CHUTNEY singers Rickson McDonald from TT and Ashanie “Princess Ashanie” Lahel-Ramjit from the US have won the People’s Choice Awards) Online International Chutney Soca Competition.
The competition is being hosted by website Chutneymusic.com and this is the “first time in 25 years” that women have competed in a separate competition, founder Jason “DJ Floops” Sookram told Newsday.
McDonald automatically qualified for the Raja semi-finals, which will take place on January 23, while Lahel-Ramjit moves forward to the Rani finals on February 6, as there were fewer entries in the female competition. The other semi-final results will be announced this week.
Voting for both competitions began online from December 20, 2020.
Sookram said he was encouraged by the number of entries, especially as there are no prizes being offered, just the title. He said entries came from all over the world, including the Netherlands, Canada, South Africa, the US and the UK.
“Have you ever seen a chutney competition with people from the UK, Holland, South Africa, etc? There are people trying to sound like us, trying to sing in Trinidad Creole. Interestingly, many of the entrants are of African descent.
“The competition is doing what it’s supposed to do, which is to bolster both the Trinidadian and Indian identity worldwide. We know chutney music has a worldwide appeal – it’s just that the marketing is lacking. We’re gratified to see the number of responses, considering there’s no prize being offered, just the title, as this is the first year.”
Sookram said the blueprint for the competition was developed in 2018 because he and his team felt the genre had become degraded because of the quality of songs. He said the mandate of the website is to innovate and create development in chutney soca.
“At the time Chutneymusic.com was too small to shape the conversation. Now that we have 100,000 followers from all over the world, we are at a critical mass to influence the market positively.
“Many artists lament the slide but do not have a platform, and we have provided this. The timing is right, because covid19 has dried up all live gigs and Carnival is not on the cards. So we developed this competition to keep them sharp and provide a platform for more creative compositions.”
For the preliminary rounds, contestants entered by uploading a one-minute video of them singing their song live using a professionally recorded instrumental or live backing instruments.
Official music videos could not be submitted. English compositions were allowed but bonus points were available for proper usage of Hindustani. Entrants could not use songs that had been professionally recorded, but they could use songs they had used to enter other competitions.
“No Bollywood remixes or covers were allowed,” according to Sookram, “although Bollywood melodies were allowed with a 15-point penalty. This was because Bollywood music is copyrighted and belongs to Indian companies.
"We should be focused on developing our own music genre, chutney, so that we can export it. The purpose of the competition is to increase the use of Hindi and get songs that cover the spectrum of societal topics, just not the usual rum and horn songs. When the product is right, then we export it.”
Sookram, who is from Trinidad, lived here until 2018 when he moved to Canada following the closure of Petrotrin, where he worked as a certified public accountant and internal auditor. He said his Canadian wife had been asking him to move for years, but because he was taking care of his mother, who died in 2011, and working at Petrotrin, he did not want to move.
He has been an advocate for chutney for the last ten years when he began deejaying. He took part in many chutney soca competitions at Indian radio stations and did not win any.
He said many chutney competitions reward participants for plagiarism, and are also plagued by nepotism and cronyism.
“If you have a competition, it’s supposed to be sporting and give everyone a chance to win. Many people now are not singing chutney soca, they are singing what I call Bollywood chutney, or Bollyney, which is taking Bollywood melodies and singing English on it, and usually it comes out wrong.”
He released his first original chutney soca, Damini, in 2013.
“I chose to sing the song because I like storytelling and original melody. I saw the market going toward plagiarism of Bollywood music, with little or no originality. My coworkers saw chutney in a negative light and I realised that while the genre was worthwhile, the conversation and marketing around it is what is wrong.”
Sookram said it was his frustration with not being able to win these competitions that led him to create the Raja and Rani competitions.
“I saw that the gatekeepers let so few people in and I wondered what would happen if someone was to build a platform for people who are good and it was based on merit and not who you knew. Since the inception of Chutneymusic.com, the website has exploded. We have 100,000 followers, reach close to 2,000,000 people a month and have 10,000 unique visitors daily. We have supporters from all races, although many people have said they don’t feel able to openly express their liking for chutney because of the negativity associated with it. It’s seen as the bastard genre of TT.”
Sookram said he feels chutney should be marketed year-round, not seasonally, and worldwide.
“Two big genres come from Trinidad, soca and chutney, and we don’t appreciate them as we should. Even I didn’t before I moved abroad. My aim is to spread chutney through the whole world.”
The semi-final round will be shown live on Facebook and YouTube on January 23, and contestants will be required to perform their full song live, in the comfort of their own homes or otherwise.
The judges will select a minimum of three finalists and Facebook voting could determine a maximum of two wild cards that could move on to the final on February 6 in front of a live judging panel.
For more info and to view the entries, go to https://chutneymusic.com/crc-2021/