Two pairs of black leather boots. Two nose rings. Two attitudes for two ‘round-the-way girls from Queens.
On this Friday, like any other, Samantha and Nathalie are beckoned by the beats–a club scene where ethnicities, cultures and hormones collide in the sweaty crush of the dance floor.
When their Hindu parents think of ritual, it’s Diwali or Phagwah. But for the young, club culture is generational jubilation, an arena where old identities are free to bump and grind against the new.
Samantha Ramtahal, 23, and Nathalie Kamtapersaud, 21, call themselves Partners in Crime. Above all, they are criminals of category, undermining notions of race and identity like the colored contacts that change Nathalie into a brown beauty with blue-violet eyes.
Both women were born in Guyana and raised in New York City. Both stand an inch or two above five feet–5’4” in their favorite heels. Tonight, both are decked out, from head to toe, in form-fitting black. Neither is looking for a man so much as a good time.
“When you go with guys, they watch what you’re doing,” explains Samantha in the basement of her parents’ two-story home, on a tidy West Indian block in South Ozone Park.
“All the other guys are afraid to approach you,” continues Samantha, who used to do most of her club-hopping with male friends from the neighborhood. The practice became more of a headache than an escape. “‘Cause they think one is your boyfriend,” she says of other men at the club, confirming that she’s been the subject–some would say source–of a few fisticuffs.
“You was probably lovin’ it,” laughs Nathalie. Samantha smiles because both know the unspoken truth: Nothing gets a crowd’s attention like a good brawl. But they’re getting older now, so it’s less about the spotlight than having a set time and place to catch up. “It’s an environment we know,” says Samantha. “It’s like a ritual.”
Samantha met Nathalie at the Beverly Hills Unisex Hair Salon on Liberty Avenue, in Richmond Hill. Beverly Hills was where Samantha had been getting her hair done, and one Saturday after bartending school, Samantha discovered they did nails, too.
Without much prodding, she put her fate in Nathalie’s hands. If she didn’t like the first design, she’d have Nathalie paint them over until she approved. It could have been a long afternoon because, by her own admission, Samantha’s the worst customer you could encounter.
This was a necessary test, though. “I wanted to know what she could do,” Samantha says.
When Nathalie gets new customers, she looks them up and down, makes mental notes. If it’s a special night, she may ask what they’re wearing, maybe even where they’re going. Mostly, though, she trusts intuition.
“The nail talks to me,” says Nathalie, who has created hundreds of nail designs, including mini Manhattan cityscapes that pay tribute to victims of the September 11 attacks.
The ladies first met a week or so before that tragic day. Nathalie gave Samantha an intricate white-on-black spider web design. Samantha showed her cousin, who gushed that it was so much better than her own. It confirmed what she was already thinking. Says Samantha, “I fell in love with the way she did my nails.”
It had occurred to Samantha that Nathalie, who was then holding down three part-time jobs and school, might not be having much of a social life. So during her third appointment, when Nathalie told her she wouldn’t be putting in her usual 4 a.m. shift bartending at a neighborhood lounge, Samantha canceled a blind date and they hit a nightclub called CalypsoCity. “We just bonded,” Samantha says. “We just became really close, telling each other secrets and everything.”
Several months after their first team foray, Nathalie is wrapping up her shift at Beyonce, a new salon down the street from her former employer. A gypsy cab is coming to whisk her away. This is the first stage of the ritual, perhaps the most crucial. Nathalie says that if she goes home and her mom sees her, she won’t be allowed out of the house again. She keeps things simple by not giving her mother a say.
A sedan crawls to a stop outside. Nathalie finishes perusing body jewelry and bindis, grabs the bag full of colored bangles she bought from an Indian store earlier in the day, and wishes her coworkers good night.
When she arrives at Samantha’s a few minutes later, her friend is chatting on the telephone. It takes several knocks at a darkened side entrance before Samantha emerges from her basement cubby in a T-shirt and sweats. “You can put on a light, you know,” Nathalie scolds.
Hassle though this may be, it beats getting trapped at home with mom on a Friday night. “She’s a very overprotective woman, and I’m an only child, so everything is towards me,” sighs Nathalie, who is a nursing student at Brooklyn College and a secretary at a major insurance firm, as well as a part-time “nail technician.” “Keep Nathalie out of danger, keep Nathalie in the house, keep Nathalie locked up, don’t let Nathalie wear this. You know it’s….” She stops, exasperated. “I have to bring my clothes here. Change here, go to the club, come back, change into my regular clothes and go home.”
