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The powerfully propulsive Tassa drumming of East Indians from the Caribbean region is performed by both Hindus and Muslims, in sacred as well as secular contexts. Major League Tassa and accompanying dancers from Queens, New York will present rhythms used for processions, the Diwali holiday, and weddings, along with contemporary tunes performed at clubs, sports bars, and social events. The many types of Tassa to be presented at the Library of Congress are also performed at the annual Kitchrie Festival at New York's Rajkumari Cultural Center, a major event presenting a broad spectrum of Indo-Caribbean folk arts.
During the past three decades, Indo-Caribbean immigrants from Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago brought Tassa drumming to New York City and South Florida. The tradition traces its origins to North India, especially Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. For the Indian indentured laborers who came to the Caribbean region in the mid-nineteenth century, Tassa became closely associated with the Muslim "Hosay," or Muharram commemoration. Hosay is an annual procession, at which miniature temples, representing the tomb of the Shiite martyr Hussein, are paraded through the streets, to the steadiest of the Tassa rhythms. It is celebrated by both Muslims and Hindus, who also perform Tassa for other kinds of occasions. They view this tradition as a symbol of Indo-Caribbean identity.
In New York, Tassa is performed mainly by Hindus, who make up the majority of Indo-Caribbeans. There are a remarkable variety of "hands," sets of distinct ostinatos and meters. Tassa groups perform "religious hands" for Hindu deities such as Lakshmi and Hanuman, "wedding hands," and "dancing hands," such as the dingolay, soca and steel pan. The dancing hands are performed as accompaniment to contemporary Chutney dancing, sometimes in fierce competitions that take the shape of battles of the bands.
In Trinidad, Afro-Caribbean music and Tassa have long influenced one another. Tassa was an important shaping force for steel band music and is central to Chutney Soca, the Indo-Caribbean variety of popular Soca (soul-calypso) dance music. The transformations of Tassa in the Caribbean region and New York embody a continuous process of creolization, as the encounters of different cultures creatively influence and reshape traditions, while maintaining the distinctiveness of each contributing culture.
All of the members of Major League Tassa are Trinidadian-Americans in their twenties and thirties. Its leader, Anil Raghoonanan, plays the dhol, a big, doubleheaded bass barrel drum, made of wood and covered with goatskin. Kevindra Raghoonanan performs on the jhanj, brass cymbals. Dave Seetaram, the "fulley" and Doodnath "Phantom" Lalchan, the "cutter," play the conical clay tassa drums. The fulley keeps up a steady rhythm, while the lead cutter performs dazzling improvisations while guiding the other players through modulations of the rhythms. Dancers Amy Basdeo and Lauren Moomlal perform traditional dancing in the style practiced widely at religious ceremonies and weddings, as well as popular, contemporary chutney dancing.
The American Folklife Center was created by Congress in 1976 and placed at the Library of Congress to "preserve and present American Folklife" through programs of research, documentation, archival preservation, reference service, live performance, exhibition, public programs, and training. The Center includes the American Folklife Center Archive of folk culture, which was established in 1928 and is now one of the largest collections of ethnographic material from the United States and around the world. Please visit our web site.
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event archive >> homegrown concert series archive >> 2008 concerts >> concert flyer for major league tassa 2008