TT Music Library
Virtual Music Archive of Trinidad & Tobago


Spicy sounds with Indian Roots

Chutney music uses traditional Indian and African instruments fused with electronic elements in modern times. The strong influence of soca leads some to refer to this style of music as chutney soca which many East Indians see as a reminder of their heritage after their arrival in 1845 in Trinidad and Tobago.
East Indians - celebrating their culture
After abolishing slavery, indentured laborers from India was given the chance to get paid for their work and stay for five years only, as well as the option to stay and get a piece of land in exchange. Most of them were staying on the island. In the meantime, the Indian-originated population is around the half of inhabitants. The laborers brought not only their families, but also plants, dishes, fashion, spiritual traditions, and their music, which was mostly heard in temples and in the fields.
In reference to Indian food, “chutney” is a Hindustani word referring to a spicy sauce that one takes with one's meal, in small quantities, to add the right taste of flavor. It is made up of small proportions of many herbs and spices ground together into a paste. For Mungal Patasar, “this term also refers to the music that has emerged from the mixture of Indian folk music traditions associated with weddings and childbirth celebrations”. Traditionally performed in Hindu wedding ceremonies in Trinidad, chutney songs were in Hindi and Bhojpuri – the main language of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the regions where the most migrants came from.
In the beginnings chutney music was composed and sung by Indian women originally behind closed doors, described as „Khimta“. The songs were characterized by a fast tempo, simple refrain-verse structure, and light, exotic lyrics.
Traditional chutney music, also known as bhojpuri folk music, incorporated only acoustic instruments, including a harmonium, hand drums (dholak), and a steel rod struck with a horseshoe device to keep rhythm (dhantal).
The use of folk acoustic instruments is an important difference from the other genres that emerged in Trinidad and Tobago, like calypso and soca. Its religious background is still important to this day, while the songs are performed at ritual ceremonies and weddings across the island.
In an article Amelia Ingram describes, that the instrumentation back then with the dholak's „off-beat pattern has been taken over by an electric bass playing a single drone-like pitch“. She adds that this is „very similar to another recent genre began by Eddie Grant in Barbados called ringbang. I have strong suspicions that ringbang has taken these elements of chutney and combined them with techno-pop in a fashion that might parallel bhangra“.
Indian Roots - indentured laborers from India to Trinidad
Arrival from India
Temple by the Sea - by Christopher Attai
instruments - india
From 1940 things started to accelerate, when Indian films were introduced. As Mungal Patasar describes: „The film songs had a great impact on the music of Trinidad. Kamalaudin Mohammed also got his first radio program during this period, and every Friday evening at 4.30 p.m., all villagers would put on their radios; those who could not afford a radio went to a friend, and even if they had to stand outside, they listened to the radio program“. His radio program was encouraging musicians to start to sing and start their own career.
indian movie record
And so Sundar Popo did. As Ingram states has Sundar Popo evidently been one of the pioneers in the artform, “breaking many boundaries, and most importantly, forming the bond with calypso and soca“. He is recognized as one of the pioneers of chutney. He grew up in a musical family, his aunt, who raised him, after his mother died, was a renowned singer and his father was an accomplished tassa drummer.
In the late 1960s, the televised talent-scouting competition “Mastana Bahar” was very popular on local TV. It was also initiated by Moean Mohammed, which met Sundar Popo in 1969 for the first time. After listening to his song „Nani and Nana“. The song includes lyrics in Trinidadian Hindustani and Trinidadian English and describes the affairs of an Indian maternal grandmother (nani) and a maternal grandfather (nana). The song was recorded accompanied by the British West Indian Airways promoted National Indian Orchestra. Popos music contains still mostly traditional instrumentation, accompanied by dholak, dhantal, and harmonium. He recorded more than 15 albums after.
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Portrait - Sundar Popo
He was able to achieve international recognition around the Indian diaspora and even performed at Madison Square Gardens in New York in the late 1990s, as well as in India. The singer is honored with a statue installed in Debe (South Trinidad).
Sundar Popo Statue - National Trust of Trinidad & Tobago

The influence of Indian movie soundtracks and traditional songs is already seen in earlier releases. Here is a cover version of Sundar Popos‘ song for a Bollywood movie. The following history will show an exciting development of music releases with quite a vital touch from India in Trinbagonian music.

