The Mike Men of Trinidad: East Indian Identity in cultural, social and religious activities 1935-1985

This paper was originally presented at the Legacy of Slavery and Indentured Labour Conference on Bonded Labour, Migration, Diaspora and Identity Formation in Historical and Contemporary Context June 6th. - 10th, 2013, Paramaribo, Suriname

The Mike Men of Trinidad: East Indian Identity in cultural, social and religious activities 1935-1985

This paper was originally presented at the Legacy of Slavery and Indentured Labour Conference on Bonded Labour, Migration, Diaspora and Identity Formation in Historical and Contemporary Context June 6th. - 10th, 2013, Paramaribo, Suriname

 

Introduction

Mike systems as a major roving communication device have been used for decades by local rural broadcast entrepreneurs who bought these ensembles and journeyed through the countryside playing music to entertain the masses. These mike systems consisted of two large funnel shaped horns, an amplifier, a turntable that played 78 RPM records and a microphone. The huge horns are attached to the roof of an automobile while the other attachments are placed inside the vehicle during “mike” operations. In addition, the mike systems are also used at weddings and public gatherings. These mike systems are some of the most powerful amplification sound systems and their sounds can be heard for miles around. The men who operate those systems are referred to as mike men.

This paper examines the influence of the mike men and their mike systems in Trinidad and Tobago from its introduction to the country in the 1940s, through its peak in the 1960s and continuing into the 1980s. By examining this historically important phenomenon, the paper sheds light on the process by which such interventions influenced social, religious and cultural structures among East Indians in the country during the period under study. The time period covered includes; the early distribution of Indian movies, the changing images of East Indian weddings and East Indian struggle for space in Trinidad

Photo : Mike System bolted on to hood of motor vehicle, Trinidad.

Traversing the tiny Caribbean island of Trinidad is a group of East Indian music lovers sometimes referred to as traditional DJs but better known as “mike men.” They are cultishly fanatical about their airborne amplification systems, which are seen on the hoods of automobiles. Each mike car has two large mega horns amplifying music that can be heard miles away. Those enormous portable air raid warning megaphones are attached to the roof of the automobile with a hood rack system. The mike system generally consist of a record player, an amplifier, two horns or funnels, horn drivers, the microphone, a motor vehicle battery, a backup battery, an automobile hood rack and 78-RPM vinyl records.

 

Origins of the mike men in Trinidad

Early amplifier systems which were brought into the country were primarily for home usage with small horns attached to the player systems. By the 1920s, there were wooden box systems which were used to amplify sounds in public gatherings. The first horn mike system was imported into Trinidad in the 1930s but there was limited public usage. However, with improvements in the systems, by the 1940s, their public use increased and they became popular as “announcers,” used mainly to amplify voices and songs. Initially these mike systems were considered "loud and noisy instruments" because of the sheer power with which they blasted sound all around. People in the country had not previously experienced such high levels of sound in public spaces and many, particularly from the wealthy and upper class, considered the instruments a public nuisance. There were many objections to the playing of the mike system in public spaces and because of that, there was limited public use of such systems in the early days of its introduction into the country. However, by the 1940s, the mike men found a niche in the market among East Indians and were used extensively at Hindu weddings and other East Indian events.

Until the mid-1950s, Hindu weddings were all-night affairs commencing at 6 pm and ending at 6 am the next morning. After 1955, the Hindu night weddings were gradually phased out and such weddings took place during the daytime, usually on a Sunday. Entertainment at Hindu weddings before the 1950s consisted largely of classical singing and dance dramas which lasted through the night. There were no sound amplification systems available in those early years, and singers and actors in the dance dramas strained their voices to the maximum in order to be heard over the often noisy and boisterous wedding attendees.

