Chutney music is the signature Indo-Caribbean form of music, indigenous to the southern Caribbean, originating in Trinidad & Tobago but also extremely popular in Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean. It derives elements from traditional Bhojpuri folk songs, Soca and Indian filmi songs, and more recently from Reggae and Dancehall music. The music was created by Indo-Caribbean people whose ancestors were transported to the West Indies as indentured servants and later immigrants, during the 19th century. Chutney music was pioneered by a man named Sundar Popo, also deemed as “The King Of Chutney”
The modern chutney artist writes lyrics in either Hindi, Bhojpuri (a sort of regional dialect and/or offshoot of Hindi) or English and then lays it on top of beats that come from Indian beats from the dholak mixed with the Soca beat. It should be noted, though, that most Indo-Caribbean people only speak English (a Caribbean form of English anyway, such as Guyanese English), but the reason many songs are sung in Indian languages is because most Chutney singers get their start singing in temple, where Hindi/Bhojpuri is still spoken for liturgical purposes.
Chutney is an uptempo song, accompanied by dholak, harmonium, and dhantal, played in rhythms imported from filmi, calypso or soca. Early chutney was religious in nature sung by mainly women in Trinidad and Tobago. Chutney is unusual in the predominance of female musicians in its early years, though it has since become mixed.
Chutney artists include Rikki Jai, Richard Ali, Rakesh Yankaran, Devanand Gattoo, Nisha Benjamin, Heeralal Rampartap and the late Ramdew Chaitoe, who composed the Surinamese based Baithak Gana in his album The Star Melodies of Ramdew Chaitoe. Among the best known examples of chutney music are Sundar Popo’s Pholourie Bein Chutney or Sundar Popo’s first recorded song “Nani And Nana”, Sonny Mann’s Lotalal, Vedesh Sookoo’s Dhal Belly Indian, Anand Yankaran’s Jo Jo, Neeshan ‘D Hitman’ Prabhoo’s Mr. Shankar and Rikki Jai’s Mor Tor.
Chutney music is mostly popular among the Indo-Caribbean community in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname, and the West Indian diaspora communities in Canada, the United States, and the Netherlands.
Some of the top chutney music producers and bands responsible for making chutney what it is today by providing the sound tracks include Harry Mahabir, the JMC Triveni Orch., T&Tec Gayatones (Rishi Gayadeen), Beena Sangeet Orch., Rishi Mahatoo, Fareed Mohammed, Ravi Sookhoo, Big Rich and all out of Trinidad and Tobago where Chutney music was originally born.
The melodies and lyrics of religious songs sung in Trinidad in Hindi/Bhojpuri are used. Calypso, soca, dancehall reggae, and roots reggae are other musical influences on chutney music.
Early chutney song was religious in nature and sung by Indo-Trinidadian female family members, who, as customary in Trinidadian society, sang before a typical wedding celebration to prepare the bride-to-be for her role as a wife. This can be thought of as a kind of bachelorette party, celebrated only by the female members of the families. The music and the dancing (and some of the suggestive lyrics sung at the events) leaked out into the wider community and society, and became enmeshed into Trinidad society as a whole.
The year 1970 was perhaps the biggest turning point in East Indian music and West Indian music. In this year a young man from Barrackpore, Trinidad, by the name of Sundar Popo leapt to fame with the song “Nana & Nani.” The song, almost comical in nature, described the daily village life of elderly people in his homeland. It is because of Sundar Popo that chutney is alive today.
The nature of current chutney songs are simple. They Speak about life and love for many things, whether that love is for a significant other or for an object of possession. Some Chutney songs favor the topic of food or drink, however like most West Indian music, normally there can be a hidden message found in the song if you were to read between the lines.