A taan singing revival in New York

Dear Editor,

An effort was made last Saturday at a free concert at a public school auditorium in Richmond Hill to revive Guyanese style taan singing. It was a part of the celebration of Indian Arrival Day in America and organizers decided to focus on the taan art form.  Young and old artistes sang taan songs (accompanied by mesmerizing dholak drumming and dantaal) regaling an appreciative audience.

Taan is an ancient form of folk classical singing that was brought to the Caribbean territories where indentured Indian labourers (girmityas) settled. It was a very popular music and singing genre up until the 1980s. After the older generations passed on, this musical/singing genre was neglected as the younger generation gravitated towards chutney and fast tempo Bollywood beats.

Dave Thakoordeen, a philanthropist and Chairman of the Dharmic Sabha USA Praant, spearheaded the planning of this event ably supported by other Praant members. Thakoordeen also spearheads the annual chowtaal singing competition and 20/20 cricket competition between New York and Boston. Thakoordeen said he has a calling and passion to resurrect old time classical forms of singing such as taan, soohar, qawali, ghazals, geets, etc.. And he has decided to start out with taan.

Taan owes its roots to the indentureds. When they came beginning in 1838, they 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, bihaag, dhamar and chaturang.

Taan lyrics are rooted in Bhojpuri, Hindi and Sanskrit languages.  Some of the lyrics convey religious messages while others depict Indian ceremonial songs sung at births, weddings or funerals 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 and noted that local classical music had evolved into its own distinctive art form with its own rules, vitality and legitimacy.

With last Saturday being Indian arrival, rich tributes were paid to the ancestors for the cultural foundation laid down for their descendants. Other arrival programmes are planned for the next three weekends.

Thakoordeen and others are applauded for this great effort at resurrecting old folk singing genres like taan. Last Saturday audience was not disappointed as each performer delivered several of the taan styles. The drummers also excelled as taan requires a specific type of drumming.

Among the singers last Saturday were 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 last Saturday’s effort, it seems “taan” singing will make a comeback and of all places among Guyanese and other Indo-Caribbeans in New York. Only time will tell if this art form will survive and expand to other parts of America and become resurrected in Guyana.

A variety programme is planned for today at the Arya Center Auditorium on 150th Street off Atlantic Ave from 6 PM. Feature speakers include Ravi Dev, Prof Baytoram Ramharack, Dr. Satish, myself and performances by singers and dancers. The public is invited.

Yours faithfully,

Dr. Vishnu Bisram

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