 

Wedding affairs in those days were very open events and everyone in the village attended whether invited or not. With the advent of the mike systems in the country, Hindu wedding hosts employed the mike men to amplify the voices of the classical singers and the dance drama personnel. There was only one microphone which was passed from one person to the other. This amplification of sound at the Hindu wedding was a novelty for East Indians and the popularity of the mike man gradually spread among members of the East Indian community. As his popularity grew among the wedding gatherings, he was commonly referred to as "the mike man" because his main purpose for being at the weddings was to use the microphone to amplify the voices of actors and singers. Hence, due to regular use and for quick reference, the term microphone was shortened to "mike." John Jagroopsingh (interview, 2008) indicated that as the mike man arrived at locations where he played, members of the public were heard to remark “the mike man reach,” “look the mike come,” “;the mike passing (meaning going by),” all in reference to the man with the microphone. In time, the operator of the microphone became known as the “mike man.” The term “mike man” passed into common usage and came to refer to the operators of the horn amplifier systems. Before long, the term “mike” also came to refer to the large horns or funnels placed on the hood of automobiles and people pointed to the horns when referring to the mike. Thus, the term “mike” which originally referred to the microphone came to refer to the horns and later to the entire system. The term “mike man” which originally referred to the owner of the microphone came to refer to the owner of the mike system.

Photo : 78 RPM Vinyl Records were the constant companions of the local mike men

Randy Kissoon (interview 2013), said that every mike man gave his mike system a name. The names were written on the inside of the wide end of the horns and were supposed to reflect power and dominance of the owner. For example, names such as El Toro, the Dragon, Tiger, Lion, Guns of Navarone, Mount Everest, Janglee, Yahoo and Thunder were often seen etched on mike horns.

The mike men as Indian cultural icons

The Mike Men and Hindu Weddings

The Mike men made their greatest impact on East Indians at Hindu weddings where they continuously played Indian film songs. It was here that the mike men found a niche for themselves and in the process became identified with Indian film songs as their main menu.

During the early years of the mike man at the Hindu night wedding ceremonies there were breaks or intervals during the official entertainment programme (which consisted of classical singing and dance dramas) and the mike man made use of the intervals at those events. He seized those opportunities to keep the audiences entertained with Indian film songs played through his mike system, much to the delight of wedding audiences. In this way, he began to popularize Indian film songs at Hindu weddings. East Indians loved the Indian film songs because they were very catchy, rhythmic and melodious and many people enjoyed listening to those songs through the mike systems during these intervals at the wedding nights. Soon, audiences began to demand the playing of Indian cinema songs for longer intervals at the wedding nights and people began to look forward to the playing of the film songs on the mike system during such intervals. Some people went to those night weddings and waited for hours for those intervals when the mike man played Indian film songs. As audience demands for the mike man grew at the Hindu night weddings, he began arriving early at those events and entertained the first arrivals with his Indian film songs from as early as 5 pm until the classical singers and dance performers took over the entertainment proceedings later in the evening. In addition, he continued playing at intervals during the night. On occasions, at the Hindu night weddings, there were disappointments with the nonappearance of the dance drama troupe or the classical singers and the mike man was asked to fill in the entertainment gap. This he did willingly and much to the delight of the fans in the audience. Many people, particularly the wedding hosts, were surprised that the mike man “carried” the entire wedding night playing Indian film songs for the enjoyment of the wedding audiences. Now while during the classical singing sessions and the dance drama performances many young people took very little interest in the events of the night; it was the opposite whenever the mike man played Indian film songs.  Most people remained to hear the mike songs and on the special occasions when he played for the entire night at the Hindu wedding, everyone stayed for the entire night, enjoyed the songs and kept asking for more. What started therefore as a stopgap measure to fill in for an absent troupe or a group of singers caught the attention of everyone and by the early 1950s the mike man was the preferred form of entertainment at Hindu weddings. The classical singers and the dance drama groups were pushed into the background.

