The American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress in Washington featured Indo-Caribbean drumming and dancing at a recent performance. The center has been featuring traditional ethnic and regional music that is "homegrown" in communities across the United States. VOA's Ravi Khanna has more.
This is the story of a small American community that is following its own cultural traditions of music and dance, and at the same time sending a subtle message of religious tolerance and moderation.
The community is mostly in New York. It originated in Guyana, and in Trinidad and Tobago, and its roots go across the oceans all the way to India.
This team from New York is known as the Major League Tassa. This kind of dance and drum beating marks the Muslim holy month of Moharram, and the uniqueness of this team is that all its members are Hindus.
During the past three decades, Indo-Caribbean immigrants from Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago brought Tassa drumming to New York City and South Florida. And their origins can be traced to North India, especially the states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
For the Indian indentured laborers who came to the Caribbean region in the mid-19th century, Tassa became closely associated with the Muslim "Hosay" or Moharram commemoration. The word Hosay comes from the Muslim martyr Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. And for a large majority of Muslims, it is a month of mourning in memory of Imam Hussein and his family.
Anil Raghoonanan from Trinidad is the leader of this Tassa team who formed the group three years ago. His team caters to the cultural needs of the community in New York.
Raghoonanan explains, "It is a very big Hindu Muslim Indian community, Punjabis, there are a lot of Indians, West Indians, Indians from India."
Hosay is an annual procession, with miniature temples paraded through the streets to the Tassa beats. It is commemorated by both Muslims and Hindus.
The dancers are Amanda Basdeo and Lauren Moomlal. They perform traditional dancing in the style practiced widely at religious ceremonies and weddings, as well as popular contemporary dancing.
Basdeo is an accountant and dances as a hobby. She says her community loves it. "They love to see the younger generation not on the streets. We are doing something productive," she says. "We are carrying on our culture, and our generation cares about it."
While Basdeo is trying to learn Bharat Natyam and other Indian classical dances, Moomlal says she has not had any training. She says, "It is familiar for us, even though we were brought up here."
When asked, "Were you trained or is it natural," Moomlal responds, "Natural. All natural."