entitled “Chutney Music in Carnival: Re-defining National Identity in Trinidad and Tobago.” In that chapter, I discussed how Carnival in Trinidad has long been the cultural preserve of the Afro-Trinidadian (African) community. To this day, the major players and champions of calypso, soca, extempo, steelpan and masquerade, whether in Jouvert (“Jour Ouvert”) or Dimanche Gras, remain people of African descent.

The emergence of chutney music and artistes in 1995, the year in which Basdeo Panday was elected as the first Indian prime minster of T&T, was historic. In 1996, the rendition of Sonny Mann’s runaway hit “Lotay La” during Carnival by DJs in soca parties and by steelbands as their choice for Road March tune signalled the advent of chutney into the national urbanised festival/centre.

In the following years, Indians continued to change the ontology of “the national festival” to the extent that Carnival has to be re-defined to include Chutney Monarch, Chutney Brass, Chutney Soca, Chutney Calypso, Chutney Glow and Chutney Mardi Gras.

For the first time this year, a new chutney show is being introduced to the Carnival calendar. It is the International Chutney Queen Competition to be held on 2 February at Guaracara Park in San Fernando, the second largest city in the country.

Chutney is being strongly influenced by calypso and soca rhythms and dance styles but the genre is also used as an alternative to the Afro-Creole music formats. There have been two institutionalised chutney calypso theatres, which are “D” Massive Gosine Roving Calypso/Chutney Tent and the National Chutney Calypso Touring Tent. Now in its eighth year is the National Carnival Schools Intellectual Chutney Soca Monarch Competition, held at the Queen’s Park Savannah in Port-of-Spain.

Photo: Construction magnate Junior Sammy (centre) poses with soca chutney stars Nisha B (far right) and Ravi B (second from right).

These chutney competitions-cum-fetes allow Indians to gain a sense of inclusion in this grand “national” festival although they remain on the periphery of the capital city. These cultural incursions also allow Indians to actively participate in Carnival without losing their (sense of) ethnic identity.

Chutney has been able to resist the domination of calypso as the heartbeat of Carnival music. The subversive spirit of calypso and Carnival is perhaps being re-incarnated in chutney.

Calypsonian Cro Cro and others should accept that chutney soca has become part of Carnival. When he learned that his Icons Calypso Tent was not getting additional funds from Government, he fumed: “Kaiso and Carnival is what supposed to keep this country alive and we supposed to get enough to run the kaiso business. How come chutney get?” (Newsday, 19 January, 2018).

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40 comments

  1. Carnival is a European Roman Catholic event. Two days of alcohol-fuelled merriment, pornographic abandon, lawlessness and gluttony are followed by 40 days of Lent fasting and abstinence, leading up to the festival of Easter at the heart of Christianity. It should not be a national event funded by a budget of TT$146 million from taxpayers of all faiths most of whom do not participate and whose taxes should assist thousands of homeless squatters in flooded farms and oilfields contributing tax petrodollars to state coffers. Carnival without Lent is of no spiritual benefit but simply a vulgar, unethical, money-making exercise to attract winter tourists. With calypso and steelband available all-year round, oriental communities should continue to celebrate classical culture with sitars, flutes, tabla and other Indo-Caucasian instruments at their iconic festivals of Shivratri, Holi and Divali, supported by the private sector. Now is an opportunity for the state to end all funding to culture and focus on education, health, food production and law and order so that citizens can enjoy traditional culture and values at their own expense. This chutney row is totally puerile.

    • Earl Best

      “…Now is an opportunity for the state to end all funding to culture and focus on education, health, food production and law and order…”

      Sally, that and God face, dearie! Don’t hold your breath.

  2. Wow.. never realise Wired had so much mis-educated and closed minded readers with barely any sense of collective history. Always seemed like a page that attracted progressive thinkers

  3. How and when, and why did Chutney come about?

  4. ..Wait. I thought “all ah we is one”? And people challenging the place of Chutney in Carnival? If Carnival has its roots in resistance to colonial oppression Chutney has more place in Carnival than pretty mas. That said, the State should not fund ANY PRIVATE ENTERPRISE that makes money from Carnival for private pockets – Soca Monarch, Chutney Soca, Calypso Revue, whatever..

  5. Why Cro Cro name in the headline though?… a bit clickbaity methinks…

    • Earl Best

      Why did the author save Cro Cro’s name for last? We’re just retaining his emphasis…

      • Alls i’m saying is Cro Cro employed the tried and true ‘Trini’ method of begging for State Funds that ALL cultural and religious groups use i.e. if so and so getting, who is we?.. the headline on the other hand implies that Cro Cro thinks Chutney has no place in Carnival and articulated publicly as much… if the quote used by the author is supposed to be the evidence for that assertion, then its pretty misleading… ergo… clickbait…

  6. Good article. I only hope that the statement “Chutney does bring value to carnival…” n by extension, tourism, was a misquote or taken out of context. I know that Panorama allows Chutney tunes to be played in its competitions. I don’t know if any have been played in the past, but I am yet to hear one this yr.

  7. in Phagwa not in Carnival….

  8. When did they discover that. Probably only recently. Carnival was never their thing until recently. Their lyrics are wanting.

  9. We cud have discussion about “race” all day as long as “my race” (not me personally) stays ahead of the game by being in charge of the treasury. This way it is accepted that the race in charge will benefit, thereby placing their race at the advantage, eliminating the need for any equivalent of affirmative action. So the two major tribes vote pad to secure a win at the polls. I was taught very early in my academic life that politicians have two concerns: concern #1, Get in power and concern #2, stay in power.

  10. Yes let us have more open discussions about gender, race and class. Personally, I love, appreciate and place a high value on our multiethnic cultural heritage. Maybe its because I have identified as dougla as long as I could consciously remember.

  11. Chutney gone through long u used foward to.look ag the show now they not bringing it again what about if u dont have face book what u have to do and u dont havd the money to.go.abd see it well it could so for me

  12. There is nothing wrong with a mature discussion of race. We promised as a country “every creed and race finds an equal place”. For that to be true every creed and race should be free to speak in those issues important to them . It does not make them Les’s trinbagonian. I also believe that chutney is a legitimate art and has its place. We are a young country and we are a multiracial and multiethnic society and so these conversations should’ve expected.i didn’t see this article as one that about race or racial division . It simply positions chutney in our nation landscape. Not as well written as I would have liked but I have no issue with it

  13. Oh nice. Another carnival opinion piece void of statistics/evidence but full of “facts.”

  14. “Welcome to the place/
    Where the people obsessed wid race.”