When, by the mid-1950s, Hindu weddings became a daytime affair, usually on a Sunday, there was a vacuum left on the Saturday night between the Friday night Hardi ceremonies and the Sunday wedding rituals. The entertainment previously provided on the wedding night was mainly to entertain the bharatians (visitors) from the bridegroom’s entourage. With the shift in the wedding rituals from the Saturday night to Sunday (daytime) many wedding hosts continued the tradition of entertainment for the visiting entourage during the wedding ceremony on the Sunday. However this was not very practical as there were many concerns that the entertainment was a cause of disruption during the wedding rituals being performed. For many people a Hindu wedding was an excuse for elaborate entertainment and socialization so more people preferred to pay attention to the entertainment taking place than the wedding rituals. As a result, in many instances, the Sunday entertainment at Hindu weddings was discontinued.

In the initial wedding arrangements pre 1950s, because the wedding was generally held on a Saturday night, certain prenuptial ceremonies (Hardi) were performed on the night preceding the wedding which was generally a Friday night. With the shift of the wedding ceremonies to the Sunday (daytime), the prenuptial Hardi rituals could have been brought forward to the Saturday night but most people decided to keep the tradition of the Friday night prenuptial arrangements. This left a vacuum on the Saturday night. Now wedding ceremonies among the East Indians were known "open affairs", and villagers, friends, families and well-wishers always assisted the wedding hosts with cash donations or foodstuffs. At the time when such weddings were held at nights, villagers, friends and relatives came to the assistance of the hosts and cooked and fed all visitors. This was ongoing throughout the night. When the wedding was shifted to the Sunday daytime, many wedding hosts kept the tradition of cooking and feeding guests and visitors during the wedding day (Sunday) . However there were difficulties with concluding the cooking chores on time, especially the preparation of the roti. To resolve the problem many wedding hosts decided to prepare some of the food items during the "free" Saturday night. Friends and relatives were invited to keep company with the cooks as they prepared food items ( mainly roti) for the next day while others prepared various talkaries(vegetable dishes) for cooking the next day. To keep the attendees "lively and entertained " people told stories, jokes and danced and sang among themselves. Eventually as the Saturday night gatherings grew, the dance dramas and classical singers were invited to provide entertainment. As the event took on new proportions and the people came, not just to keep company with the cooks but to enjoy the entertainment, the Saturday night event mushroomed in a hugely popular event which came to be referred to as the "cooking night." Eventually, the mike man was invited to provide entertainment and from the mid-1950s to the late 1980s , he became the preferred choice of entertainment at cooking nights. So what began as entertainment to keep family, friends, well-wishers and the cooks in good spirits during what became known as the cooking nights, turned out to be a major event at Hindu weddings. In many cases the Saturday cooking night entertainment eclipsed the actual wedding day event as many people preferred to attend the cooking night because of the entertainment value they received. This was because of the novelty of the mike system, it's loud broadcasts and its seeming beacon call to all around that something unique in the entertainment world was taking place at the wedding house. Later, Indian orchestras began to replace the mike man at these events but the orchestras needed the microphones from the mike man for amplification of their singers' voices. In this way, even though the mike man was pushed into the background when the Indian orchestra provided entertainment on the cooking night, he remained a necessary ingredient at the cooking nights. In addition he played his Indian film songs during intervals, before the orchestra commenced playing music (usually 5 pm to 8 pm) and after the orchestra completed its entertainment program (usually after 2 am Sunday morning).

The mike at a Hindu Wedding

The mike man emerged without challenge as the key ingredient in the cooking night and the people from near and far gathered at the wedding house to listen to the " music from the mike." But playing mike in the Hindu wedding eventually turned out to be a challenge for the mike man as it grew from entertainment to the timely playing of relevant songs at the event. He learned to be skilled in his selection of appropriate songs according to the time of the night and the ceremonies performed during the several wedding rituals spanning from Friday night through Sunday evening. He emerged as the star attraction at the cooking nights playing Indian film songs and thus became a cultural icon for East Indians.

