Rikki Jai is assuring fans he is safe in the arms of friends and family in New York City.
The San Fernando-born chutney soca star found himself inadvertently trapped on the United States east coast, following the closing of local borders in March last year. He told the Kitcharee he was at the time in the city working on music projects and visiting his mother.
“I ended up in New York whilst on a combination of work and dealing with some family matters which led to me not being able to return due to the borders being closed since March 2020,” an upbeat Rikki Jai said via WhatsApp on Wednesday evening.
Jai (Samraj Jaimungal) said the experience inspired him to write his latest release “Friends & Famalay”. The hip-shaking chutney soca jam tells of him finding reasons for happiness and celebration in the midst of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic whilst in the company of close friends and family.
“My family and friends here in New York rallied together to make sure everyone was safe in the early stages of lockdown and then when it was lifted and we were able to socialise in small numbers of six to ten we would be in the backyard bubbling a pot of corn soup or curry duck and of course firing a shot or two,” Jai said with a chuckle.
“I wanted to extend in the song a message of positivity to those who were harder hit and under pressure. To focus on the good things in life, past and present, such as being alive and having good health and not being affected by Covid and not being sick; to use that as a beacon for taking oneself out of the darkness and more so to preserve one’s mental health, not trying to do it alone, but rather call a friend or family just to talk.”
With little to no income for just under a year, the man from Friendship Village admits the going has been tough in the city of dreams.
“The experience thus far was and has been challenging, especially as a full-time entertainer who depends largely on gigs as my means of support. But I have been staying safe largely due to the many protocols that were put in place by the NYC Governor (Andrew Cumo) and mayor (Bill De Blasio) to which I adhere to very heavily,” Jai added.
New York City was one of the hardest hit states in the US during the start of the pandemic. To date the city has had over 467,000 cases of the virus with 25,416 fatalities. Jai says he is following every protocol and leaving nothing to chance in order to protect himself and his family.
“I was literally removing clothes in the corridor of my mum’s house before entering the living area, sanitising intensely, mask on at all times whilst outside when the need arose for groceries. Then washing and sterilising all food, vegetables, mail, bags, boxes, etc with homemade sanitisers and Lysol, when available and generally staying away from the public and maintaining the social distancing that was being asked of New Yorkers,” he revealed.
Showcase all aspects of local culture virtually
Jai said he has looked on with great interest at plans to present a virtual Carnival from T&T. While he is unsure about the exact impact of a virtual festival he has declared himself able and available to help “preserve the spirit of Carnival and the spirit of our culture”.
“I am definitely willing to be a part of this and do my part as a player who has been involved in music and culture and will continue to be so,” he said.
Jai urged, however, that all aspects of local culture be given equal space to shine in any virtual Carnival material produced by this country.
“All aspects of our culture are important and I believe that all the areas should be addressed and be given the importance deserved since it takes all the different subject areas—music, craft, design, costumes, pan, tassa, limbo, extempo, chutney, calypso, soca, etc—to make it whole. Culturally, Trinidad and Tobago is and will always be the cosmopolitan melting pot of the entire Caribbean and we have to do what’s needed to preserve that mindset and keep that intact,” Jai warned.
Jai says while there is some scepticism over the effectiveness of the Covid-19 vaccines currently on the market he is optimistic that they can help bring back some level of normalcy.
“Tough times call for tough measures and we can only hope that the powers that be will do what’s best for all of humanity globally, that a cure for the virus will ultimately be found and this unnecessary number of our friends and family being lost to this virus will cease,” he said.
In the meantime, while T&T waits for its batch of the vaccine, scheduled to arrive by March, Jai urges nationals to follow the medical advice and continue to look out for one another.
“We have the ability to be the best and have demonstrated over the years that we can get over any disaster and get through any storm and this situation is no different. Once we pool our resources and talents and put our minds together by reaching out to help our friends, family and neighbours, we can overcome this temporary change in our lifestyle and be better prepared for the days ahead.
“To quote from one of my favourite artistes the Black Stalin (Leroy Calliste): ‘we can make it if we try’. And to also quote another of my favourite artistes Kes (Kees Dieffenthaller) ‘I Shall Return’,” Jai concluded with his trademark shout of “Kaboom!”.