MUSIC IN SURINAME
Surinamese music is as diverse as the Surinamese population and there are clear musical links between the Netherlands and Suriname. Live music is heard in Suriname at parties, parades, national holidays, at the walking march, in churches, temples and mosques, and occasionally there are major concerts by Surinamese and foreign artists. Classical music is performed in music schools and churches.
Johannes Helstone was a 19th century Surinamese composer of classical music. He is commemorated with a monument in front of the Reformed Church at Kerkplein in Paramaribo. A bust of Eddy Snijders, the father of flutist and jazz musician Ronald Snijders, stands in Fort Zeelandia, opposite the museum entrance. Eddy Snijders played piccolo and was a composer and conductor of the military band.
In the Netherlands, black musicians were popular in nightclubs and cafés after 1930. Even in the Second World War, they managed to keep performing. Kid Dynamite (1911-1963) was a tenor saxophonist in clubs and with jazz orchestras. Max Woiski Sr. (1911-1981), orchestra leader in Amsterdam, performed in cafés and left for Mallorca in the late 1960s, where he ran a nightclub. One of his hits was BB with R. Max Woiski Jr. tended to prefer the Latin and jazz direction. Rice with long beans and You are not yet happy with a beautiful woman were popular in the 1960s. Lex Vervuurt (1910-1991) was a jazz musician, composer, and orchestra conductor. He worked for the World Broadcasting Corporation, among others, and composed the Friendship Waltz in honour of the Statute of the Netherlands Antilles in 1955.
Lieve Hugo (1934-1975) died just before Suriname’s independence. Well-known songs include Blaka Rosoe, Srefidensi, Dorina, Mi seni a boi and Mira. From his band Happy Boys, the kawina band Trafassi was formed.
Max Nijman (1941-2016), ‘soulman number one’, sang ballads, kaseko, Latin and reggae in sranantongo. In 1986, he left for the Netherlands. Emotional songs include Katibo, Adyossi and Ai Sranan. At the time, there were many Surinamese musicians in the Netherlands, such as Oscar Harris and the jazz group Fra Fra Sound, who performed at the North Sea Jazz Festival. Other Surinamese bands included Exmo Stars, Ghabiang Boys and Master Blaster. The party band Sabaku made Wasmasjien (1985) and Strijkplank popular with Dutch audiences.
In recent years, Damaru with Tuintje in mijn hart and Kenny B. with Paris have become popular in the Netherlands. In Suriname, people like their music more in sranantongo and aucan, such as Yu Faya, Neks ne tai, Paramaribo. Damaru returned to Suriname after a stay in the Netherlands and is in demand at dance parties. In the Netherlands, there is currently a large number of rappers with Surinamese roots following American examples.
Each Surinamese ethnic group has unique music. Traditional indigenous (Indian) music can be recognised by the sambura, a large drum that makes a heavy and dull sound. Previously, a sambura group consisted only of men; today, however, women also play the instrument. The maraca, made from a gourd, was used by the pyjai-man to make spiritual contact with ancestors. Sambura Maestro is a traditional indigenous music group.
Around Lelydorp, Santigron and Pikin Poika, there are kaseko bands of natives and Afrosurinamese, who sing lyrics in sranantongo, the arowak or Caribbean language. Music from the indigenous people of southern Suriname is rarely heard in Paramaribo.
Afro-surinamese people in the coastal plain of Suriname have numerous musical styles, from gospel and church choirs (Harmonie, Maranatha) to kawina, kaseko, zouk, reggae, rap, spoken word and covers of international songs with lyrics in sranantongo. All-round music groups have a wide repertoire from Bollywood to Brazilian pop music, with lyrics in different languages.
The song Faluma became a hit across the Caribbean. Sisa Agi (1962-2020) was an aleke singer, a member of the kawina group Ai Sa Si after 1994. Thanks to the internet, a music group from Suriname can reach audiences around the world, with sranantongo, aucan or saramaccan being no limitation. The Maroons (‘bosnegers’) have a number of music and dance styles that are gaining traction thanks to the internet and social media, such as aleke, awasa and loketo.
A well-known instrument is the Apintie (talking drum), from which Radio Apintie takes its name. Percussion and drums are important in the winti religion and traditional kawina music. Drums are treated with respect, and consecrated with libations. When drums were banned in colonial times, a wooden bench (kwakwa bangi) was used as a musical instrument instead.
Church songs can also reach the charts, e.g. Jerusalem – Nanga palm a de go by Trafassi. This song is sung when a coffin is brought to the grave by dancing dragiman. At a bigi-yari (celebration of a crown anniversary), the music group starts with church songs and slowly switches to kawina and kaseko. Drums and horns (trumpet and tuba) are always present on these occasions.
Kaseko is dance music with Caribbean influences and Western instruments, such as drums, conga, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, electric guitar, bass guitar, sometimes supplemented by the traditional skratji-dron.
The association NAKS (Na Arbeid Komt Sport) in Paramaribo promotes Afro-surinamese culture by providing music and dance lessons. A percussion orchestra called Alakondre dron, in which the different ethnic groups of Suriname wear their traditional clothing and play instruments, often performs at events. It is also known is NAKS Kaseko Loco.
The military chapel can be heard at official ceremonies and on national holidays. Their repertoire includes marching music and the national anthem; they accompany folk Christmas singing and then switch effortlessly to kaseko or international pop music. Surinamese marching music stems from German traditions, and were arranged in a swing style by Eddy Snijders and others.
Hindustanis in Suriname perform chautal music at the Holi-Phagwa festival. A group of men and boys (and more recently girls) sit opposite each other on the floor with small, ear-splitting cymbals and drums, singing party songs. At weddings, there is a baithak gana orchestra with portable harmonium, various drums and a metal rasp. Kries Ramkhelawan is a musician, composer, play director and teaches Indian music. The Embassy of India also provides music, dance and language courses in Suriname.
Modern music and dance from romantic Bollywood films are popular. There are also Hindustani music groups playing American hard rock and country music.
Javanese music, sung in the Javanese language, has a limited audience. During djaran kepang, where dancers go into a trance and act like horses, monkeys, snakes and tigers, gamelan music is played, as well as during wajang performances. This music is associated with religious festivals celebrated in cultural associations. The embassy of Indonesia promotes Surinamese-Javanese culture by providing scholarships, and by bringing Indonesian musicians and artists to Suriname. Young people in Suriname have almost no command of the Javanese language, which is why nowadays wajang performances are given in sranantongo! Astaria Combo was a well-known pop-jawa group in the 1970s to 1990s.
The Suripop festival has taken place every few years since 1982. Composers, singers and musicians are encouraged to present new work, preferably in sranantongo and other Surinamese languages.
Chinese, Lebanese, Haitian and Brazilian music can be heard at cultural associations and on national holidays. The walking march (evening four-day march) in Paramaribo gives these associations the opportunity to showcase their music and dance on the streets. Big companies and politicians sponsor the clothes and the brass bands.