While in the early years of their development in the country they were considered outcasts by dint of their hard work and perseverance the mike men created a cultural space for themselves at the cooking night. Equally, the East Indians' love for Indian film music was positive reinforcement for them in the creation of a niche in the market. In time, they overcame all obstacles and emerged as Indian cultural icons because of the music they played.

 

Stocks, Stars and Style

Kissoon, stated “the Mike men played mainly in rural East Indian settlement areas of the country. His stock in trade was Indian film songs played from 78 RPM vinyl records imported from India”  while Ramkissoon indicated that their favorite Hindi film playback singers included Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar, Hemant Kumar, Mukesh, Asha Bosle, Mahendra Kapoor, Manna Dey and Talat Mahmood. The Mike man usually had a huge number of records (literally running into the hundreds) which he took to the cooking night and other functions. At the wedding house (as with other locations where he played), particularly at the cooking night, the

Mohammed Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar were the favourite playback

                singers of the mike men and the audiences alike

mike man was the center of attraction. The celebrity status accorded the mike men created a stir among some audience members at cooking nights and many felt compelled to become acquainted with the mike men. Partap Sitahal, a mike enthusiast and avid cooking night follower, remarked,

There was a certain aura about the mike and the mike man which caught the attention of audiences. Just to ‘see’ the mike passing was a huge achievement for many. To be waived at or talked to by the mike man as he passed, was an honor for the average villager as they ran out of their homes to the roadside when they heard the sound of the mike in the distance. He held a special exalted position in the eyes of the villagers and the audience. From the moment he entered the village on Saturday evening playing his mike to the time he left on Sunday evening, he enjoyed celebrity status among the villagers…

 

and Ramdeowar, a Mike man for more than sixty years confirmed Sitahal’s assertion and added that

         Women ran out with flour (dough) in their hands, as they lined the roadside to see the mike. People waved to us and made us feel special as we passed through the villages. Wherever the mike man played in those days, he was the center of attention, like a kind of star boy himself. People treated us special.

 

while Baliram Ramoutar, a mike man for fifty years, stated that he (the mike man), was the man of the moment at cooking nights and weddings and his wishes were instantly fulfilled by the hosts and those around him.   Sitahal further indicated that while many people wanted to get close to the mike man, to befriend him, to talk to him, to request a song; just being close to him, being in his company was adequate for the average East Indian filmi music fan. For others, just getting an acknowledgment from him, a knowing look or just a simple nod of the head meant a great deal to them. Sitahal also suggested it was a major talking point to tell their friends that they knew the mike man, spoke to him, or requested a song which he played. When a requested song was played, the person requesting the song often hailed out the mike man with a “thank you mike man” so that everyone present knew that he had requested that song. Sitahal recalled spending an entire night sitting next to mike men, chatting with him and making special requests for songs not only on his own behalf but also on behalf of other friends who channeled their requests to the mike man through him. This was a great achievement for him as he (Sitahal) shared the center of attention, sitting next to the mike man. Everyone who had an encounter with the mike men felt a sense of importance and this added to the evolving image of the mike men as icons among the people. In this way the mike men gained in prominence and many of them sought to create innovations in the manner in which they performed their duties.

Record Players used by the mike men in the 1950s and 1960s.

 

As he played at the cooking night there was a certain style, flair and individuality with which the mike man executed his duties. For example, many people admired the dexterity and panache with which he lifted the arm of the record player as he replaced the records on the turntable. But while the mike man was an adept at selecting appropriate film songs for the Hindu wedding he encountered some difficulty in providing the same level of service when he played at Muslim or Christian cooking nights. Kissoon admitted that there were some relevant Indian film songs related to Muslim weddings but limited numbers that were applicable to Christian weddings. This was because most Indian movies focused on Hindu weddings and therefore most of the songs reflected those scenarios. However, the mike man often made up for this since he had a wide repertoire of Hindi film songs that were general in nature and which were loved by all audiences.

