Ind-caribbean club music

Rohit Khare (
Fri, 06 Feb 1998 18:32:50 -0800

Jagan's widow, white, was recently elected PM on the strength of her 
acheivements as First Lady and the popularity of her husband. Odd little 
corner of Indian-Anglo political culture over there. Some mildly useful shots 
of the club and other goers at the the original web page.


------- Forwarded Message

An Indo-Caribbean Passage to America: Dance Music Tells a Tale of Double Diaspora by Gaiutra D. Bahadur

[Image] Under the elevated tracks of the J train -- in a squat converted warehouse across from the Richmond Hill branch of the US Post Office-- midnight means the swish of hips against hips, feet pounding the floor like "Nani grinin' masala," and hands writhing in the air.

[Image] The doors open Its hot-hot-hot [Image] at 9:30 PM at rhythms show the Calypsocity, a influence of American four-year-old nightclub hip-hop on a Caribbean art set amid a sprawl of with roots in India. In its working class houses in hybrid form, it is the this Queens neighborhood perfect pulsating symbol in New York city. But, for a group of New York's until the neighborhood newest arrivals. sleeps, bouncer Anand Goswami stands by the door, brawny arms hanging idly at his sides, ready to begin the business of frisking for weapons. Inside, a few middle-aged men hang back near the bar, and less than a dozen patrons sit at their tables, drinks by their elbows, in wait. From the sound booth, in stabs, comes the dance hall standard: "I like to move it, move it.''

[Image] The amplifiers pump out song after song, switching from American hip-hop to soca (a hybrid of Soul and Calypso) as if to lure patrons with their insistent beat. And, sure enough, as the first two hours wane, the patrons come. They come in staggered fashion -- in couples, in posses of young men with slicked-back hair and silver rings in their pierced lobes, in groups of women wearing DK New York, brown spice lipstick and high heels. They fill the hundred or so gray formica tables or stand on the sidelines of the dance floor, against the blue-black of the walls, striking poses.

[Image] [Image]"Wherever you go, there are always eyes following you,'' says Mala, a regular. Like all clubs, Calypsocity is a space set aside for being publicly sexy. When they move their bodies, one hand twisting high over their heads and one hand on their swinging hips, the dancers know they're on display. But this "wining," as the sensual move is called in the dialect of English spoken in the West Indies, puts more on display than the dancers.

[Image] At Calypsocity, the dance floor becomes an ethnic stage every weekend. For a generation of immigrants in New York City, it becomes a tight and sweaty space to flaunt the fact that they are mutts. The music the DJ starts spinning a little past midnight has a complicated pedigree. Its hot-hot-hot rhythms show the influence of American hip-hop on a Caribbean art with roots in India. In its hybrid form, it is the perfect pulsating symbol for a group of New York's newest arrivals, who have their own complicated pedigree.

[Image] In the 1990s, the third largest group of emigrants to New York City came from Guyana, a former British colony at the northern tip of South America. Over ten percent of the population of Guyana -- or about 100,000 people -- live in Queens: in the neighborhoods of Ozone Park, Jamaica, Corona, Queens Village, Far Rockaway and especially Richmond Hill.

[Image] In the last decade and a half, the [Image] main thoroughfare in Richmond Hill -- called Liberty Avenue, in a prophetic accident of naming -- has become a tantalizing ocular feast of the foreign. As emigrants from Guyana and from Trinidad, its cousin in the Caribbean, bought modest houses in the neighborhood, tiny replicas of their West Indian past started to spring up along the avenue.

[Image] In 1977, the first West Indian grocery opened in Richmond Hill. Now, over a dozen West Indian shops line Liberty Avenue, their shelves stocked with Sanatogen Tonic Wine, Ovaltine, Seven Seas Cod Liver Oil and Bird's Custard Powder: all British brand-name goods, a legacy of colonialism. Tall rods of sugarcane rest against freezers filled with fish from the Caribbean: hassah, gilbacka, bangamary and salt fish. Garam masala comes in rectangular red tins, with the words "Where Quality and Great Taste are a Tradition" blazoned across the sides, over a yellow map of Guyana.

