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Where chutney and soca meet
Posted: Wednesday, February 8, 2006

By George Alleyne,

The 2006 Carnival season already has on its list not only several soca or chutney shows, but combined soca-chutney shows and an increasing number of events, including All-inclusive fetes featuring both chutney and soca artistes and chutney and soca music. And while in the past calypso, and later soca, had dominated Carnival and the run-up to Carnival, today chutney shares centre stage with calypso and soca. Chutney, not unlike soca and calypso, is distinctly Trinidadian. Each musical expression has an infectious beat which has the seeming ability to provoke young women to gyrate vigorously and in a distinctly sensual manner. If in the past, Hindu weddings were the principal events for chutney music and dancing, and Carnival the grand stage for Calypso and/or soca, then today chutney has moved out of its traditional setting and has claimed a slot for itself during the Carnival season.

It is as Trinidadian as bake and buljol, roti or bake and shark and, increasingly, Trinidadians and Tobagonians, whether of West African or East Indian descent can be seen participating and clearly enjoying the cultural roti and bake and shark as represented by chutney and soca. In turn, the Hosay Festival bears annual witness to persons of West African descent performing side by side with their brothers in culture and citizenship of East Indian descent, beating tassa drums. It is a cocking of the snook at those who would see, for whatever the reason, the country's major cultural groups apart.

In the process, there has been and continues to be a cross fertilisation of cultures with both dominant cultures contributing to and profiting from the other. Persons of my generation, around before World War II, can perhaps better appreciate that there has been a virtual inter-marriage of the rhythms and sounds of calypso, chutney and soca, and that gradually there is no "we" and "they", no longer a cultural apartness. What I seek to emphasise is that the attraction of each group to the other's cultural expressions did not begin with the dawn of the New Year, nor for that matter the birth of the 21st century or even a decade ago, but rather has been growing steadily over a far longer period. Nonetheless, this year has seen a heartening reaction to the determination of the growing many to understand, to appreciate and participate that much more in each other's culture.

Artistes, for that matter citizens generally, have tended to and undoubtedly will continue to benefit from the cultural togetherness. And this whether it is represented in the recent link up of superstar Machel Montano and Andy Singh to produce a chutney-soca CD - O Sundar Larki - or the St George's College Alumni Association, featuring at its All inclusive fete, Calypso great, Stalin and rising chutney star, Adesh Nanan. Or, for example, the popular Ramnarine brothers, Raymond (remember the line, Everybody loves Raymond) and Rennie having as the guest artiste at their Valentine's feature at Centre Pointe Mall, Chaguanas, leading comic, Learie Joseph, Persons, who had been exposed, largely, to individual cultural expressions increasingly are getting the opportunity to savour, not simply their own, but the music, song and dance of another and equally exciting culture.

At All- inclusive parties, for example that at the Eric Williams Plaza on the tenth, they can dance and/or jump to the music of Roy Cape Kaiso All Stars or the St John United Tassa. Or at another time and place sit as members of an audience at a chutney-soca show savouring and following with clear delight the beat of the music and the songs of the other. I had written earlier of a cross fertilisation of cultures and the contininuous enriching of all. In addition, artificial barriers come tumbling down as a country pauses, albeit figuratively speaking, to appreciate, to drink in the beauty, majesty and grace of the art, songs, dances, music of its individual groups.

Which Trinbagonian has not thrilled to the greatness both of the intent and the quality of the video Ganges and the Nile, featuring Calypso giant, David Rudder, and that veritable master of the sitar, Mungal Patasar. All must pause to soak in the message. There is so much undue emphasis placed in Trinidad and Tobago today on the sad, lingering negatives around us, smothering all too many of the impressionable young in the minuses. It is time as a song of a few decades ago told us to "Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative." That Rudder's and Patasar's figurative Ganges has met the Nile is a positive. The nation should continue to accentuate it.

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