Sweet Tassa: Music of the Indian Caribbean Diaspora

Brought to Trinidad by indentured laborers from India who first arrived in 1845, tassa drumming has become an important marker of Indian Trinidadian cultural identity. The film explores both musical and socio-political elements of tassa performance, focusing on the life and family of noted drummer Lenny Kumar. As the story unfolds, tassa emerges as a metaphor for Indian Caribbean culture, rooted in India while also thoroughly Caribbean.

  • Christopher L Ballengee
    Director
  • Molly Mountain
    Lead editor
  • Lenny Kumar
    Key Cast
  • "Joe" Boodoo Singh
    Key Cast
  • Krishna Soogrim-Ram
    Key Cast
  • Sanjeet Soogrim-Ram
    Key Cast
  • Patricia Mohammed
    Key Cast
  • Brinsley Samaroo
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
    Documentary
  • Genres:
    Ethnographic film, music film, documentary film
  • Runtime:
    58 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    January 1, 2020
  • Production Budget:
    8,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    Trinidad and Tobago
  • Language:
    English
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    Yes
  • Student Project:
    No
  • Eyes on Music: Ethnographic Documentary Series
    Venice
    Italy
    November 19, 2019
    Diego Carpitella Fellowship
  • Asia and Pacific Museum
    Warsaw
    Poland
    November 16, 2019
  • Berlin Ethnomusicology and the Anthropology of Music Research Group
    Berlin
    Germany
    November 17, 2019
Director Biography - Christopher L Ballengee

Christopher L. Ballengee is an ethnomusicologist and Associate Professor of Music at Anne Arundel Community College (Maryland, USA). Dr. Ballengee’s research on tassa drumming is based on fieldwork in Trinidad and the Trinidadian community in Florida since 2007. He was the inaugural Diego Carpitella Visual Ethnomusicology fellow at the Giorgio Cini Foundation (Venice, Italy) which supported post-production of the documentary film "Sweet Tassa: Music of the Indian Caribbean Diaspora" (2020). His current work includes co-editing a collection of essays on Indian-Caribbean visual and performing arts and developing a comparative project researching dhol-tasha drumming and related genres throughout the Indian post-indenture diaspora.

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Director Statement

My educational and professional background is in music and anthropology, but I have always had an interest in filmmaking. After completing several short films on music and musicians as a graduate student, I set out to make my first feature-length film in 2011 based on my research in Trinidad & Tobago. Personal and professional obligations proved too much, so I abandoned the project until 2018 when I received funding from the Giorgio Cini Foundation (Venice, Italy) to complete "Sweet Tassa: Music of the Indian Caribbean Diaspora."