Fiona Singh, who rose to fame as a member of the Sugar Cake Girls entertainment group, was adjudged Chutney Queen early yesterday morning despite strong competition from Mahendra Ramkellawan who delighted the crowd with an elaborate theatrical performance featuring men on stilts and a cantankerous granny as his mother-in-law.
Ramkellawan’s song about how his mother-in-law is always accusing of him about being a “Lah-ma-ta” (a physically handicapped person) was appreciated by the audience. He obviously thought he should have won, and so walked off the stage as soon as it was announced that he was in second place.
“Mahendra? Mahendra?” the MC called out, but he was long gone off the stage. The crowd nevertheless congratulated him.
It took a good few seconds before Fiona realised she had won the National Chutney Singing Competition, which featured a staggering 13 judges split up in three panels!
She soon overcame the shock of it all and belted out once more her winning song “Besab a Suriyabay.” Don’t try to understand what that means. It has no meaning at all. It was just something she came up with, much the same like Chris Garcia came with “Janay Burgay-Jaane” for the incredibly wicked “Chutney Bachanal.”
However, once the “Besab a Suriyabay” chorus line was gone, you realised Fiona’s song was about the need for an aggressive sexual partner – and it was put in equally aggressive language: “Ah want a Wukkah-man to wuk meh everyday.”
The song had a good melody to it, bordering on the sort of stuff Babla and Kanchan produced, but the raw raunchy lyrics might prevent the song from becoming popular.
Fiona added to her performance six male Afro-Guyanese dancers from the immensely popular X-Factor Dance Group. It was her way of being “different” and stepping away from the Indian girls with long hair and skirts.
The effort obviously paid off and Fiona walked away with the prize of $550,000.
Four-time monarch, Haresh Singh, failed to impress the judges, even though his song was refreshing and a departure from the popular Chutney theme. He won third place. His song “Din Ta Din” is a true story of how he was challenged by a Trinidadian into a competition.
Two contestants who sought to bring something different to the night were Karen Benneth and Suraj Narine.
Benneth was the only Afro-Guyanese performer in the competition and sought to rope in some Soca with her song “Chutney Soca Fever.” She delivered smoothly and her song was likeable, with a nice groovy, feel-good rhythm. However, the judges didn’t give her a place.
Suraj Narine’s song took on a Punjabi flavour with both rhythm and antics and the occasional “Bale Bale” but the judges also did not think he deserved a place in the finals.
Belly dancer Sandella Craig who delivered strong performances in the previous two competitions did not impress. Her song “My best friend’s wedding” was weak in content and the drama she sought to create on stage was somehow lost in the presentation.
Sandella’s story was about how she prepared to “shake it and show them all” at her best friend’s wedding only to find that the Dulaha (groom) is her sweetheart.
Bunty Singh, whose song dropped into the common “rum” theme won him the $100,000 prize as the most promising artiste.
Annandale market vendor, Beesham Jairam, who was last year named the Most Promising Artiste, failed to live up to the potential the judges saw in him last year.
From Mahaicony, his dream is of winning the calypso monarchy. However, Beesham’s performance of “Getaway thing” only provided laughter for the audience and nothing else.
The competition this year was a definite improvement over last year, though some pre-screening of the contestants could have kept some of them off the stage.
Owing to a string of poor attendances, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport which hosted the event as part of the country’s 40th Republic Anniversary celebrations, roped in Trinidad Rikki Jai to bring in the crowd.
In addition, King’s Duck Curry added flavour to the event. An estimated 1,000 persons waited to see Fiona take home the title.
Rikki Jai also served as one of the judges of the completion. He opened the show with the popular “Mor Tor” and then in the end belted out some of the more popular Chutney songs of Trinidad and Tobago.
The Ministry had also brought in Trinidad and Tobago music arranger Rishi Gayadeen, who has worked with the likes of Rikki Jai and Adesh Samaroo, to help the competitors.
Apart from the 15 Guyanese selected to take part, three overseas-based Guyanese also competed.
However, in the end, it was Fiona, a mother of two, who proved that she had what it takes to be Queen of Chutney.