I was recently asked, “Do you remember those cars from long ago that carried mikes on their tops and made announcements throughout villages? Do those still exist? Have you seen any of those recently?” Well, it is said that when you speak of something, the universe has a way of bringing it to you.
While driving through Central one Sunday evening, I got to Preysal and was heading to Gran Couva. I heard music blasting but I knew there were no houses in that particular location. Naturally, I followed the sound until I got to an empty piece of land and to my amazement, gathered there were no less than 20 vehicles all carrying mikes atop.
Mikes were used long ago in Trinidad as a form of public address. The sound from a mike can be heard for miles. Many days were also spent with the mike men driving around rural communities blasting music in an attempt to entertain the public. The entire system was made up of a microphone, an amplifier, a turntable and topped off with two gigantic and very noticeable funnels.
The mike men were mostly hired by East Indian families for weddings, funerals and the like. During a Hindu wedding in particular, the dulaha’s (groom) family goes to the dulahin’s (bride) family home for the marriage ceremony. Long ago, the boy’s family would take with them a mike which played traditional wedding songs. When they got to the bride’s house, they were met with another mike and a huge blast off of Indian music occurred—this blast off is probably responsible for the evolution of mike competitions which were extremely popular in the old days. Today, however, while such things can still be witnessed, it is indeed rare. The mike men are of a dying breed.
Former treasurer of the Trinidad and Tobago Mike Association, Vejai Kissoon, told REC that the Mike Association existed for many years (over 40) but was formed under several other names. He has been involved in the mike business for almost 25 years. Always involved in culture, Kissoon fell in love with the mike system and that love grew until today he owns his own mike and proudly carries the name ‘Star Boy’. It was a nickname given to him by a teacher many years ago and since it is a norm for mike men to have these “mike names”, ‘Star Boy’ was ideal for Kissoon.
These mike men are still hired for small jobs such as death announcements and by companies to announce a break in services such as the supply of water and electricity or even an ongoing sale at a supermarket. As for if the mike men are compensated properly, raises another issue because a truly good mike system can cost up to $30,000.
Despite any challenges that they face, the mike men of Trinidad and Tobago insist on gathering every Sunday from about 3pm. Kissoon told REC, “In the past we have gathered at Caroni, Debe and other places. We have been gathering in Preysal for about eight years now because we simply do not have a designated place to gather. What we do is just for the love of the mike and we are really trying to keep the culture and tradition alive.”
But what do they do when they meet in Preysal? Kissoon related, “If there is good weather, we get about 15 to 20 mikes showing up and we play music, greet each other, host a small meeting and discuss any issues that we might be having.” Next, is the highlight of the evening. “We test out our systems and we have a little competition of our own. We play long time 78-pitch records – gramophone records – which were out before records and albums. We mostly play really old Indian songs. The competition itself is judged on whose mike plays the cleanest, sweetest and loudest music.”
Loudest music? Wouldn’t the mike men encounter problems and complaints from villagers when the music is that loud? Posed with this question Kissoon admitted, “Sometimes we do have complaints from villagers so right now we are trying with the government to get a suitable place to have our events where we will not disturb anyone. This is dying in one way because we do not have a designated place where we can come out and play the mikes and many people do not come out because they find it disturbing to others.”
The T&T Mike Association still perseveres and hosts family days, card competitions, fund raising events, choka and sada roti competitions and mike competitions every Indian Arrival Day. While the jobs which they get are few and far between, Kissoon admits that many people prefer the DJ system than that of the mike system. “We accept the compensation given because we simply love what we do.”
Surprisingly, many young people turn up for Sunday mike evenings and Kissoon is overjoyed to see that because the mike men are trying to pass this bit of their culture to the next generation. “It is hard to revive the mike business in Trinidad” he said, “but given the interest and the space, it might leave a permanent mark.”
The mike men face many other challenges, one being getting the relevant (vehicle) license to carry the mikes on their vehicles. However, despite any bumps in the road, these mike men are intent on sticking to what they know and love and on gifting this beautiful part of their culture to their children. While it is a work in progress to get Trinidad and Tobago to appreciate this system once more, the mike men continue to live out loud.