Taan Singing held in NYC for Indian Arrival
Saturday May 5 was a historic occasion for Indian musical culture to see both young and old artistes sing taan songs (accompanied by mesmerizing dholak drumming and dantaal) on the same stage regaling an appreciative audience. Taan is an ancient form of folk classical singing that was brought to the Caribbean from India by the indentured laborers (girmityas). It was very popular in the Caribbean, where the indentureds settled, up until the 1980s. After the older generations passed on, the musical/singing genre was neglected as the younger generation gravitated towards chutney and fast tempo Bollywood beats.
Coincidentally, May 5th also celebrated the 180th anniversary of the arrival of the 1st set of Indian indentured laborers to its shores. Rich tributes were paid to the ancestors for the cultural foundation laid for their descendants.
The Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha USA Praant marked Indian Arrival by hosting this Taan singing event at the JHS 226 Virgil I. Grissom in Ozone Park, New York. It is an effort to resurrect old folk singing genres like taan that was very popular prior to the 1980s but has been neglected by newer breed of singers.
Saturday’s program was emceed by Imran Ahmad, Patricia Raghunandan, Deepa Sitaram and coordinated by cultural/religious representative Anil Bedasie.
Taan owes its roots to the indentureds. The migration of indentured Indians can be traced to 1838 when the first two ships namely the Whitby and Hesperus set sail towards the West Indies. Among other things, the passengers brought with them their rich culture which has survived the test of time. Hindustani Music was an integral part of that cultural preservation. Among the various genres of music, taan singing was also transmitted.
Taan is an Indian folk style type of singing where performers modulate the pitch of a raaga at different levels in a fast tempo to create an upbeat style. There are various types of taan such as thumri, drupad, tillana, ghazal, bihaag, dhamar and chaturang.
Taan lyrics are rooted in Bhojpuri, Hindi and Sanskrit languages. Some of lyrics convey religious messages while others depict Indian ceremonial songs sung at weddings and other rites of passage events. Ethno musicologists like Dr. Peter Manuel of the City University of New York studied the evolution of this expressive art form of taan styles over the 150 years noted that local classical music had evolved into its own distinctive art form with its own rules, vitality and legitimacy.
Here in North America, there is a genuine effort to showcase this genre of music. Dave Thakoordeen, Chairman of the USA Praant, a cultural advocate himself, decided to spearhead the planning of this event along with other Praant members. It was his idea and he contributed significantly to meet the expenses to make it a reality. He was ably assisted by a few others in the planning, organizing and promoting of the event. Thakoordeen and others are applauded for this great effort at reviving taan singing. Many of the audience members include those who were familiar with taan and those who were curious to listen to the performers. They were not disappointed as each performer delivered several of the taan styles. The drummers also excelled as taan requires a specific type of drumming.
Famous performers included Dino Boodram, Uncle Errol, Sattie Anup, Rick Ramdehal, Babloe Shankar, Suresh Ketwaroe, Rabi Dalip and a host of young performers like Randy Ramdhin, Ashton Ramdehal, Mathew Mohan, Andy Ganesh, Yogendra Ram, Devin Udairam, Damien Sookram and Richard Mohabir who juggled playing the dholak while singing as well. One of the highlights of the evening was two talented dancers who “danced” to a fast tempo taan item by Suriname’s Hemant Somai. Dholak players such as Shailesh Shankar and others enhanced the taan songs by beating their drums in a quick repetitive manner to entertain the audience.
From the effort made last Saturday, it is clear that “taan” singing is alive and well in New York and only time will tell if this art form will survive and expand to other parts of America. The stage has been set where performers are ready to promote taan but what is needed are fans who will take a liking to this folk style singing. The public is urged to support the various Indian classical art forms like taan.