Is Chutney Soca to blame for Stereotypes about Indo-Trinbagonians?
“Rum is meh lovah… and you cyah change meh, cuz you know ah was ah drinka…so barman gimme a Guinness and puncheon…cuz I wha meh rum in de morning…”
For those who aren’t Trinidadian, the above lyrics are from various Chutney Soca songs, made popular for their decadent and untoward song style. Some would say it was bacchanalish to the point of ridiculous. Alas, it isn’t just one song, but a combination of three, recent hits by three, different Chutney Soca artistes – Ravi B (“Rum is Meh Lova” and “Ah Drinka”), Rikki Jai (Barman), and Hunter (“Want Meh Rum”).
Now here’s the thing, doesn’t it make you wonder why almost every song has to be about the same thing, that is rum and drinking? Another thing that worries me is the fact that the rum/ drunken Indian culture is becoming a worrying stereotype for young Indo-Trinidadians – male and female.
When I started out exploring the origins of Chutney music in Trinidad, I quickly found that the history that I knew somehow didn’t mesh with the published history. Traditional Chutney music was, as far as I know it to be, sung only by older married women during Hindu wedding preparations. The songs were mainly religious, and somewhere along the way, one tantie decided to spice things up, hence the name chutney – belting out lyrics to the bride to tease her about her upcoming wedding night.
Chutney singers, today, have taken that idea and have run so far away with it that sometimes you have to ask yourself, “What dotishness is this?”. I’m no music critic, so my intention isn’t to rip Chutney apart. Instead, I’m concerned about its impact on people’s perception of Indo-Trinidadians.
“If you were to assume anything about a young, Indo-Trinidadian guy in his 20s, what would you automatically think?”
If you were to assume anything about a young, Indo-Trinidadian guy in his 20s, what would you automatically think? That he’s a roti-eating, rum-swilling, no-good kinda fella? That he only goes to river limes or pulls to the side of the road to drink some rum with his pardnas, when stuck in really bad traffic (though this isn’t a rare sign)? Or would you assume that he’s well educated, family oriented and well rounded? This is where I have a problem, since most Indo-Trinidadians are perceived as the former, rum drinkers – an image promoted by Chutney singers and their accompanying videos. When did Indian culture become so saturated in debauchery and mimicry?
Another worry is how Indo-Trinidadian women, and younger girls, are seen by local society as well. I think I was so caught up in my own interests that I didn’t notice that Indo-Trinidadian girls were becoming more and more ‘fresh’ in music videos and in the media in general. You know what I mean… those cute as a button, giggly, overly sexual, silly girls who seem hell bent on erasing any sign of intelligence with the combination of bingeing on rum and partying. In Chutney videos, they’re either half-naked vixens or half-naked singers. There is nothing else to allude that they’re otherwise talented – if you can call some of the so-called singers that to begin with.
I asked a few of my female, Indo-Trinidadian friends how they would feel if someone they met automatically assumed that they were loose, rum drinking, wild women.
Katherina*, a single woman in her 30s said, “I don’t feel bad or good. I find it funny. I feel the person is small minded”.
Amy*, a married woman with two children chimed in by saying, “I’d tell them to go f$#^ themselves! It certainly won’t be a nice feeling, because I’d prefer someone knowing me before assuming something like that”.
It’s what I fear most for us Indo-Trini girls, that the ones who are intelligent, decent, fun loving and adventurous (in a non-sexual context) are suffering from the bad stereotype that stems from this ‘rum culture’.
Amy elaborated further by adding, “Chutney singers tend to bring down their own because according to the songs, Indian men like to drink rum and chop or beat dey wife. Then when they drinking an’ liming an’ never home dey wife does end up hornin’ them. If is one thing an Indian man cyah take is horn!”
Not all guys would agree with this, but there have been many reports in the news of the like and we’ve all heard similar stories (cue Trini jokes about not having a cutlass or gramaxone around an Indian man who get horn). I’m sure there are some male readers who are ready to cuss me out or say that I’m talking nonsense. However, I’m extremely curious about what men think of this, since I couldn’t find anyone to give me balanced views at all. I know non drinkers, really decent, family-oriented men, and those who will defend White Oak and Puncheon bravely. They all consider it unacceptable to get so drunk as to consider bodily harm to a loved one.
I doubt Chutney Soca will switch gears anytime soon, although JMC Triveni’s “I Eh Drinkin No More Rum Again” is somewhat refreshing. If only their video was original, I’d say they did a well-rounded job. But I digress. I don’t think Trinbagonians who aren’t Indo-Trinbagonian or have ever been exposed to some aspect of local, Indian culture knew much about Chutney or Chutney Soca until popular songs started shaking up the local airwaves. So in that regard, the genre has done good things for the younger musicians who otherwise would have gone ignored.
Still, most musical genres carry social connotations, especially when they’re specific to a culture or people. In this case, Chutney Soca has played a key role in how most Trinbagonians view Indo-Trinbagonians, and I think it’s time someone takes stock of its impact. Undoubtedly, Chutney Soca is here to say. What I could do without is the negative effect it has on Indo-Trinbagonians as a whole.
*Names have been changed to protect people’s identity.