[Image] Richmond Hill mimics a West Indian town, with a mosque (the Masjid Al-Abidin) and a Hindu temple (the Arya Samaj) off Liberty Avenue. The neighborhood is that hidden nook of America, where employees of McDonald's take orders in the inflections of Berbice, a region in Guyana --"Wan arda a fries to go." Walking along its streets it is [Image] almost possible to imagine the plane flights that brought these Indo-Caribbeans to Queens in the 1980s were flights of fancy.

On their arrival in [Image]"They come from [Image] the West Indies, Calcutta. They the great, come from Madras," sings great-grandparents Sharlene Boodram, above the of the Calypsocity steady beat of Indian tassa clubgoers survived drums. "They come from Bombay. floggings, wretched They come from Bihar. They take quarters and up de bundle and boarded de vagrancy laws that ship. One hundred and fifty tied them to the years ago was de trip." plantations as Boodram's 16-year-old voice virtual slaves. fills Calypsocity, as she belts out a song that reveals the ancestry of almost every patron in the club.

[Image] Boodram describes their middle passage to the former British colonies as indentured laborers: "No room for our comfort, so little to eat. Sickness take them, some die in defeat. The rights for their freedom, they lose on de ship." On their arrival in the West Indies, the great, great-grandparents of the Calypsocity clubgoers survived floggings, wretched quarters and vagrancy laws that tied them to the plantations. They were, as emissaries from Abolition societies in England saw it, virtual slaves.

[Image] In Guyana today, about 50 percent of the population traces its history back to India, mainly the northern region of Bihar where the Hindi dialect of Bhojpuri is spoken. About 45 percent of the population is African. After emancipation, black Guyanese fled the estates for the town and never returned, while the Indians still remain in rural villages in large numbers. For twenty-six years after independence, the Indian political party languished underground, after the CIA engineered the ouster of its socialist leader, Cheddi Jagan, and installed Forbes Burnham, head of the black political party, as president. Through the continued fiasco of rigged elections, he maintained a rule that systematically discriminated against the Indians in the civil service, armed forces and higher education. This and the terrible poverty the country slipped into during his regime lead to a mass migration of Indo-Guyanese to the United States, starting in the early 1980s.

[Image][Image] "They struggle for respect. They struggle for rights," continues the Sharlene Boodram song, the first on her Indian Arrival cassette, distributed by Jamaican Me Crazy (JMC) records in Richmond Hill. "One hundred and fifty years ago. Remember the fight. They salvaged a language, a culture alive. They create some mixture right under the skies. Through the voice of our ancestors, cry out Chalo." (Chalo means "let's go" in Hindi.) Boodram lives in Trinidad, and her pop-history tune tells the story of the first departure of Indians to her island nation in the Caribbean.

[Image] The indentured servants brought with them a body of Bhojpuri folk songs: bawdy wedding songs, seasonal and birth songs, and devotional bhajans. As the Indo-Caribbeans lost their Hindi dialect over the decades, these songs got corrupted, with slurred and surmised pronunciations. They also became faster, as traditional Indian instruments (the harmonium; the tassa, dholak and tabla and the dandtal, a metal rod struck by a U-shaped clapper) blended with African bongos and congas. The music became known as "chutney," after the hot relish used to spice up food.

[Image] In the last decade or two, chutney has co-opted the electric guitars and synthesizers of Caribbean soca to become a new hyphenated musical style. Boodram, over a throbbing electric bass line, describes this amalgam in another song from "Indian Arrival": "Curry, soca and channa. Oye. Oye. It's hot. It's hot. With a little achar to entice you." In one snappy metonymic line, Boodram captures the essence of chutney-soca: it is a roving omnivore that swallows up the ethnic shards in its path. It blends the Creole dialect Indo-Caribbeans adopted from their African fellows with bits and pieces of Bhojpuri Hindi, and it blends the musical instruments of Africa, India and the West.

[Image] "Chalo, Chalo, Chalo, Chalo," Boodram gives the dance floor at Calypsocity a chant to repeat. In its rhythms, chutney contains the jolt of both "Chalo"s in the Indo-Caribeean past -- from India to Guyana in one century, from Guyana to America in the next. It is the yawp of a people doubly displaced.

(Gaiutra D. Bahadur, a journalism graduate from Columbia University, is currently working as a consumer reporter for The Jersey Journal.)