Chutney music is a form indigenous to the southern Caribbean, popular in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, Suriname, Jamaica, other parts of the Caribbean, Fiji, Mauritius, and South Africa. It's a mixture of Bhojpuri music, and local music.
This contemporary fusion of genres was created by Indo-Caribbean people whose ancestors were from the Hindi Belt. They were taken as indentured servants by the British to replace laborers on sugar plantations after emancipation. Chutney music was established in the 1940s within temples, wedding houses, and cane fields of the Indo-Caribbean. There were no recordings until 1968, when Ramdew Chaitoe of Suriname, a small country in South America, recorded an early rendition of chutney music. The album was entitled King of Suriname and all of the songs were religious in nature. However, Chaitoe soon became a household name with East Indians not just in Suriname but throughout the Caribbean. Although the songs were religious, they had a dance vibe throughout each track. For the first time Indo-Caribbeans had music that spoke to them and was not specifically Indian or European/American in style. This was a breakthrough for East Indian Caribbean music, but the fame was short lived.
Chutney music exploded again in 1968 with the female singer Dropati, who released an album entitled Let's Sing & Dance, made up of traditional wedding songs. These songs became huge hits within the East Indian Caribbean community. The album gained recognition for chutney music as a legitimate form and united East Indians, regardless of their birthplace.
1969 was a turning point for chutney music when record producer Moean Mohammed recorded Sundar Popo with Harry Mahabir's BWIA Orchestra. Sundar Popo modernized the music by including western guitars and early electronics into his music. Although Popo became known as the "King of Chutney," the art of singing songs in "Chutney" style was introduced by a singer named Lakhan Kariya, from the town of Felicity, Chaguanas who preceded Sundar Popo. Other artists, such as Sam Boodram, followed in his footsteps by adding new modern instrumentation into their music. Chutney music until then remained a local music in Trinidad, Guyana & Suriname.
Rohit Jagessar's production, marketing and distribution network brought Chutney music to the world audience and created the Chutney music industry with recordings of Abel Peters, Ramdew Chaitoe, Dropati, Lakhan Karrya, Sam Boodram, Lily John, Isaac Yankaran, Anand Yankaran, Prematie Bheem, Sonny Mann (also credited as Sonny Man), Sundar Popo (produced by Moean Mohammed of Winsor Records), the 1980s Mastana Bahar Album Series (produced by Kamal, Sham & Moean Mohammed), BWIA Orchestra, Atiya, Babla & Kanchan among many other great chutney stars of the era. During the early part of the decade, Rohit Jagessar, Kanchan & Babla would fuse other world beat music to create Kuchh Gadbad Hai, the biggest selling album of the genre in the 1980s.
Chutney Music also got its first big impact commercially in live concert performances during the 1980's when the music was presented by Rohit Jagessar in large stadiums and cricket fields in selected countries around the world. The 1985 revenue from these concerts surpassed US$1 million for the first time in the history of the genre and Jagessar signed Kanchan to a contract with Johnson & Johnson to produce and promote the popular brand in a most memorable television commercial that very same year.
After the success of Kuchh Gadbad Hai, other Chutney artists began to fuse calypso, soca and American rhythm & blues, naming their music Indian soca. A young female artist named Drupatee Ramgoonai from Trinidad emerged on this new scene. At first she was criticized for being "dutty" (rude or crude in creole), because she wrote about sex and alcohol. This was nothing new, as she was following in the footsteps of other calypsonians who they sing about issues in their life or what is happening within the community. Drupatee was later given the title "Queen of Chutney." By the end of the 1980s chutney music was introduced in Indian films. In the Netherlands, a new artist named Atiya exploded on the chutney scene on Rohit Records.
During the 1990s many mom and pop recording companies mushroomed and set out to cash in on the Chutney craze. Companies in The United States and Canada began to pick up chutney artists for their recording companies. These included the successful Jamaican Me Crazy (JMC) Records, Spice Island Records, Mohabir Records and JTS Productions. The establishment of nightclubs such as Soca Paradise and Calypso City in New York and Connections and Calypso Hut in Toronto, coupled with these new recording companies were all factors instrumental in promoting Indo-Caribbean music overseas and in the West Indies.
