WHAT do you get when you combine Caribbean Hindustani and English, and add layers of the harmonium, dholak, synthesiser, tassa and electric guitar to the mix?
Chutney music, of course.
As language, food and customs evolved in the years following the arrival of the first Indian immigrants to these shores, so too did the music. The dholak and Caribbean Hindustani which formed the basis of songs and bhajans eventually melded with different sounds and musical influences to create the infectious music that came to be known as chutney.
And in recent times, chutney music has evolved again to include sub-genres.
For all the decades that chutney has been around, there were very few resources dedicated to the promotion of the art form and its artistes. Since 2018, however, Jason Sookram, aka DJ Floops, has been changing the way chutney music is marketed.
By combining his love for music with his knack for innovation, Sookram created the platform www.chutneymusic.com to bring chutney artistes and fans together and promote the music genre and Indo culture.
His website is on track to becoming the first virtual chutney music encyclopedia. Included on the website are Sookram’s articles on chutney singers as well as the Hindustani and English translations of some of the most popular chutney songs.
Initially, people laughed at his idea, many underestimated the fact that fans of chutney music aren’t limited to Trinidad and Tobago but can be found in South America, North America, the UK, India and as far away as Fiji in the South Pacific.
Where Sookram lives with his family in Canada, chutney music is extremely popular. Today, Sookram’s website, chutneymusic.com, gets as many as 50,000 unique visitors each month.
Sookram grew up around chutney music — both his parents were big fans of the genre — but he was also exposed to other music like soca, hip-hop, reggae and dancehall. He also happened to be really good at mixing music, and while working as an internal auditor at Petrotrin, Sookram had a side business as a DJ. But no matter how many hip-hop songs he remixed, people would always call him the Chutney DJ.
“Maybe that was my destiny,” he says.
The dreamer makes it happen
Around that time, the wheels in his head began to turn and his entrepreneurial drive kicked in. He noticed that even chutney music videos, which were of low quality when compared to the entertainment industry’s standards, were getting millions of views on YouTube.
Sookram realised that chutney music had the potential to grow and expand its fan base but needed to be marketed properly. Unlike other musical genres, there was no publication or website specifically targeting chutney music and up-and-coming artistes. Sookram, who is a known dreamer was determined to change that.
“I thought what was the sense of having all this knowledge about music if I’m not putting it to good use? I registered chutneymusic.com and started collecting all these chutney videos and putting it on one page, and then all of a sudden, the videos were going viral,” says Sookram.
“We also educate people on Hinduism, East Indian customs and the Hindustani language through this popular, Caribbean-born art form called chutney music.”
Sookram’s opinion on the direction of chutney music has on occasion landed him in hot water, but he doesn’t shy away from saying what he believes needs to be changed.
“Chutney music has suffered as a result of the lack of creativity. There are very few people who are singing original songs. I want creativity to be reintegrated into the genre; the reason why “Gunga Ghana” was such a big hit is because no one sang a song like that before.
“The music is good and the followers are there, but I think it’s advisable that the artistes sing on different topics and be a bit more original,” says Sookram, who is also championing gender equality in the chutney industry. He wants to see more female chutney artistes take to the stage.
In the meantime, Sookram is expanding his business. He has already signed one chutney artiste and is aiming to have his own Internet radio station up and running soon. He hopes corporate T&T will rise to the challenge and support initiatives such as the one he has embarked upon to promote the Indo culture.
Ironically, even though Sookram has resettled in Canada, he feels more connected to his Indo-Caribbean culture and to the “sweet” music that is chutney.
“I have completely embraced my destiny,” says Sookram.
For more info, visit www.chutneymusic.com.