Soca songstress Nailah Blackman was crowned the inaugural National Chutney Foundation of TT (NCFTT) Intellectual Chutney Monarch champion at Mid Centre Mall, Chaguanas on Saturday night, and claimed a $450,000 prize after topping the competition with her composition, Jam of the Year.
Blackman beat nine other artistes in the Intellectual category of the competition, with Rakesh Yankaran walking away with a $400,000 prize as he won the Traditional Chutney Monarch competition with his song, Mowsie Rasooiya Halwa. In a tightly contested final in the Intellectual category, the top six contestants were separated by a mere four points. Performing in position number ten, Blackman, who included a hook line from Om Shanti Om, a legendary song from her late grandfather Ras Shorty I, got the judges' nod as she amassed 237 points.
During her winning performance, Blackman preached the importance of harmony and togetherness to the audience.
Blackman said, "This is the meaning of Trinbago. One island, one culture, one unity. We are no longer separated. We are bound together in unity."
Bethany Lightbourne finished a close second with 235 points, with Anthony Batson and Mohip Poonwassie – both 234 points – tied for third spot. Fresh from winning the primary schools category of the 2024 Schools' Intellectual National Carnival Chutney Soca Monarch competition last Wednesday, Katelin Sultan, nine, teamed up with Aaron Duncan to rack up 233 points as they finished tied for fifth-place with Paris Coutain.
Sultan, a Warrenville TMI Primary School student, was crowned the Chutney Soca Monarch Queen in 2023 and also copped a fourth-place overall finish in last year's competition.
In the Traditional Chutney category, Yankaran rattled off 258 points to lead the ten finalists in the competition. Sunil Ramsundar finished second with 252 points, Ramesh Basdeo placed third with 249 points, Devanand Gatoo grabbed fourth spot with 247 points and Batson grabbed fifth place with 245 points.
NCFTT president Vijay Ramlal-Rai was ecstatic with the hosting of the inaugural competition, and he stressed on the need for more positive themes and songs in chutney music.
"The event was extremely successful. It was so successful that everybody was stunned," Ramlal-Rai told Newsday. "The traditional chutney is sung in Hindi language. But the melody and rhythm is what is kicking. The intellectual is in English. The lyrics are important in the intellectual chutney.
"For the first historical staging of this competition, to have a great superstar like Nailah Blackman taking that title, has just done wonders for the art form – in terms of her being an ambassador for this intellectual chutney category."
Ramlal-Rai said the chutney songs should have a lasting impact on its audience and set a platform for aspiring artistes in the industry.
"The competition was really to make the mark that singing about rum and women's body parts continuously for the last 20 years, is not something we should continue. We are not saying it is not good to do.
"What we are saying is that there must be options so the artform will have longevity like any song from Black Stalin or Bob Marley. The songs must have meaning to them. Nothing is wrong with those types of songs, but it was not what we could consider good for schoolchildren because we expect the artform to be consumed by everyone."
He said songs for national competitions should be more focused on upliftment and should not be solely for entertainment purposes.
Yankaran shared a similar point of view and he said it was imperative to impart the knowledge of traditional chutney music to the upcoming generation of singers.
"The Traditional (Chutney Monarch) is really to encourage the younger people to sing the traditional music and play the dhantal and the dhol," Yankaran said. "Those are things our forefathers brought from India so we are trying to keep the tradition (alive). It is about spreading the tradition.
"The artform is really about bringing all the artistes together to promote the artistes in TT for the culture."
On Sunday morning, Blackman took to instagram to share her delight after being crowned the Intellectual Chutney champion.
"Music is to heal the soul no matter the genre," Blackman wrote. "Sokah and chutney alike (are) true Trinbagonian expressions and I am happy to be a part of it.
"I say thank you to everyone who came out and supported me, and a special thank you to my manager (Anson Soverall) and my Mummy, Abbi Blackman."
Ramlal-Rai said he was encouraged by the themes of the songs in the competition and he said it augurs well for future competitions. "What Jam of the year means, is that wherever she goes, it is Carnival," he said. "She was trying to show her persona, and whenever she performs anywhere, she will perform and make the song a hit all over the world.
"There is an appetite for traditional chutney music and a lot of people turned out to give support. I will say over 10,000 people were there. Chutney is our heritage, it was just beautiful."