The years 1960 to 1980, impacted by a massive oil boom, as Patasar describes, the Indians started to look for other work besides agriculture and became well-established business owners. This includes the music industry in events and the beginning of commercialization. By the late 1960s chutney was no longer predominantly sung exclusively by women.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the songs performed at wedding ceremonies underwent profound transformations. They were taken from the private cooking nights where they were performed exclusively by women before the wedding and transmuted into a public dance phenomenon. As these dances gained popularity, cultural promoters Sham and Moean Mohammed began to promote chutney music at public events. Also, Indian radio shows and even begun to rise. Especially in the 1980s and 1990s chutney music broke into the party circuit.
Modern lyrics combine religious, folk, and show tunes in Sanskrit (Indian language) and English. Some music scholars believe the addition of English words and popular dance beats appeal to a younger generation in Trinidad and Tobago who have been exposed to Western music.
Indian Cultural Pageant of Trinidad & Tobago (1980)
Record of Sundar Popo
Mungal Patasar & his Sitar
Mungal Patasar
Shalini Seereeram - caribbean feminine
Artwork by Shalini Seereeram
Chutney undoubtedly became its beat in the late 80s and morphed into chutney soca in the 90s. Also, the first chutney soca and parang fusions were done in this decade. The use of original Indian folk tunes, movie songs, and also bhajans (which are simple songs with a prayer to god in moments of desperation and frustration) as a base for the own song, starts to become a trend.
The songs are morphed with a fast calypso or soca beat are common until today. The songs appear like a translation from its Indian originals into Trinbagonian culture with its typical local lingo. Keyboard and drum machines together with tassa drums are used in the rhythms. The upbeat tempo became a driving force behind soca. Kanchan and Babla re-recorded Sundar Popos songs and earned also high popularity.
The female singer Drupatee Ramgoonai gave the style a name with her 1987 single “Chutney Soca” (and an identically-named album), though “Roll Up de Tassa,” released a year later, was more widely heard. She became one of the most popular female singers in the 90s. She has also been one of the first women chutney singers to successfully bridge the gap in the soca market.
Rikki Jai has been chutney soca’s leading voice ever since the release of his single “Sumitra” in 1988 composed by Gregory Ballentyne. Firstly he performed with “Andaz's orchestra” at small-sized events within East-Indian communities. In 1989 he joined the band Trevini (3Veni), which he left in 1990 to continue his career as a soloist. Jai performed then in front of the Afro- and Indo-Trinidadian audience. While he focused on calypso, he occasionally performed songs from East Indian musical repertoires, including not only local music genres but also movie songs from India. His strong focus on calypso made him hire some of the most respected calypso composers to write songs for him – including Winsford Devine, Gregory Ballentyne, Wayne McDonald, and Delamo. However, he rejected sociopolitical commentary and was more interested in party songs.
Video abspielen
Drupratee - cassettes
Cassettes by Drupatee
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Remake of Alison Hinds & Drupatee - Roll up d Tassa
The National Chutney Monarch Competition is held with spirited performances in both, the traditional and chutney soca categories. Sonny Man earned high popularity amongst the soca audience with “Loteela”. He won the title of the Chutney Soca Monarch in 1996. In the same year, Chris Garcia has become idolized by many women, young and old. He was also popular with his song "Chutney Bacchanal".
Since the 1990s, many East Indian Trinidadian women have viewed and used chutney soca as a medium to express themselves in the power struggles that occur over gendered roles and gendered spaces and can be seen as a liberation for women of East-Indian origin.
The colorful Chutney Soca Monarch Competition started in 1996 and includes traditional chutney and chutney soca performances in extravagant costumes with dancers and stage shows. Ravi B and KI, front men for the bands Karma and JMC 3Veni, who represent chutney for decades respectively. In contrast to the more Carnival-focused styles of soca, chutney soca lyrics, which can be delivered in English, Hindi, or a mixture of the two, often deal with marriage, relationships and family, sometimes also through a humorous lens.
Spiritual practices including wedding ceremonies and childbirth celebrations still take place in mostly traditional ways. Chutney soca starts to promote rum drinking in its basic philosophy, together with family-related order relationship topics in lyrics. The "lime" is a popular way of spending time together drinking and listening to music. It is practiced as often as possible. With the emergence of radio stations in Trinidad and Tobago, listeners are able to enjoy chutney and Indian-originated all day on local radio stations.
The commercial success of chutney soca is mostly received by the Indian-originated population. The beverage industry seemed to become an interesting anchor to the beverage industry, especially the rum distilleries. Besides “Rum till I die” and “Rum is meh Lover” a lot of lyrics include the content of drinking and forgetting about stress and sorrows through active drinking. Outdoor liming spots by rivers are very popular in Trinidad, where families and friends come together for a cook-up by the water.

