Lyrics should tell a story, have meaning and the ability to teach people a valuable life lesson, famous singer of the hit Chutney single “Dem Ah Watch Meh” Mahendra Ramkellawan says.
In a recent interview with The Scene Ramkellawan shared his take on Chutney and what he believes constitutes quality pieces, good entertainment and, perhaps above everything else, a piece of art and history. Chutney songs, he stressed, should not be all about vulgarity and rum drinking.
In fact, Ramkellawan said, he refuses to sing anything promoting rum drinking or which contains vulgarity. He believes a Chutney piece does not have to contain these two distasteful ingredients to be a hit.
Words which make up a song, he stressed, must be poetic, clean, clear and true. If there is no story in a song, Ramkellawan opined, then there really is no point to that song. Many songwriters/singers, he noted, get carried away with the whole writing to rhyme trend and are fooled into believing that once it rhymes then there is no need for the words to have deep meaning.
The “Dem Ah Watch Meh” singer recently won the Mashramani Road March Competition with the same song, which has rapidly spread through the Guyanese and Caribbean community. This is the first time, Ramkellawan said, that a Chutney song has been able to win this particular competition.
“This is something historical because this particular genre has never been able to take home the Road March crown before,” Ramkellawan stressed.
Chutney, he noted, is deeply rooted in tradition and every time he creates a “hit” he tries to capture some section of society, real life problems being faced by real people. It is what inspired “Dem Ah Watch Meh” and other hits like “Lamata” and “Dab de Bottom House”.
Ramkellawan has been on the Chutney scene for about seven years now. Before he made a career out of Chutney, Ramkellawan told The Scene, he was the sports chairman for Region Nine. One year, he recounted, the region needed to send a representative to a Chutney competition.
“No one wanted to go so I had to end up going myself but even before this I was always a songwriter,” he said.
“Chutney is more than just entertaining… It is telling a story, representing culture and even recording history,” he said.
“Dem Ah Watch Meh” started off as a piece of poetry, Ramkellawan explained. “After I write anything I always spend some time reading it over. You know, I just let the poetry sink in and then I figure out what I want to do with it,” he said.
This latest Chutney single, he told The Scene, tells the watched to live their lives regardless of the reaction of those watching and it tells the watchers to mind their own business.
While the “watching” portrayed in his song may seem extremely humorous and harmless there is a deeper element it, Ramkellawan said. “The talk which rises from people seeing you somewhere and interpreting it their own way has damaged many relationships or at least added some strain to them,” he explained.
The use of language, Ramkellawan stressed, is perhaps the factor which contributes the most to making or breaking a Chutney piece. He tries to take people back in time by using creole words which have faded somewhat from our vocabulary.
“Let’s face it, words like Sajiwang or Lamata are not words we hear a lot but these are words which take people back in time,” Ramkellawan said.
“Sajiwang” is a popular word in the East Indian community which is used to refer to someone who drinks rum excessively. “Lamata” is used to refer to someone who is stupid. These words, Ramkellawan said, embody our culture.
In recent weeks, he said, “Dem Ah Watch Meh” was listed number one in the Caribbean by 101 Radio Station in Trinidad and Tobago. The song is also popular among the Caribbean community in North America as well, Ramkellawan reported.
The song will be officially launched on March 12 at the Guyana National Stadium during the Chutney show ‘Clash of the Titans’. The show is being promoted by Ramkellawan who is the promoter for Fire Fest Productions.
“The world now knows Mahendra Ramkellawan and his ‘Dem Ah Watch Meh’ and they know I am Guyanese. I am proud to have done my bit to make Guyana more than just a dot on the map,” a smiling Ramkellawan said.