Remembering Indian cultural icons

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A report by Sandhya Santoo for Trinidad’s Express.

Here are a few of our local East Indian icons who have contributed to the diverse culture of Trinidad and Tobago.

Music

The late Sundarlal Popo Bahora, better known as Sundar Popo, was considered a pioneer of chutney music. Born on November 4, 1943 at Monkey Town, near Barrackpore, and died at the age of 57 on May 2, 2000.

Coming from a musical family background, Popo devoted his time to music, making significant contributions to the music industry and uplifting the image of Trinidad and Tobago.

He recorded more than 15 albums and infused his lyrics with Hindi and English.

Chutney music draws from east Indian classical music, folk music, bhajans and ghazals. Typically the musical instruments which accompany the songs are: dholak, tabla, harmonium, dhantal, manjira and sometimes tassa.

It also blends the Western, Indian and African cultures into the rhythmic beats.

Popo produced many musical hits and some of the more popular ones include: “Nana and Nani”, “Scorpion Guyl”, “Oh My Lover”, “Don’t Fall in Love”, “Pholourie Bina Chutney” and “Saas More Lage”.

Popo performed in many countries worldwide through the production and promotion of the late Mohan Jaikaran.

The country paid tribute to Popo through the naming of the Sundarlal Popo Bahora Auditorium, at the Academy for the Performing Arts, South Campus in San Fernando, after him.

There is a play entitled Sundar, produced by Iere Theatre Productions Ltd, which is about Popo’s life and legacy to the music industry.

A memorial to the cultural icon, a statue of Popo, was erected in Debe as well as an image of him placed on the welcome arch when entering into the community, located near the Parvati Girls’ Hindu College.

Popo was awarded the Hummingbird Medal (Silver) in 1993, Caribbean Bacchanal trophy in 1996, Caribbean Music Award in 1994 and many other musical awards for his contributions to the chutney genre.

One of Popo’s songs, “Pholourie Bina Chutney” was re-sung and used in the Bollywood movie, Dabangg 2, with Bollywood actor Salman Khan dancing to the new rhythmic beat of the song.

There has also been a consideration to rename his home town of Monkey Town to Sundar Popo Village.

Queen of Chutney Soca

Drupatee Ramgoonai is regarded as the Queen of Chutney Soca music, and for coining the term chutney soca with a song titled “Chutney Soca” in 1987.

Born in Charlo Village, Penal, Ramgoonai started her musical journey singing bhajans in the temple with her mother before she began training in classical music with Ustad James Ramsewak.

In 1988, her song “Mr Bissessar” was a mega-hit as she infused East Indian styles with soca. The song made her a Road March contender.

She is the first female East Indian singer to have made such an incredible contribution to the music industry.

Ramgoonai was credited with bringing tassa and chutney soca into Carnival, which eventually led to her efforts being recognised with the Chutney Soca Monarch competition.

She has had many successful musical collaboration with local and regional artistes.

Such songs included “Indian Gyal” with Machel Montano, “Nani Wine remix” with Crazy, “Curry Tabanca” with the Mighty Trini, “Roll up de tassa” featuring Alison Hinds and “Jeb Sting Naina” which featured several local singers, Lalchan Babwa (Hunter), Neeshan Prabhoo, Ravi Bissambhar, Anil Bheem and Andy Singh.

In 2016, Fox Fuse, a digital music label for the Caribbean and largely recognised for being the largest label for soca and chutney music, signed an agreement to have her entire music catalogued and made available worldwide.

Sports

Anisa Mohammed’s success on the international stage in the field of cricket has made this country proud of her contributions both locally and internationally.

Mohammed, 28, holds the record for being the first cricketer to take 100 wickets in T20 Internationals beating not only other female cricketers but male as well.

Coming from humble beginnings, Mohammed understands what how hard trying to achieve one’s dream can be.

However, this has not stopped her from pursuing hers.

She said: “It feels great to have accomplished the things that I have accomplished thus far in my career. I’ve never allowed anything or anyone stop me from going after my dreams. I always believe that nothing is impossible and once you put your mind towards achieving something no one can stop you.”

The Sangre Grande native is best known for her incredible bowling skills. Her love for the sport was encouraged by her parents and she eventually became the captain for her club team, MAAAD Rangers.

“I would like to say special thanks to my parents for their continued support throughout my career. From the very start, they have gone beyond to ensure that I had everything that I needed to go after my dreams and also for allowing me to travel at such a young age of 14 years with persons we barely knew.

“At that very young age, it was the start of great things for me and I really want to say a special thanks to my parents for all that they have done. Also my entire family and my friends who have supported me no matter what,” she said.

Impressed by her performance at club level, Mohammed was drafted and made her debut against Japan Women in July 2003 at the World Cup qualifier in Holland, where her bowling performance impressed many.

During the game, in her ten overs she bowled six maidens with just four runs conceded and one wicket taken which was a catch off her own bowling.

She has represented the West Indies women’s cricket team in the 2005 and 2009 One Day International World Cups; in the 2009 and 2010 World T20, and in the ODI series against India, Pakistan, Ireland, Holland, England, Sri Lanka and South Africa.

After this, Mohammed became a regular fixture in the West Indies women’s team.

She is also a qualified Level-1 WICB coach.

Mohammed has over 20 awards and recognition to her name, including the Hummingbird Silver medal, which she gained in 2010.

Speaking with the Express, Mohammed said: “My quote to everyone is ‘attitude, determination and dedication add something to your life’.”

Art

The gift of painting, of being able to express oneself through the union of the paint brush and canvas, evokes a creative desire in many.

Yet, for the late painter Isaiah James Boodhoo (pictured above), whose work has been regarded by many as beautiful and filled with culture, it was much more.

Boodhoo, born in 1932 in Sangre Grande, was the son of an estate sugar worker.

At a young age in the 1950s, Boodhoo was influenced by artist MP Alladin.

He earned a scholarship from the State in 1958 to pursue the discipline at Brighton’s College of Art in the United Kingdom.

In 1968, he had another opportunity to study abroad at Central Washington University and Indiana University, where he was introduced to abstract expressionism.

It was here he encountered the disillusionment of the Vietnam War, which would be featured in his later works.

During his time in Trinidad, Boodhoo developed the idea of using his art for social and political commentary.

His first art exhibition was held in 1970 at the National Gallery in Port of Spain.

This exhibition featured the turmoil of the people living in the country at the time and national independence.

The exhibition took place during the Black Power movement struggle which was regarded as a bold move during a time of social unrest in the nation.

In time, his subject matter changed and his later paintings were inspired by the sugar industry of Caroni Ltd, where he used the sugarcane fields and its cutters as the basis for his series called “Caroni”.

Nearing his end, his last works took as their subject the symbols of Hinduism.

Boodhoo died in 2004.

In his lifetime, Boodhoo held more than ten one-man exhibitions.

He was a member of the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago.

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