 

 

From entrepreneurs to identity markers

While the Mike men began their journey in Trinidad as entrepreneurs, their mike playing routines assisted in the evolution of East Indian identity in the country. Whether they played their music as a hobby or as hired agents, their impact on East Indians was phenomenal. They became identified with playing Indian film music which formed the core of an evolving East Indian identity in Trinidad. They were hired to perform at several functions such as announcements of Indian movies at cinemas, weddings and Hindu religious occasions where they played mainly Indian film songs.

 In the early days of cinema in Trinidad (1900-1945) advertisements were generally done using storefront windows, posters at strategic locations, distribution of flyers by hired flyer- boys and newspaper advertisements. Most cinemas were located in urban areas and depended mainly on the walk-in crowd since transportation to and from outlying areas posed severe difficulties in terms of costs and availability at nighttime. Before the advent of Indian movies in 1935 East Indians were not known to frequent cinemas. Cinema owners, in an effort to encourage East Indians to leave their comfort zone and attend the cinema in urban areas, sent flyer boys into the villages to distribute flyers announcing the arrival of a new Indian movie. They left flyers at shops, doctors’ offices, schools and other places. In addition, posters were stuck up at the village shops and other places but these had limited success since many East Indians could neither read nor write in the English language. Ramesh Boodhoo, a former cinema owner indicated that cinema owners needed to find a different way to get their messages to East Indians and this was where the mike men made a significant difference.

Beginning in the 1940s cinema owners exhibiting Indian movies employed the services of the mike men who went into the rural areas to advertise Indian movies. Boodhoo also indicated that every cinema that exhibited Indian movies had a mike man attached to it. In some instances, depending on the popularity of the movie and the songs, three or four mikes were hired by the same cinema to go into the surrounding areas to advertise the movie. The mike men went into the predominantly East Indian villages and publicized Indian movies in a manner that no other medium could match. Their remit was to attract East Indians to the cinema and this they did creditably. Kelvin Gajadhar indicated that in the same manner in which people ran out of their homes to see and listen to the mike when it came to the cooking night or when it "carried" the wedding, they came out and stood by the roadside when they heard the “cinema” announcements. In advertising the Indian movie, the mike man played Indian film songs as a beacon call to attention, then cut into the song still playing softly in the background and spoke of the Indian movie being shown in the nearby cinemas. He drove through the villages very slowly attracting maximum attention because of the sheer loudness of the music being played. As he drove along he distributed flyers relating to the Indian movie being shown. Many people were encouraged to attend the exhibition of the movie at the cinema mainly because of the work of the mike man playing the songs from the movie as he advertised it. In addition, Jagroopsingh pointed out that "we were eager to hear the mike man play the songs from the movies and this was a great motivation for us to see the movies.” Sitahal added that without the work of the mike man publicizing Indian movies in the villages, cinemas would have been hard pressed to get a decent crowd for Indian movies. He further mentioned that people “remembered the songs that were played on the mike and it kept ‘ringing in our minds, ears’; it seemed to cast a spell upon us and until we saw the movie we were not satisfied." By playing the film songs from Indian movies at several occasions, the mike man unknowingly encouraged the process whereby they were identified with Indian film songs and East Indians began to identify with the Indian film songs. Even as the mike man went about his business earning an income, he unwittingly made a tremendous contribution to the popularity of Indian film songs and the exhibition of Indian movies. This helped in the creation of an East Indian identity for East Indians that was linked to Indian movies and Indian film songs.

