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The Indo-Trini role in Calypso

Saturday, January 26, 2013
Popular Chutney singer Drupatee Ramgoonai doing her song Indian Gyal and “wukking up the laadki” with patron Alberni Khan. She competes in the Chutney Soca Finals tonight. PHOTO: SEAN NERO

It is probably the greatest irony in calypso history, one compounded by today’s composers who must be of the view that Indo-Trini calypso input is limited to the likes of Drupatee Ramgoonai, Rikki Jai and Hindu Prince, or technical assistance from Balroop’s and Rent-a-Amp. 


Fact is, Indo-Trinis have been deeply involved with calypso and from well before WWII, participating both on stage and as promoters of the art. Among the best-remembered names in calypso in the 1930s was Moonsie Daley, reportedly a bard of great wit and voice, who enjoyed tremendous respect of his peers. 


The first tour ever organised as an exclusive Trini-calypso showcase took place in 1933 when, with no hope of tangible returns, Rahamut and Company completely funded boat-trip, accommodation and wages for several top flight singers (including The Roaring Lion) to perform in Barbados, Grenada and St Vincent. 


Lion was himself brought up by an Indo-Trini, Najeera Mohammed who, by his own admission, was the major influence in choosing the calypso career that made him and the art globally famous. Among the names of calypso colleagues from the 1950s most easily remembered by Lord Superior were Albany and Indian Prince. 


Echoing Lion’s praise of Rahamut and Company, Superior testified: “Indian people were stout kaiso supporters. They came to the tents in large groups and spent freely. At the time, if a calypsonian wanted to record his work, the first place he would go for financial assistance would be to the Indian community, because he was more likely to get significant help there.” 


And only when Lal Parsotan retired after decades of calypso-show promotions, did the National Women’s Action Committee (NWAC) assume responsibility for one of his creations, the annual National Calypso Queen Competition. 


It was Moean Mohammed who took aspiring recording engineer Carl “Beaver” Henderson under his wing, helping him develop studio craft, one result being Brother Marvin’s Jahaaji Bhai, a beautiful calypso released in 1996 which, astonishingly, was swiftly reduced to ludicrous arguments about its composer’s tribal allegiances.


And then, of course, there was Moonasar Chanka from Penal, whose extensive list of calypso productions stretched over 20 years and included albums by Gypsy, Tony Ricardo, Johnny King’s Wet Mih Down, Scrunter’s Sing in She Party, Kitchener’s Bees Melody, King Fighter’s remake of Come Leh We Go, Sukie and compilations featuring Black Stalin, Organiser, Squibby, Preacher, Blakie, Funny, Power and Trinidad Rio.


Add Mohan Jaikaran, who set up JMC Records, produced several calypsonians and at least one release for Len “Boogsie” Sharpe, created a (now dormant) calypso awards programme and sponsored Triveni, among whose lead singers were Carlene Wells and Double D, a band whose calypso repertoire matches its catalogue of Indian songs.


This is by no means the exhaustive list but an attempt to bring balance to the stereotype about Indo-Trinis and calypso. Detailed in these examples, however, is evidence that not so long ago, relations between the races were going well, at least in the calypso context.


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