Sundar Popo

Sundar Popo
Sundar Popo 1943 - 2000

IT was the fitting send-off for a folk hero as hundreds of villagers, family members and friends turned up to extend condolences to Sundar Popo’s family at Lal Beharry Trace, Monkey Town, Barrackpore.

For three nights, mourners came out to “keep wake” for Trinidad and Tobago’s icon of Indian song.

Cards, coffee and crix made it very traditional and gave those attending added incentive to stay all night until next morning.

“We had a good gamble last night,’’ one villager reported to his friends in the hope that they would stay on to enjoy another good game on Thursday night.

At about 8 p.m. Prime Minister Basdeo Panday dropped in to extend condolences to Popo’s family. He met Popo’s wife Kayso and their children. They were happy to receive a guest of such honour.

It was already announced that the state will bear the cost of the funeral expenses.

After a short while the Prime Minister departed with his heavy escort of security personnel. Thereafter the wake began to grow bigger and bigger with new shiny vehicles in a variety of models and designs lining Lal Beharry Trace on both sides.

Ladies with ohrnis covering their heads took up seats on one side while the menfolk on the other side pulled up chairs in readiness for whappie, all fours, romey and brags. “Aye, aye, come here nah man, play some card,’’ shouts a man in a red shirt. Cards are produced. Some red flags (one dollar bills) decorate the table top, bets are placed, and at the end of the game winners and losers know their fate.

More than a dozen tables are encircled with gamblers, some humming a popular Sundar Popo number. With cigarettes struck between their lips they briskly shuffle the cards in anticipation of pulling more trumps this time around.

Chutney promoters Ajeet Praimsingh and George Singh gaze as the players slap cards loudly on the table tops to establish authority and professionalism in the contest for a win. On a little stage at the northern end of the yard, singers dressed in white, render bhajans to the accompaniment of a dholak and harmonium. They bring a message of peace and love. Not far away a murti of Lord Shiva observes silently.

Sundar Popo lived in a big house which he built at the cost of one million dollars about three years ago, according to one of his sons Hemant Sundar. “It was a lot of hard work,’’ says Hemant, “but my father built his dream.’’

The house is a typical two-storey bungalow, one that is seen in Hindi films, with long steps and staircases blending with the architecture. Red and white are the predominant colours of the home.

They came from near and far to say farewell to the late Sundar Popo who died Tuesday of a kidney and heart ailment. He also suffered declining eye sight and eventually had to give up the fight.

Popo’s rise to stardom

THE little hamlet of Monkey Town in Barrackpore rose to prominence when Sundar Popo shot into the spotlight with his song “Nana and Nani”. Singing that popular number on Mastana Bahar for the first time in 1971, Popo’s rendition caught the imagination of television and radio audiences with his lyrical blend of Hindi and English and spicy rhythmic beat.

Recording under the guidance of Moean Mohammed and music maestro Harry Mahabir, Popo turned out hit after hit and soon became a household name in this country. “I put Sundar Popo on the map,” asserts Moean Mohammed.

Fame and fortune were soon to follow. And the demand for Popo to perform at both local and foreign concerts pushed him to international stardom.

Born on November 4, 1943, Sundar Popo started singing at an early age. He often teamed up with top singers and orchestras for concerts and weddings. Although he displayed talent, his day had not yet arrived.

On completion of primary education, Popo worked at Caroni Ltd as a watchman. He quit his job about four years ago due to ill-health, according to his son Hemant. Of his four children (three sons, one daughter), only two of them, Hemant Sundar, 33, and Harripersad Sundar 40, have taken up singing. However, daughter Sundari and last son Jaiknath prefer to be good supporters and listeners.

The big break came in 1979 when during their concert tour to Trinidad in 1979, Babla and Kanchan heard some of Popo’s songs and were thrilled with this new form of musical expression.

They showed interest and borrowing some of his hits, re-recorded them with better orchestration techniques for world audiences. Soon people around the world were listening to Popo’s popular numbers.

In addition to his songs reaching most of the continents, Sundar Popo made many overseas concert tours. His songs gained popularity in North America, Europe, India, Fiji, Mauritius, Guyana and Suriname.

Popo recorded hundreds of songs during his career which spanned three decades.

For his contribution to music and culture, he was awarded the Humming Bird Medal (silver) in 1993.

He won the local song contest many times at the Indian Cultural Pageant. But he never won Mastana Bahar’s first prize, although he appeared in the finals on several occasions. As a pioneer of the chutney genre, Sundar Popo enriched the musical landscape. He touched the hearts and souls of music lovers around the world.