Is Chutney out of place in Carnival?

George Singh (1)

In today’s (January 16, 2018) edition of Caribbean Life News, anthropologist Kumar Mahabir asks “Is Chutney out of place in Carnival?” He offers a brief historical overview of the advent of chutney soca in Carnival and other events to explain the importance of the genre in the Trinidadian musical sphere. Here are excerpts:

[. . .] Chutney Soca promoter George Singh [shown above] really spoke his mind when he became upset on learning that his 2018 show was not 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, Singh said that “the decision by the government not to support chutney soca was an insult to the art form” (Express 05/02/17). Singh raged: “The government, over the last three years, has consistently reduced funding to Chutney Soca Monarch and various members of the present administration have stated directly to me that chutney soca brings no value to Carnival” (emphasis added). [. . .] “I think this administration is hell-bent on seeing that it [chutney soca] has no place in Carnival. It is a slap in the face to Indo-Caribbean entertainm­ent,” he said. 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). [. . .]

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. My argument is contained in detail in a chapter entitled “Chutney Music in Carnival: Re-defining National Identity in Trinidad and Tobago” in the book Caribbean Dynamics: Re-configuring Caribbean Culture (2015). The book is edited by Drs Beatrice Boufoy-Bastick Savrina Chinien and published by Ian Randle in Jamaica.

In the 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 participants of African descent.

The emergence of chutney music and artistes in 1995 – when 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” by DJs in soca parties, and by steel bands as their Road March tune during Carnival, signalled the advent of chutney into the national urbanized 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 Feb. 2 at Guaracara Park in San Fernando, the second largest city in the country. The event is being hosted by Randy Glasgow Productions.

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: “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.

These chutney competitions cum fêtes allow Indians to gain a sense of inclusion in this grand “national” festival, although 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. [. . .]

[Kumar Mahabir is an anthropologist who has published 11 books.]

For full article, see https://www.caribbeanlifenews.com/stories/2018/1/2018-01-19-oped-chutney-carnival-cl.html

[Image above: Photo of the crowd at the 2014 Chutney Brass; source: http://www.trinidadexpress.com/news/Scenes-from-the-Chutney-Brass-at-Guaracara-Park-246882271.html.]

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