Nicknames | Spicing T&T’s soca with chutney

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Ras Shorty I. Link to letter in the Trinidad Express.Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago | In an editorial, the Trinidad Express refers to the ongoing debate as a “squall in a thimble.” A letter to the paper on Jan 7 raised the possibility of changing the national team’s nickname to the “Soca-Chutney Warriors,” with the aim of recognizing the East Indian–influenced, Caribbean-based chutney pop-folk style as a cultural expression as significant as native soca music. Championed by a local music promoter and backed by the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin, the notion has since gained traction to the point that Trinidadian football í¼ber-boss Jack Warner publicly had to quash the idea of a name change last week. We had not previously heard of the chutney style, although familiarity with the oeuvre of Trinidad-born Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul makes one aware of the political and cultural tensions between Indian and African-descended populations.

“[T]o sell us to the world by using a term which expresses only part of our culture is abominable,” Anil Mahabir had written in the letter that appeared to set off the squall of blogs and counter-blogs. Yet many see the first-time World Cup qualification of the national team, as well as the soca music after which they are named, as a unifier, not a divider. Soca’s reputed founder, Ras Shorty I, felt that soca blended “American soul, calypso and East Indian rhythms.” The Trinidad and Tobago World Cup Blog quotes Trinidad Guardian columnist Debbie Jacobs, who expounds on the Ras Shorty ethos of bringing East Indian and African music together. Ras Shorty, according to historians, included Indian instrumentation and, in truth, could be said to have employed a soca-chutney style. Jacobs writes:

[W]e have to depend on the media, historians, calypso connoisseurs and right-thinking people to educate us about soca music—which is not just the jump and wine party songs, recycled pop melodies, or hip hop and reggae wannabe rhythms that define our airwaves today.

Jacobs continues:

When you think about it, changing the name of the football team to Soca-Chutney Warriors is actually an insult to the Indian community. It’s saying Trinidadians of East Indian descent were NOT part of a defining moment in our musical history. It’s wiping out a whole ethnic group’s contribution to soca.

Chutney as a stand-alone form dates to 1970, according to Rajendra Saywack in an online history of chutney music. Sundar Popo in the song “Nana & Nani” fused lyrics in Hindi and Trinidadian creole, coming up with lines such as “Nana drinkin white rum and Nani drinkin wine”; Saywack in places refers to the music as Indian soca.

Perceived divisions in sporting culture still exist, however, with the Indian population supplying many of the islands’ top cricketers. Mahabir, meanwhile, points out in his letter, though without animus, that no Indians play for the national soccer team. Warner says that the football authorities should work to correct the situation: “A national footballer must be found in Debe/Penal with the same ease as in San Fernando and Port of Spain.” A representative of the primarily Indian region agrees, saying that football should be developed using the more than 50 sporting grounds in the area.

Update: See the wonderful photo essay by Stefan Falke on the islands’ football culture. The pictures were taken on assignment for Switzerland’s Sportsmagazin. Thanks to Georgia Popplewell of Global Voices Online and Caribbean Beat for this link.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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