Chutney is an Indian condiment or side dish made with pickled fruit or vegetables, except when it is a music genre. The original musical genre from the Indian subcontinent underwent a radical transformation in the Americas, after Indians emigrated to the Caribbean and South America. The result was chutney-soca, a crossover genre that combines two musical styles and their common instruments.
Chutney music has its roots in India, where large drums called tassas carry the rhythm line for the music. This genre was originally folk music with songs created for religious and cultural ceremonies. The dholak and dhantal are Indian percussion instruments that provide additional music for the song’s melody. Chutney in the Caribbean and South America adopted the harmonica as part of the musical repertoire. In Trinidad, chutney music also features the sitar, a stringed instrument similar to a guitar.
Soca music has its roots in the uniquely Caribbean calypso genre. Soca song lyrics often provide a political, cultural or philosophical commentary. The tempo for soca music is much faster than it is for calypso, with bands generating pulsating, rhythmic dance music. The musicians commonly use mainstream Western musical instruments, sometimes with rhythms provided by conga drums. Unlike chutney, soca music often blends electric and acoustic instruments.
Chutney-soca got its name in the late 1980s from Indo-Trinidadian singer Drupatee Ramgoonai, who produced an album with that title. It contained music selections in Hindi and English that combined the melodies, rhythms and instruments from both the chutney and soca music genres. Although she was not the first artist to perform chutney-soca, this music genre had no formal name prior to the release of Drupatee’s now famous album.
The islands nation of Trinidad and Tobago is the unrivaled source of chutney-soca, mainly because of an Indian population that approaches 50 percent of its inhabitants. This music genre’s integration of the artistic styles derived from Indian and African roots is not unique to Trinidad and Tobago. The Indian musicians of Guyana and St. Vincent and the Grenadines also have produced chutney-soca musicians who have achieved international acclaim.
The world’s largest chutney-soca competition takes place in Trinidad each year during Carnival season. Regardless of the artist’s native country, the champion, or Chutney Soca Monarch, receives a substantial cash prize and has a captive audience for his or her hottest releases. Radio airplay and Carnival fetes or parties can boost both sales and a chutney-soca artist’s name recognition.