Even then, at 4:30 a.m., her mother is awake, waiting on the sofa. “The lights are on. I see the curtain move when the cab door slams,” Nathalie continues. “She says, ‘You stink like cigarettes…which guy dropped you off?’”
Club nights are less of a chore for Samantha, whose girl-next-door look is betrayed by a tongue stud and neck tattoo. Samantha lives at home, too, and it may just be that her parents are worried what may happen if they pull in the reins. “I ran away from home when I was 16 going on 17,” says Samantha, an accounting clerk in the fashion industry and business management student at Borough of Manhattan Community College. The beef was over a boyfriend, who was half Puerto Rican.
“My parents didn’t like that he was a different race,” says Samantha.
“They had a problem ‘cause he was also mixed black. So they didn’t like the black part.”
That view is not wholly American-born. It has deep roots in Guyana, a former British colony populated largely by the descendants of African slaves and East Indian indentured servants. Today in Queens, the children of this history–East Indians twice removed from the subcontinent–are shaping culture and race relations along ever more complicated lines.
There are Indo-Guyanese who only hang out with other Indo-Guyanese. There are Indo-Guyanese who might have a Trinidadian friend, so long as he is of Indian origin. There are others whose social circles are determined by immigration patterns, American-born with other American-born, foreign with foreign-born. There are Indo-Guyanese who wouldn’t think of dating an East Indian. There are ganja-loving Indo-Guyanese with dredlocks. There are thugs. Hip-hoppers. Tommy Hilfiger preps. There are some who forget the whole thing and pass as Latino.
All of them eventually will be found in the Indo-Caribbean club scene, a swirl of social affiliations and contradictions as unpredictable as young friendships. Nightclubs like Club Tobago, Caribbean Tropics, Club Mirage, the New Millennium Soca Paradise, and the chief hang for Samantha and Nathalie, CalypsoCity, offer a space where these identities exist undisturbed and unquestioned.
If there is a lingering tension at the root of the scene, it’s the attempt of each club to sway the soul of the second generation while wondering, In what way will culture continue?
The family that runs CalypsoCity, the Jakairans, have built an empire out of answers to that question. Their club takes its name from the Caribbean music form, but a beauty salon owned by the eldest Jaikaran daughter, Raquel, pays homage to American r&b–called
Beyonce, it’s named after the lead singer of Destiny’s Child.
Raquel’s father, Mohan, 51, is the head of JMC Entertainment, an Indo-Caribbean AOL Time Warner of sorts. It includes the radio station Masala World 101.1 FM in Trinidad, the labels JMC (Jamaican Me Crazy) Caribbean Music and Masala Records, BassClef recording studios in Ozone Park, Caribbean performers and record stores throughout the diaspora, and the party headquarters, CalypsoCity, on Jamaica Avenue in Richmond Hill.
With CalypsoCity, the baton is being passed from the immigrant to the American-born. While Mohan has been expanding business in Trinidad, daily club duties, such as its first full-scale renovation in eight years, have largely fallen to Raquel, 29, and her sister Anita, 28.
The biggest migration the Jaikaran sisters ever made took place in 1987, when the family moved from Richmond Hill to suburban West Orange, New Jersey. It has been a circuitous journey ever since. Nothing–not the move from Queens, not the privileges of suburban schools, not even current homes and families in Long Island–has cut their connection to the Caribbean. A typical workday finds Raquel and Anita in the offices of JMC Records, in the basement of their Queens retail store.
Perched on the corner of Liberty Avenue and 128th Street in Richmond Hill, the record store abuts a Hindu temple, the Shri Lakshmi Narayan Mandir. Liberty Avenue is the heart of Indo-Caribbean New York, a bustling commercial artery hidden away in the sprawl of southeast Queens. Among West Indians, its reputation is legion. The chutney crooner Terry Gajraj immortalized it on a song whose sprightly chorus rings, “Richmond Hill/ A little Guy-an-na!”
In the early 1980s, before the Jaikarans moved to Jersey, the family was among a handful of West Indians in this historically Italian, German and Irish burg. Today, the smell of roti has replaced that of ziti, and vendors on every other block sell saris, soca and chutney CDs, and other Indo-Caribbean essentials. They came here for affordable homes and because of Richmond Hill’s proximity to a common first point of immigrant settlement, neighboring Jamaica.