Chutney is an uptempo song, accompanied by bass guitar, drum machine, electric guitar, synthesizer, dholak, harmonium, and dhantal, tassa drums played in rhythms imported from filmi, calypso or soca. Early chutney was religious in nature sung by mainly women in Trinidad & Tobago. Chutney is unusual in the predominance of female musicians in its early years, although it has since become more gender-mixed.
Chutney artists include Sam Boodram, Rikki Jai, Rakesh Yankaran, Devanand Gattoo, Nisha Benjamin, Heeralal Rampartap and the late Ramdew Chaitoe, who composed the Surinamese-based "Baithak Gana" in his album The Star Melodies of Ramdew Chaitoe. Among the best known examples of chutney music are Sundar Popo's "Pholourie Bein Chutney" or Sundar Popo's first recorded song "Nani And Nana", Sam Boodram's " Lalana Khoose" Sonny Mann's "Lotalal", Vedesh Sookoo's "Dhal Belly Indian", Anand Yankaran's "Jo Jo", Neeshan "D Hitman" Prabhoo's "Mr. Shankar", Ravi B's "Rum Is Meh Lova" and Rikki Jai's "Mor Tor".Additionally, K I's "Single Forever" His real name is Kris Veeshal Persaud.
The nature of current chutney songs are simple. They speak about life and love for many things, whether for a significant other or for an object of possession. Some chutney songs favor the topic of food or drink; however, like most West Indian music, there can be a hidden message found in the song if you read between the lines. Some chutney songs popularize the edible form of the chutney, such as Daniel Worm's "Chutney, Chutney, Chutney" remix made popular in the regional area of Konstanz, Germany.
Chutney music is typically played with the dholak, dhantal and harmonium. The melody of the music is provided by the harmonium, and the dholak and dhantal for the rhythm. More modernly, drum machines playing tassa have been incorporated into chutney as well. Tassa is drumming used in the Muslim Hosay festival, and is also played during Hindu weddings and other celebrations.
Chutney music is sung in Caribbean English, Caribbean Hindustani (a form of the Bhojpuri dialect of Hindustani), and sometimes other Indian languages. Although chutney music has Hindustani and other Indian languages' words it has been deemed ownership by the locals and belongs to the Caribbean, it has not been recognized in the Indian music or film industry, it is of Caribbean culture and mainly of the East Indian sector. Traditionally speaking, the lyrics of chutney are from folk, classical, and religious music, but that has changed over the years. In modern chutney music, including the newer subgenres, the lyrics have evolved to be more contemporary.
The origin of chutney being in the Caribbean has meant that it's been in close contact with different peoples, traditions, and other musical styles since its inception. According to the government of Trinidad and Tobago, roughly 35% of the country's population is of Indian descent, another 34% of African descent, and the remaining 31% composed of a mix of European, Chinese, Middle Eastern, and other ancestry. This has allowed chutney to fuse with other genres and/or implement new instruments into its own style, creating an array of syncretic subgenres including ragga chutney, chutney-bhangra, chutney hip-hop, soca-bhangra, and chutney soca.
Chutney soca is the most notable of these, as it has become virtually indistinguishable from what is considered normal chutney in recent years. Drupatee Ramgoonai coined the term with the release of her album, "Chatnee Soca," in 1987. The style had an emphasis on Hindi lyrics and the beats of the dholak and dhantal. It was further popularized by the 1994 album, "Soca Chutney," by Sonny Mann. It was credited as the best selling Indo-Caribbean album ever, with its title track hitting the top of charts not only in the Caribbean, but in the United States, Canada, and England.
Modern chutney soca, like many chutney subgenres, has incorporated more use of keyboards, drum machines, and other electronic instruments.