By Vishnu Bisram
“The Chowtaal Samelan Gets Bigger and Better in New York City,” said Dave Thakoordeen, the Chairman of the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha USA Praant.
And he is absolutely right. It was a fantastic afternoon of entertaining chowtaal singing ringing through the halls of the mandir. The large audience moved their bodies with the rhythm of the tempo beats.
Thakordeen noted: “This is the the 4th year of Chowtaal Samelan organized by the USA Praant. And this year we have some 18 groups performing. They did a fantastic job. People spoke very well of the quality of singing and the music — dholk, jaal, cymbal, dantaal, harmonium, and other instruments ”.
Thakordeen and others thanked the organizers of the event. They all generously volunteered their service and time. And he also showered praises on the various participants for their contributions to make event a success.
As in previous years, the Prem Bhakti Mandir in Jamaica NY hosted the event where an unprecedented crowd assembled to listen to the various groups sing chowtaals, the fast tempo folk singing that was brought from India by the indentured ancestors of the Indo-Caribbean people .
The word “samelan” means a gathering of people for a common purpose and it was indeed the largest gathering of chowtaal groups (gols) from mandirs and cultural organizations in the New York area. Each group sang several chowtaals in a rigorous session at the top of their voices. Each group had a minimum of ten participants. Every member of the Chowtaal group sang and beat jhals (cymbals) while some beat the drum (dholak) and the dantaal. The groups assembled in two rows of singers facing each other (semi-circle), with a “dholak” drummer at one end, singing lines of Hindi text antiphonally.
Chowtaal Samelan in New York City, an initiative of the Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha, is an annual event held countrywide in Guyana in all of the Praants (branches) of the Dharmic Sabha. Chowtaal gols or groups from Mandirs in each region converge at various venues to share in spirited singing reflective of the Holi festival. The objective of the USA Praant is to continue this tradition by hosting the gols from the mandirs in the Tri-State area.
Chowtaal was brought to the Caribbean by indentured laborers from the North India regions of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It is a folk music of village life in the Hindi and Bhojpuri belt in India. Much of the lyrics of the chowtaals involve loud repetitions of chants about life and or on the Hindu Gods and Goddesses. It was transmitted to and institutionalized in the USA and Canada by Indo-Caribbean immigrants. In Guyana, chowtaal is sung by village or temple groups with members going from home to home or village to village.
Although this type of music genre is on the decline in India, it continues to strive in the Caribbean and here in the North American continent as this is a way to preserve this musical art form. The singing form was transplanted in North America by the Indo-Caribbean immigrants.
This year the Samelan was noticeably different in a few ways. There were groups from three countries: Guyana, Suriname and the twin islands of Trinidad and Tobago.
Secondly, there were two “children group” participating namely the Sanaatan Dharma Mandir led by Bhai Harriram Thakoordeen and the Queens Hindu Mandir under the guidance of Pandit Ravi Maharaj. These young devotees spiced up the event with their incredible talent much to the amazement of the listening audience. In particular they impressed the leader of the Satya Sanatan Ramayan Gol (another group) and the principal of Royal Car Service Bhai Omnauth who presented both children groups with a trophy. Bhai Omnauth strongly believe that the future of chowtaal as a musical art form lies in the hands of the youths and expressed a strong interest in helping other youths to get involved and learn to sing chowtaals.
Thakordeen said next year will be even more unique. The USA Praant is focusing on creating more “children groups”.Thakordeen appeals to parents to get encourage their children to become more involved in this folk music.
For those who are interested in learning to sing chowtaals, you can call Bhai Omanuth at Royal Car Service at 718-323-1555. Also, the USA Praant Samelan organizing committee expressed interest in starting to plan next year Samelan so if any mandir or organization is interested, please call Bhai Dave Thakoordeen at 347-291-3807.