• 04 Dec, 2022

On chutney controversy : Don’t throw out the baby with the bath Water

On chutney controversy :  Don’t throw out the baby with the bath Water

On chutney controversy : Don’t throw out the baby with the bath Water

Linda Capildeo’s letter in the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday (23/6/22) entitled “Crocodile tears now for chutney” was in response to an article in which Ricki Jai said chutney is in serious need of help. Despite her castigating stance, it is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Indo-Caribbean community has, and created no other form of social commentary besides chutney, while other groups have calypso, rap, rapso, extempo and slam poetry.

Linda made reference to Jai as one who had “made a very good living from hawking nonsense chutney music.” She holds career chutney musicians like Ricki Jai responsible for not moving the genre beyond cheap bootleg melodies with banal and tawdry lyrics. 

Capildeo hyperbolised and reduced chutney lyrics to “Beat your dulahin with a bilna and bring rum in a bottle, a glass or a tub.” She wrote: “Every single video that comes out of the chutney arena is recorded at a river or a standpipe and features a young, intoxicated, emasculated East Indian male attacking his wife or significant other.”

Of Jai, she wrote, “Mr Chutney Singer, after making millions year after year, you are now crying for chutney? These tears are really for the view that there is no more money to be made.” In the article, Linda added, “Those who enjoyed listening to chutney at one time are sick of it and these singers. The image these singers project is basically that of a rum bottle. They celebrate infidelity, bawdy, unbecoming conduct and domestic abuse.” 

The distaste for rum-flavoured lyrics was also shared by chutney icon Raymond Ramnarine in a 2013 article in the Trinidad Guardian . He said, chutney music “has become a deluge of rum songs.” Worse yet, he said that some songs masquerade as chutney without any traditional musical instruments.

Both Ramnarine and Capildeo have a point. Chutney hits in the recent past have veered towards rum bottles. Hits like Ravi B’s “Ah Drinka”, “Rum is Meh Lover” and “Rum in my Vein”; Ricki Jai’s “Barman”, and Adesh Samaroo’s “Rum Till I Die”, all support this theme. Besides her rum centric hypothesis, she wrote that the depth of chutney music is as shallow as women desirous of a “tryst with the artiste.”

Capildeo rhetorically asked the “weeping chutney singers … when last did you hear a chutney song on a non-Indian-formatted radio station?” Truth be told, chutney is a rare tune on non Indo-centric radio stations. On the other hand, traditionally Indian stations are a cornucopia of soca, hip-hop, soul and even dancehall. 

If chutney music is dying, she wrote that it is because it was being poisoned slowly for decades. “Most East Indians would not allow that kind of smut in their homes”. She ended with “News flash - chutney is dead.” 

But it is not dead. When people have reached a certain level of inebriation at their favourite club or party, blacks and Indians alike sing and dance to “Mor Tor”, “Lotayla”, and other classics. The genre will always be a favourite where an Indian caravan of family and friends visit for an outing, like Caura river or Toco beach. The genre just needs to be sanitized, and it will survive.