In those early years before the advent of Indian movies, the average East Indian was starved of Indian music and songs. The only source of songs and music for them was the mike man who endeared himself to the villagers with the playing of popular songs from Indian movies whether it was during announcements or at the cooking nights. There was a natural link between Indian film songs, the mike man and the people. Eventually people associated the mike man with Indian film songs. Later, Indian film songs became an identity symbol for East Indians in the 1950s and the 1960s and it was during that time that there was a crystallization of Indian film songs connecting to East Indian identity. (Gooptar, 2012)

The influence of the mike man also extended to several religious functions among the East Indians, particularly among the Hindus where he also played Indian film songs, but this time his repertoire was limited to religious songs from Indian movies. The cumulative effect of the mike men constantly bombarding East Indians with Indian film songs popularized those songs among them in a manner that had not been achieved by the traditional songs that existed in the East Indian communities. Narsaloo Ramaya (interview 2008) argued that Indian film songs gradually replaced traditional folk and religious songs at East Indian events. He noted that the average East Indian had been starved of any new identity connections with India and Indian movies were seen as an identity connection with India. The songs were catchy, rhythmic and “modern” in the eyes of most East Indians who generally preferred to listen to the filmi songs rather than the traditional East Indian songs. In time, due to the work of the mike men, Indian film songs became an identity icon among the East Indians.

By the mid-1950s mike men had also become an indispensable part of the success of major Hindu religious activities in the Indian settlement communities. For example, his contribution was a major input to the success in the hosting of community Ramayan Yaagnas, Bhagwat Yaagnas, monthly Kathas, Ramleela celebrations and Phagwa celebrations. In addition the mike men became a major influence in the success of community sporting events, bazaars and some parties. His contributions were generally in three areas; announcing the event, providing a microphone for the speakers such as pundits at religious ceremonies and the announcers at sports meetings, and playing relevant music for the occasion.  In the case of Hindu religious occasions such as Ramayan Yaagnas and Bhagwat Yaagnas the mike man arrived very early, by 5 pm, and began playing religious songs from Indian films at the location. This, Sitahal suggested, was a wake-up call for villagers, reminding them that the Yaagna was in progress and would begin very shortly that evening. Many people came early simply to listen to the religious songs played by the mike man. In the case of sports meetings the mike was an indispensable part of the proceedings as the announcer kept everyone abreast of what was happening on the field of sports with the microphone supplied by the mike man. This was possible because of the wide reach of the horns and its loudness which could be heard above the noise on the sports ground. In addition, whenever there was a lull in the proceedings the mike man always filled in the gaps by playing Indian film songs. In these scenarios, it must be noted that while he was hired for various types of announcements, the mike man played Indian film songs in public spaces and unwittingly claimed those public spaces for East Indians. This consumption of Indian film songs by East Indians in public spaces added significantly to the other occasions when the mike man played Indian film songs and the cumulative effect was one of East Indian identity with Indian film songs.

A gathering of mike men with their mikes

Social impact

While in the early days of their existence the Mike men were largely popular among members of the East Indian community their work was eventually noticed by other sections of the country and they were hired for several other activities including announcements connected to politics and government services. Even though many people considered them "noisy and annoying "they eventually became the mouth piece of business men, politicians and many government utility services. They performed valuable services in times of crisis in order to get information to the public in a timely manner and many people believed that it was due to the services of the mike men that many crises in the health sector were averted.

With the introduction of party politics in Trinidad and Tobago in 1956, mike men became an integral part of political campaigns by the various parties in the election. Since then to the present time, the election season has been one of the most lucrative times of the year for the mike man. Although it was a very short period, every mike was utilized during an election campaign as candidates tried to gain the upper hand over their opponents. Often there was a shortage of mike systems during the election campaign. In the case of political parties and independent candidates, the mike man was seen as the best option to get their messages out to the people through announcements referred to as “roving mike announcements” and through the use of the microphone at political meetings. Usually the mikes remained on the motor vehicle while speakers at political meetings made their speeches on stage using the microphone provided. Wherever the mike automobile went during the election campaign the candidates were seen in the vehicle speaking to the constituents as they traversed the constituency. With the introduction of the cassette recorders, and later digital recordings, the politicians no longer needed to sit in the roving mike vehicle and speak to his audiences. He simply recorded his message on a cassette tape or CD and the mike man played this recording throughout the constituency. In most cases, particularly in the early days of the use of tape recorders, many people had no idea that it was a recording and thought that it was the candidate himself who had come to the area with the mike to personally give his message to them. The social and political impact of the mike man was phenomenal as they worked not only in their traditional areas but in communities throughout the country. Through them the politicians were able to make contact with the people in an effort to gain their votes at election time.

