The International Value of Female Chutney Singers

Updated: Apr 23


By: Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq.


Women chutney singers are immensely valuable and prized aspects of the Indian diaspora. Chutney music is a popular genre in Trinidad, Guyana, and the Caribbean. It is a fusion of Indian Bhojpuri and Trini Calypso music. The main instruments are the dholak, harmonium, tassa, and dhantal. It is thought to have developed in the 1940s. This article summarizes women chutney singers’ contributions to Indo-Caribbean society, namely: preserving Indo-Caribbean culture, fostering unity, and promoting women rights.


First, with regards to perpetuating West Indian history and culture, Kanchan is a prime example. Kumari Kanchan Dinkarrao Mali-Shah was born in India and sang chutney with her band. Kanchan gained wide-spread fame by singing songs in Caribbean English and Indian languages. Kanchan also covered songs by local Caribbean artists including “Leggo Me Na Raja” (Halima Bisson) and “Benjie Darling” (Neisha Benjamin). The content of her songs and the songs themselves have become historic features that connect the greater diaspora to India. Indo-Caribs in the West Indies, the US, and UK are reminded of their childhood, parents, grandparents, and unique culture when they hear her chutney songs.


Second, women chutney singers encourage unity and jubilee. Chutney’s religious beginnings have developed and broadened to a cultural staple. Ashnie, Nisha B of Karma, and Savita Singh are some examples of chutney singers who sing fun chutney songs that create solidarity. The women of this niche genre can generate togetherness with their relatable and upbeat songs.


Third, women chutney singers are role models for women rights. For example, Drupatee pioneered chutney-soca in the 1980s and was harshly criticized for her departure from traditional chutney. She did not let her naysayers deter her and she continued pursuing her cheerful music. Her music serves as an example for others to continue on their creative projects, and also serves as one of the best cultural contributions to the diaspora. Similarly, DJ Ana forged her own path by becoming a famous chutney/soca dj where the field was dominated by males.


In conclusion, access to stories regarding West Indian women was (and still is) highly limited. Nevertheless, these chutney women show that West Indian women can be successful and make a meaningful impact on societies. There is no deadline as shown by Vanita Willie. She first released her hit “Poowah” in 2017 and in 2021 it became an international hit via TikTok. West Indian women are encouraged to pursue whatever avenue they see fit. Mainly because they have a right to do what they please. And also, because it will most likely resonate with others. Thus, the international value of women chutney singers is of utmost significance.


For reference, see below for a few songs from some chutney queens:










Disclaimers: “West Indian” mainly refers to the people and not the region in this article. An article on male chutney singers will be forthcoming (including emphasis on how the best chutney song, Lootala by Sonny Mann, was not released until 1994, though it feels like it has always been around).


Melissa D. Goolsarran Ramnauth, Esq.

MDGR Law, P.A.

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melissa@mdgrlaw.com

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