Cassandra “Mama Tara”

MOTHER DEAREST: Cassandra “Mama Tara” Chatelal with her children from left top, Nadine, Neval and Sushma.

Good deeds in the name of his beloved mother.

That’s the sole vision of the Mama Tara Foundation (MTF), recently established by singer Neval Chatelal.

Chatelal, a former Mastana Bahar (2006) and Digicel Rising Stars (2010) winner, credits his success in music to the wisdom and teachings of his departed mother Cassandra. The Chatelal matriarch, fondly called Mama Tara by those closest to her, passed away on December 3, 2019.

“I’ve often partnered with different organisations to do charitable works and I’ve always dreamt of having my very own foundation. In the interest of listening to my mother and what her life and death taught me, I’ve found no greater way to honour her name and legacy, than by starting a foundation in her name: The Mama Tara Foundation, good deeds in mother’s name,” an emotional Chatelal said during an interview with the Kitcharee on Thursday.

His mother’s passing was a stark reminder that our time here on earth is fleeting, Chatelal added.

“Mom’s death taught me there is no greater time than now. It’s something I knew in theory, but when she passed I felt it in my every fibre. I understood what it meant on a different level and that I shouldn’t waste any more time by postponing the things I wish to express,” he said.

One stage for all

Chatelal has teamed with performers and corporate sponsors from across T&T to put on the made for TV Free the Music (FTM) concert. FTM, recorded on February 28 at Queen’s Hall, will be aired on TV6 in the coming weeks. The trailer for the project will be released on Mama Tara’s birthday this Wednesday, Chatelal said.

“Free The Music is all about providing one stage for all. It is a multi-disciplinary and all-inclusive platform for all art forms that celebrate our diversity and shine the spotlight on creatives. All are welcomed to free the music,” Chatelal continued about the project.

The two-time Chutney Soca Monarch (CSM) (2018 and 2019), says FTM is just one branch of the tree of life emblem adopted by the MTF. The Foundation aims to provide support and create needed platforms for persons of all walks of life with varying life dreams, he added.

“Music is one of the significant branches of the Foundation’s tree of life, in my life and everyone who experiences the magic of sound and expressions. But I want to help others express themselves and attempt to pursue their own dreams, whatever those may be. It’s as simple as doing good deeds, however big or small, it’s all significant, because every bit of effort counts,” he said.

Interestingly, the ongoing global pandemic played a huge part in the acceleration of his plans, Chatelal revealed. The former T&T Music Festival winner (2012) said not having his usual platforms to perform caused him to consider others with similar plights.

“It made me want to Free the Music even more. I started to appreciate every opportunity to perform. The virtual shows and feedback from the audience were constant reminders about the importance and power of music and its role in helping to feel connected to each other. So I didn’t stop singing at all, I sang the most in my private space and mind and a lot of things were birthed out of that,” he shared.

A final lesson from Ma

Chatelal recalled painfully his mother’s requests for him to sing for the entire ward, during her final days at hospital.

“She would be so proud and try and put me on display. She paraded me around and introduced me to the friends she made on the ward. Usually in those situations she wouldn’t ever ask me to sing because she knows I’m hesitant about singing on command, out of the blue. I need to be in the right frame of mind to sing, because of my anxiety,” he recalled.

During one visit in early December of 2019 Mama Tara, however, surprised her son with a request for a concert performance, while undergoing post-op surgical care in the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital. It was the last time she would hear him sing.

“There were so much lessons there that are difficult to discuss. The most important lesson was to sing - to express yourself; to sing - to make people happy… to make her happy,” Chatelal said as his voice tapering off under the strain of the painful memory.

Pausing for a thoughtful moment, he continued: “She was literally telling me to free the music. My biggest obstacles are my very own fears and anxieties and I wish to help people get over their own fears and anxieties through encouraging their self-expression.”

“I don’t think our culture allows people to be vulnerable without thinking something wrong with them. Nothing is wrong with being vulnerable and sad. We just have to find mechanisms of dealing with it because beautiful things can come from it once expressed and channelled in the right way,” he added.

Preparing for a second Divali without his dear mother remains a tough proposition, but Chatelal says he is heartened by the love of “the mothers that surround” him.

“My aunts Cheryl and Anne Marie and so many other aunties who have mothered me and continue to mother me. I continue to feel the blessing of my mother’s love through them.

“Divali is about reflecting upon the divine mother. It has now become for me, a reflection of my very own mother being the light she was and how to channel that energy in the things that I do, to keep the legacy of her warmth, her charm, her brilliance, her abundance and most of all her smile and laughter alive,” Chatelal concluded.

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