In addition to politicians, numerous government agencies and businesses regularly made use of the mike men to get their messages out to the people at very short notice. For example, if there was an outbreak of malaria in a particular part of the country and there was a need for an urgent spraying with insecticides, the Ministry of Health, Victor Control Division, utilized the services of the mike men to inform residents of the schedule for spraying in the areas affected. Similarly, within recent years other utilities such as the Water and Sewage Authority (WASA) and the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (TTEC) utilized the mike men to inform residents of affected areas when scheduled works and interruptions of the utility services would negatively impact upon them.

By the late 1960s many business concerns began using the mike systems to go into villages and surrounding areas to publicize sale events at their commercial enterprises. The mike man went into the areas announcing the sale events and distributing fliers to residents. It is important to note here also that when making these announcements the mike man played Indian film songs to draw the attention of the people. In many instances most people were interested in hearing the Indian film songs played by the mike man rather than the announcements which he came to make.

A unique feature about the mike system was its ability to reach out to the public in a manner that other communication devices could not. The share loudness and carriage of the sound ensured that people within a wide radius were able to take note of the messages being broadcast. In addition the mike man was able to go into areas where there was no electricity and broadcast his message to everyone. The message was heard by all within the catchment area at the same time.

In addition to those announcements the mike men made their appearance during the death of a villager. From the inception of the mike man in Trinidad, many people realized that the quickest way to get the message of a death in the village to surrounding areas was through the mike man. In those days when there were no refrigeration services to keep the deceased body for long periods it was important to get the word out as quickly as possible as funerals were normally held within one or two days after death occurred. In those circumstances, the mike man came to the rescue and made death announcements in the village and surrounding areas playing Indian religious film songs between the announcements. Ramdeowar expressed the view that in those early days of the mike man it was considered "unjust and unwise" to charge the family of the deceased to make a death announcement so his contribution was generally accepted as community service and any mike man who asked for money in those days was frowned upon as trying to "take money from the dead."

The social and political impact of the mike men therefore was remarkable as they sought to get their messages into areas that were not accessible to radio and other forms of public information. They communicated with the people, lived among them and played their music for their enjoyment. As with other aspects of their routines, the constant playing of Indian film songs kept those songs alive among the people and in time the songs became commonplace among them and the mike men gained in status among East Indians.

 

Cultural influence

Wherever he went, up to the 1970s, the mike man was a veritable star boy; he was the man of the moment, almost given celebrity status. Everyone wanted to know him, to meet him, to talk to him or just to be around him. People in villages where the mike man gave his services talked for days afterwards about meeting him, talking to him, nodding to him or simply listening to the film songs he played. Those who requested songs that he played talked about the event for weeks afterwards.

The mike men were largely responsible for the spread and development of Indian film songs in Trinidad and Tobago. They are the repository of the largest collection of Indian film songs in the country. They are collectors of old and rare Indian film songs which are considered prized possessions. There are Indian film songs in the possession of mike men that are never heard on the radio. It was the mike man who in the early days before the advent of radio, took Indian film songs to the people in the outlying areas particularly in the Indian settlement areas: they were the ones who kept it alive among the East Indian people and who provided a voice for the East Indians. The mike man's job was a labour of love in the early days of the mike in Trinidad because the financial return from the letting of the mike system was very small. He provided musical enjoyment for East Indians while giving a voice to East Indian identity in public spaces. They in turn held him in very high esteem and in time saw him as a cultural icon among them.

