July 17, 2016
The Making of a King
Samraj Jaimungal (Rikki Jai) was once a simple boy with a big dream, a knack for memorizing lyrics and a melodious voice. Twenty five years ago, he knew that singing was the only option he wanted. He then began to toy around with what would eventually become a career, and the making of the king of chutney and soca music in the Caribbean. He has held the title of, ‘Chutney Soca Monarch’ for an impressive nine times, and currently shares the 2015 title with chutney soca singer, Ravi B. Both singers had competed together in superhero costumes. Dressed as Thor, Jai’s favourite, he said, “I live my life on similar values as Thor’s. That of honesty, discipline and truth to oneself.” Jai was born in Friendship Village in Trinidad and Tobago. He was surrounded by music both at home and at school. Not yet playing music, Jai secured a job as a clerical officer at the Ministry of Finance in Port of Spain after completing his studies at the Naparima College, a secondary school for teenage boys. It was there that he met the famous calypsonian, Errol ‘Bally’ Ballantyne who took him under his wings.
As a boy, his parents could not afford to send him for music lessons so he paid close attention to seasoned musicians. With determination and perseverance, he received his first big break at the age of twenty two, when he was asked to join a local band. Jai quickly gained popularity and fame after he released his debut single ‘Sumintra’ in 1988. ‘Sumintra’ became a megahit throughout the Caribbean, Europe and North America. The singer-songwriter continuously works on perfecting music in the genres of calypso, soca, reggae, chutney and Bollywood. Faced with many challenges in the music industry in the Caribbean, he is known to be one of few artistes who has embraced many genres. Jai recently released yet another hit song, ‘Leh We Fete’, and it’s currently one of the hottest songs in Trinidad and Tobago with Carnival around the corner. When asked what does Carnival means to him, he said, “Carnival is me!” Rikki Jai collaborated with other famous Caribbean artistes like Machel Montano, Destra Garcia, Alison Hinds and Terry Gajraj.
In 2001, Jai won the ‘Young King of Calypso’ among countless other titles, dominating the music industry in the Caribbean. In 2012, he received the coveted ‘Hummingbird Gold Medal’ awarded by the government of Trinidad and Tobago for promoting his culture. In last November, Jai launched his band, ‘Rikki Jai and the Jaimastarz’, which comprised of seasoned musicians from Trinidad and Tobago. It is said to be already making their mark across the country.
Chutney soca icon, Rikki Jai admits that it has not been a smooth road to success. He credits his determination as the driving force to his success. He believes that one must be prepared for, and possibly embrace disappointments in order to keep pushing forward. As part of his success, Rikki Jai believes one must be mentally prepared for disappointments and heartbreaks. The performer is convinced it was not his decision to become a singer but destined to be one. His advice to aspiring singers is to have “guts and determination.” Artists like James Ingram, David Rudder, Sundar Popo, Black Stalin, and the Bee Gees inspired him tremendously. While he wishes that his craft did not need reinventing so often, as he finds it to be a challenge, he knows that there is more to accomplish and in that comes fulfillment. Yet, he continues to set the bar high, “It’s just not like me to fail.” He understands the need to keep his eyes on the prize while not losing sight of others. “I live in a bubble that does not allow for rivalry with others in music.” Rikki Jai stated. “There is enough room for everyone.” The well loved artiste says that he is grateful for those who have helped him achieve his dreams. He believes in remembering his humble beginning, which he says keeps him in check. He says that even though the perception of his work is a non-stop party, his hard work and time away from home is always in check and whenever time permits, he allows his creative side to control his writing. “My parents have been my biggest inspiration and support.” He mentioned that he would like to do the same for his children should they decide to follow in his footsteps. Rikki Jai currently resides in Trinidad and Tobago with his wife, Shelly-Ann and their three children, Vaashish, Aashish, and Aavisha. The legendary singer is set to release a 25th anniversary commemorative album this year and looking to capture his tenth ‘Chutney Soca Monarch’ title on January 23, 2016. He wants to be remembered as a game changer, an idealist, a perfectionist, and the guy who gave the world great music to listen.