Guyanese music, a comfort during pandemic
The talented ‘Poowah’ singer, Vanita Willie
FOR as long as I can remember, the quality of Guyanese music has been a much-debated topic. When artistes were struggling to have their pieces played on the radio, many announcers and disc jockeys complained that the songs being produced were not in demand by listeners, largely owing to the “poor” quality. Fast forward to 2021, it doesn’t take much to recognise the evolution of Guyanese music, and appreciate the growing interest among local audiences.
Of course, our music industry still has a far way to go, but Guyanese artistes and musicians continue to display incredible levels of potential. It has been particularly pleasing to witness the growing levels of originality coming from the local music industry. Truth be told, I disagree with any notion that suggests that the local music landscape lacked originality; of course, there is the issue of the ‘rotten apples’ scenario, but I am sure many would agree that Guyanese audiences failed to appreciate the lyrical authenticity that was produced much early on.
The man behind the ‘Eggball’ song,
Andrew ‘DrewThoven’ King
Take for instance, the grossly under-appreciated work of women such as Nisha Benjamin who originally sang ‘Oh Maninja, Oh Maninja’, which portrayed life on the sugar estates of Guyana, and ‘Benjie Darling’, a piece she had done for her husband. There is also Hallima Bissoon, the woman behind ‘Leggo Me Na Raja’.
These pieces didn’t dominate local airwaves when they were first released. As a matter of fact, today, these legendary hits are largely associated with ‘Babla and Kanchan,’ the husband-wife duo who eased out as Bollywood playback singers, to do covers of a number of Guyanese and Trinidadian Chutney songs.
There may also be dozens, if not hundreds of similarly authentic Guyanese songs that did not “benefit” from popularized covers by foreign artistes. But it would appear as though the lockdowns and restrictions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic have magnified the need, and paved the way for many Guyanese to look within, before looking out. From growing their own kitchen gardens, to dabbling in domestic tourism, many are gradually uncovering the beauty and talent that reside on these shores.
At a time when Guyanese were battling the heartaches and uncertainties that plagued 2020, the talents of our artistes have given us reasons to sing, dance, and even giggle; they have ignited much excitement and provided much comfort to us as a people, and, from the looks of it, local artistes are capitalizing on the opportunity to keep the listeners hooked.
One of the artistes who shot to fame during the onset of the pandemic was Andrew King, popularized by the name, Drew Thoven. He is an all-rounder of music who believes that Guyana is well on its way to establishing its unique sound. “I don’t think Guyana has an industry as yet,” King said candidly, adding, “I think we are well on our way to developing the industry, and we are a lot closer to that goal than we were 10 years ago.”
Reflecting on the major genres of Guyanese music – Soca, Chutney, Dancehall and Reggae, the ‘Toxic’ singer pointed to the fact that Guyana has a pocket full of producers, and a handful of studios, engineers and artistes who have been inspired by the artistes who surfaced in 2020.
The Dancehall musician believes that last year has seen the revival of the genre, with an added flavour that is unique to Guyana. “We are now singing in our dialect; I made a comment before and I stand by it; I believe that myself, and my colleagues have been responsible for making the Guyanese sound more popular; yes, people have been doing it before, but the format wasn’t right, because no one was listening,” King said.
He pointed to the fact that songs such as ‘Eggball’ and ‘Dunce Thugs’ have been heavily flooded with Guyanese slangs and references that have captivated listeners at home and abroad. “I believe those created a major role in creating an appetite for Guyanese-sounding music,” King noted.
He also attributed the development of local music industry, particularly the genre of Soca, to the hosting of the annual National Chutney, Soca and Calypso competitions that commemorate the country’s Republic Anniversary. He also credited the efforts of Hits and Jams Entertainment in pushing local songs during the Guyana Carnival.
Some of the Guyanese dancehall artistes who have really dominated the scene over the last few months are Kareem Lewis, nicknamed, cKush; Delon Garraway called ‘Stiffy Stiff’ and Kristoff ‘Azariel’ Saun among others. Meanwhile, Adrian ‘AJ’ Johnson continues to make waves as prominent producer in the dancehall game.
THE CHUTNEY SIZZLES
From the days of ‘Canal Gyal Plantain Chunkay Like a Hell’ to the image of ‘Poowah swinging she waist’, Chutney music in Guyana has also come a far way. Over the past few months, there were several artistes and songs that truly dominated the local and regional airwaves, creating quite the stir in the Chutney arena. As a reporter providing coverage for the majority of the national song competitions held within the last decade, I can attest to the growth of Calypso, Soca, and more specifically, Chutney music in Guyana.
I have watched persons such as Steven Ramphal evolve from a green ‘cover’ singer for the Shakti Strings Band, into a seasoned award-winning Chutney and Soca artiste, dishing out captivating hits such as ‘Rang Se Bare’; ‘Soca In Meh Veins’; and most recently, a Bollywood-flared song titled, ‘Never Leave’.
Over the last few months, however, Ramphal’s spotlight has been rivaled by artistes such as Vicadi Singh, whose song, ‘Never Gonna Leave’ instantly shot to fame, racking up more than 5.4 million views on YouTube between December 2020, when it was released, and now. The song, which is a remake of the Bollywood song, ‘Tere Bin’, from the Movie Simmba, was produced by keyboard whiz, Avinash Roopchand and the Shakti Strings Band.
Newcomer, Ramesh ‘Tony Cuttz’ Brijnauth has also been dominating the charts ever since his debut in the National Chutney Song Competition in 2020, where he placed third with his performance of ‘Neighbour Roti’. He is now well-known for his more popular hits – ‘Leh We Go’ and ‘Johnny Walker’.
Former Chutney Monarch, Vanita Willie has also been turning heads with her song, ‘Poowah’ which continues to be a lead song at almost every Indian wedding house in the country. The song was initially released in 2017, but at that time, the ‘love local’ wave had not yet hit. As the popularization of Guyanese music took effect in 2020, ‘Poowah’ resurfaced, bringing much excitement to Caribbean ‘sport’ sessions at home, across the region, and all through the diaspora communities.
US-based Guyanese, Joel ‘Prince JP’ Pharous and Imran Khan, who were once attached to the Shakti Strings Band, also received much attention for their songs, ‘It’s Over’ and ‘Yesterday’, respectively.
Prominent Chutney Promoter, WR Reaz has directly attributed the growth of Chutney music in Guyana to young Roopchand and his parents, Celia Samaroo-Roopchand and Bappi Roopchand, owners of the Shakti Strings Band. “They have been working on a blend that is based out of old tunes, with modern pop, and it seems to be catching on quite greatly,” Reaz said, adding that Chutney music remains on the rise.
Meanwhile, Romero ‘Mystic’ Nermal continues to dominate the Guyanese Reggae industry with all things Guyanese, and is looking to implement several unique components of his work. He plans to use his identity as an Indo-Guyanese to add some spice to traditional reggae. Reflecting on the growth of Guyanese music, Nermal commended his colleague musicians for their efforts to include authentic Guyanese slangs and sounds in their production. No stranger to doing this, Nermal is pleased that Guyanese have now started to appreciate the originality featured in local songs.
“Everything has improved; with technology, our sound is improving greatly, and Guyanese are attracted more to their own now. It feels good,” the “Coolie Boy” singer said.
Aside from the actual sounds, the quality of video productions have also improved exponentially, with persons such as Keon Hector topping the list of talented videographers.