For many people the mike men will always have a special place in their lives because of the tremendous contribution they made to East Indian culture and the evolution of East Indian identity in Trinidad. Without the work of the mike men, Indian film songs would not have been as popular and widespread as they were in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. It is the work of the mike men that kept Indian film songs popular among the East Indian communities and it was this popularity of Indian film songs that eventually led to the identification of East Indians with Indian film songs and their spin-offs. Whenever a cultural item reflecting East Indian traditions was required for a public program, in most instances the Indian film song was selected.

During the period under consideration, the mike men were the gatekeepers of Indian culture and Indian film songs in the country. Wherever they went, they played their stock in trade; Indian film songs and thereby kept Indian culture alive among East Indians. The playing of Indian film songs by the mike men in the streets of the country, in public spaces, helped to build the self-esteem of East Indians who hitherto practised their religion and culture in privacy. East Indians were not known to broadcast their culture and religion in public spaces but the coming of the mike men changed that and for the first time Indian songs were played regularly in public spaces for all to hear. The claiming of the public space by the mike men boldly encouraged East Indians to assert themselves at a time when they were struggling to claim an identity in Trinidad and that identity was indelibly linked to Indian film songs. The Mike men epitomized for many East Indians the keepers of their culture in the country and they collectively preserved one of the tangible heritages of the East Indians in Trinidad, Indian film songs.

 

Conclusion

 

The mike men played a significant role in the evolution of East Indian identity in Trinidad because of their (the mike men’s) influence on the social, cultural and religious events among East Indians. Their constant playing of Indian film songs pushed into the background East Indians traditional songs and music and etched into the psyche of the East Indian; the “modern” Indian film songs of the era under study. East Indians embraced the new type of Indian film music. They also gave high status to the mike men because they brought East Indians closer to India through the music they played. There was a definite affinity between the Indian film songs and East Indians in Trinidad. During the period under study East Indians in Trinidad struggled to claim their space in the country and Indian film songs afforded them the opportunity to do so. East Indians identified with the Indian film songs because it provided a link to their ancestral homeland, India. Since Indian film songs assisted East Indians in their identity formation and the Mike men were the ones who brought the Indian film songs to the people and kept it alive among them, they were held in high esteem by the people and, with time, they became cultural icons in the East Indian community.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Gooptar, Primnath. The Impact of Indian Movies on East Indian Identity in Trinidad. PhD Dissertation. UTT. 2012.

 

Interviewees

Sitahal, Partap    (1946----) is a retired Machine Operator. He is Vice President, Brazil Hindu Temple and is a community, cultural, religious and political activist. He is very knowledgeable in the field of Indian movies in Trinidad.

Ramjattan, Ramdeowar, (1920- 2012 ) was a retired Caroni worker and mike man. He had more than sixty years’ experience as a mike man.

Boodoo, Ramesh (1941- 2016 ) was a former cinema owner/operator who spent most of his adult life in the cinema business. He owned and operated the Silk cinema in Sangre Grande.

Gosein, Siew   (1918- 2010  ). Male. 91 years. Retired labourer. Mike man enthusiast and former Indar Sabha Dancer and Raja Harischandra dance drama artiste (1930s -1960s)

Kissoon, Randy (1954-   )… Is self-employed and the owner of three mike systems. He is the current president of the Mike Men Association. He has more than 30 years’ experience in the mike business.

 

Ramoutar, Balliram (1939---         ) is still an active mike man with more than 50 years’ experience in the business. He has trained several young people in the mike business

Ramkissoon, Hublal (1949….) is a religious and cultural activist and the owner of two mike systems. He is self-employed and repairs mike systems as a hobby. He has more than 40 years’ experience as a mike man. His father was a mike man and he retains two mike systems used by his father in the 1930s and 40s.

INDIAN PLAYBACK SINGERS

INDIAN SCREEN STARS