Recorded & released in Trinidad & Tobago.

Recorded & released in India.

The adaption of original Indian music releases (spiritual, traditional, lovesongs, or movie hits) is something discussable. I can not ignore the high number of cover versions or interpretations from India, and the highly discussed music forums for chutney. Members compiled threads with their discoveries, but still, only those, who are related to the music know about the adaptation. It is not mentioned in song releases, as well it is not covered by local media. In acknowledgment of the rise of chutney radio stations, after listening to them for many hours, I find, that the information about the Indian original songs in context to chutney soca releases is quite low, but it could be quite interesting. The discussions in forums start with creative expression and end with stealing other people’s artwork. A member mentioned that Sundar Popo was in Trinidad (supposedly) known „for being a song thief“ and Babla and Kanchan „popularised the remaking of Hindi songs with Bhojpuri lyrics“. I would put it as cultural alignment, a translation of content because it is reaching already an audience, which is measurable.
 Some forum members were excited, others were disappointed to find out, that it doesn’t change much on the fact that it is a form of plagiarism,  a parody or simply missing originality. Maybe they just go, with what works, or maybe it is just a „spin-off“ of the originals. As I can say, the list of remakes is so long, that it could become a new page on this website or even a whole mixtape. Several compilation ideas were already given in the forum. 

I will give you just two more examples for now:

Recorded & released in Trinidad & Tobago.

Recorded & released in India. Movie Release: 1962

Recorded & released in Trinidad & Tobago.

Recorded & released in India. Movie: Raja Aur Runk (1968)
Chutney soca never lost its humorous ways and is well received in Trinidad and Tobago to this day. The music enjoys also considerable popularity in Guyana and Suriname – Caribbean nations in South America with substantial East Indian populations. New York City, with its large Indo-Caribbean expat community, has also been an important stop on the chutney soca circuit since the early nineteens.

The much Indian traditions play a high role in the lives of East-Indian Trinbagonians, as well as the related fashion. For the Diwali celebration each November, the whole country is lit with „deas“ (candles out of coconut oil instead of wax) for spiritual occasions. Indian expos take place, where you are able to find the finest garments out of New Delhi and Mumbai in the prettiest colors, hand-made, of course. The sari and other combinations of Indian clothing are worn for very special occasions. The beauty is visible in a huge amount of live performances for the ‚Chutney Monarch Competition‘, where stage shows are brought to the next level (compared to calypso). 

Video abspielen
Additionally, I like to mention the colorful celebration of "Phagwa" (also known as "Holi"), which is celebrated each year in March or April in Trinidad and Tobago. Traditional chutney is the main music, performed, mostly live and accompanied by dancers. A Carnival-like atmosphere pervades as willing participants are sprayed with a variety of colored dyes. The music is fast-paced and extremely infectious, inviting you to take part in the joy-filled revelry. The video includes another song, which got adapted into chutney soca. But for now, stick with this version.
Latest Update: 12/10/22
Compiled by:
DJ Mika Raguaa - Professional DJ & Multimedia Designer
DJ & Researcher


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Jocelyne Guibault (2007): Governing Sound – The cultural politics of Trinidad’s Carnival Music
University of Chicago, Ian Randle Publishers

Gerard Besson (2011): Calypso, Calypso Music

Ronald C. Emrit: Calypso History
http:// Calypso in Trinidad – Carnival and Musical Traditions (offline nowadays)

Marlene Garcia (2022): What is chutney music? What Is Chutney Music? (

Amelia Ingram (1997): What is chutney music? What is Chutney Music? (

Mungal Patasar: The Development of Indian Music in Trinidad and Tobago

Jesse Server (2017): The Rise of Soca
https:// Thanks to the forum discussions, music recommendations, and inspiring ideas

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