Was Sundar Popo the real pioneer of chutney music as some believe? Many writers have acclaimed him as such, and at one time, myself. But further research has prompted me to revise that opinion. I believe there is need for clarity, and I mean no offense to writers or to the late chutney legend. Sundar Popo was one of the pioneers of chutney music. And it did not start with his Nana and Nani song. That song itself was not a chutney song but created an awareness of what could result from a combination of Hindi and English lyrics to the accompaniment of the dholak, dhantal and harmonium.
The humble Sundar would attest to such had he been alive.
Like the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson, Sundar, too, did not fulfill his last obligation to perform his immortal “Mother’s Love,” at Mother’s Day concerts in Canada and New York, instead, he was called away, too soon, perhaps to perform to an audience that adores him as much as the one he left behind.
The day before Sundar left New York for Trinidad, he visited me to say good-bye and shrugged away my concern about his health saying, “if I have to creep, walk or swim, I going home.” When he walked away I had the uncanny feeling I would not see him again. Two days later he was dead, leaving me with the memory of him in his red-signature suit singing to an appreciative audience.
I met Sundar late in his life and knew him only as a humble man with failing eyesight and bad kidneys. Our first meeting was at the Chutney Soca Monarch Competition in Skinner Park, San Fernando. His hand shake was slack. He spoke little and only responded to questions. When it was his turn to go on stage, he asked me to hold his hand and take him up the stairs. I couldn’t understand why, and then someone whispered to me “he cyar see good.”
After that, we became friends. A month before he died he had accompanied me to Yale University, Connecticut, where I lectured on “The Origin of Chutney Music in Contemporary Trinidad,” and he sang chutney songs. We distributed copies of his CDs to the attendees and to Yale Library.
Sundar’s journey is complete. He left the world as humbly as he entered. Sickness did not prevent him from doing what he loved more than his health-sing.