In an attempt to celebrate and preserve the East Indian influence of its rich history, the Presbyterian Church of TT has launched a CD of bhajans. The CD is a compilation of hymns which were translated into Hindi and used by Canadian missionaries when they first came to this country in 1868, to evangelise the East Indian indentured labourers.
The pioneer missionary was the Rev John Morton of Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, Canada, who first set foot on TT soil with his family on January 6, 1868. His primary aim was converting the indentured labourers who had replaced African immigrants on the sugar plantations.
With language being a barrier to conversion, the missionaries had to learn and translate the hymns into Hindi, the language of the indentured. Some churches established over the years have maintained their East Indian names such as Susamachar (good news), Akashbani (voice of heaven) and Aramalaya (place of rest).
The CD, titled Bhajans of the Presbyterian Church Volume 1, was launched by the church’s Moderator, Rev Annabell Lalla-Ramkhelawan, at a service of thanksgiving last Sunday at the Susamachar Presbyterian Church to commemorate the church’s 150th anniversary.
The combined Presbyterian choir performed a medley of some of the bhajans on the CD to the congregation, which included President Anthony Carmona and his wife Reema, Planning and Development Minister Camille Robinson-Regis, who represented Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, and San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello. Also in the congregation were descendants of the Canadian Missionary representing the United Church of Canada, and representatives from the Church of Scotland and the World Council of Churches. The Canadian representatives were seen singing along with the choir.
The CD was compiled and sung by retired schoolteacher Annmarie Chadee and recorded in India with some top Indian instrumentalists providing the musical accompaniment. Violin, mandolin, guitars and some Punjabi drums added a unique flavour.
Chadee, a trained Indian classical singer and a member of the Caroni Presbyterian Church, gave the CD to the church as a memento of its rich history. In an interview, Chadee who is married to businessman Clyde Chadee, said it is something she has been wanting to do for a very long time, because she felt the tradition was being lost and the younger generation were unfamiliar with the history of this institution.
Coming from a musical family who are also heavily involved in research and grounded in Christianity, Chadee’s passion flared when she learnt about the grand plans for the church’s 150th anniversary. With time on her hands, having retired as a science teacher from Barataria Secondary School and with her two children, Dr Xfitaaz Chadee, UWI physics lecturer and Aaron, a civil engineering consultant, grown-up, her decision to pursue this dream suddenly became possible.
“My passion was to save them (bhajans). I said, the church needs this. This is our heritage, this is our beginning. If we are to move forward as a church, the music must also move forward with us. I thought, only a few young people know their roots and if I don’t do it, who else will? I know the Hindi. I am a classical singer. I am trained in classical Indian music, I have the wherewithal to do and and so I took it upon myself to research and compile the songs – which was a lot – and brought it up to standard.”
Her research was a challenge because a lot of the language and melody, once preserved through the oral tradition, were lost. She said only few who would have sung the bhajans in church were still alive and fewer still remembered about four or five of the songs.
“I had to work with two 80-something-year-old men whose voices were already going. But they helped me so much. So selflessly they sat and they gave it to me. Right now I am working with an 87-year-old gentleman, Sookoo Manbodh, for Volume 2 to be released in 2019.”
Chadee, who has also recorded four other CDs, Devi Devta, Chutneywaali Volume 1 and 2, and Deswaa, is also working on a compilation of romantic songs. Lalla-Ramkhelawan, who was presented with the first copy at the anniversary celebration, commended Chadee for the once-in-a-lifetime gift.
The CD, which contains 12 songs, and also contains Hindi and English scripts, is dedicated to Chadee’s mother, the late Sybil Soobratee, a former member of the Susamachar choir and her mother-in-law, Cecilia Seeratan-Chadee.
They are available for sale at the Synod’s office.