The Jaikaran sisters are part of a generation forecasting the future of ethnic communities like Richmond Hill. As cultural tastemakers at the club, they’re at the juncture at which tradition could have disappeared but is instead mutating into something unknown.
“We left our culture. We weren’t into our culture when we were kids,” says Anita, a Jersey accent infused in each syllable. She and Raquel recall the embarrassment they felt in high school when non-Trinidadian friends would visit and, inevitably, hear their parents’ chutney music, with its Hindi vocals and East and West Indian instrumentation.
“It’s so funny how all of a sudden we’re back here,” Anita says. Long Island has been a good place to settle down, but they’re finding that Richmond Hill is still home. “You come from here, New York, and then you go into a whole different neighborhood, and they’re, like, so quiet,” Raquel remembers of the transition to the ‘burbs. “They really didn’t know our nationality. I was told I looked more Spanish.”
Both sisters graduated from largely white West Orange High School, and spent time in college in New Jersey before coming back to Queens to work. Only recently, though, have they been calling shots at the club. “My dad actually left it all up to us,” Anita says as Raquel chimes in, “Finally.”
“I think that’s great,” adds Anita, “‘cause we know more what the young people want.”
Mohan and club co-owner Freddy Mahabir opened CalypsoCity in 1994, as a way to give order to a West Indian music scene that sprawled through local bars, restaurants and, occasionally, larger venues like Madison Square Garden. It made sense as a business investment, coinciding with the coming of age of a wave of American-born Indo-Caribbeans like Anita and Raquel, as well as American-raised immigrants like Samantha and Nathalie. Still, Mohan always says that his true inspiration for starting the club was fear. Without such venues, he says, young West Indians would lose their culture.
On Fridays and Saturdays, CalypsoCity still shakes and shimmies to soca, chutney, bhangra and Bollywood songs, popular in the Indo- and Afro-Caribbean, twin-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago and its cultural cousin, Guyana. But increasingly prominent are the sounds of hip-hop, salsa, merengue and dancehall reggae. A music scene that always carried a between-two-worlds beat is now infused with a new conceit.
“You see these new faces and you’re like, ‘Wow, either I’m getting old or something’s going on here,’” says Anita of the younger, mixed-race crowds. “There’s a new generation comin’, and it’s not even our generation.”
Nightclubs live and die on their ability to forecast generations–the groove, the vibe, the atmosphere that makes patrons forget the mark-up price of a mojito or that they’ve just waited 30 minutes in the freezing cold. Without that sixth sense, yesterday’s hot spot might as well be an Elks Lodge.
At CalypsoCity, the search for the cultural zeitgeist now takes place amid a thumping vortex of musical and racial variables, where the crowd “wines” down to Trinidadian soca star Super Blue one minute, jumps up to the Americanized reggae of Shaggy the next, and strikes thug poses to the boastful raps of Jay-Z. Dance styles can be demographic markers as much as coded come-hithers, whether in a sexy Trinidadian swivel, the occasional Indian move adopted from a Bollywood film, or high-octane hip-hop and Latin variants.
“We get more different nationalities now,” Raquel says. “This year, I’ve actually seen more Italian whites, I’ve seen more Chinese, I’ve seen more Spanish.”
“Spanish has been a big thing,” adds Anita, “‘cause we play Latin music, too.”
Neither can say for sure what initiated the change, but they’ve been aggressively courting it. “When I interview people, I try to make a mix,” says Raquel. Breaking down the backgrounds of her bartenders, she notes, one by one: “She could be Irish or Greek, the other one is Spanish, another one’s Spanish and she’s mixed with something else, there’s another one who’s black American and another one, I don’t know exactly if he’s mixed with Indian or Spanish….”
CalypsoCity’s racial metamorphosis is not just a response to competition in a crowded market, but to the expanding tastes of the Indo-Caribbean audience itself. New York, it could be said, is reshaping the club from the outside and from within. On a recent Friday, there were three DJs, representing three different ancestries, with three rotations each and hour-long stretches where there was no West Indian music at all. “I play everything right now,” says DJ Hanz, whose background is Guyanese.
On this night, “everything” ranges from rap to remixed Bollywood songs to the crowd-pleaser “Turn Me On.” Sung with smooth urgency by Kevin Little of St. Vincent, it’s moved Caribbean rumps for roughly four months. According to Hanz, “Turn Me On” is a CalypsoCity natural: “It has a little bit of a reggae beat and calypso lyrics and a Spanish groove.”
Staying on top of such a scene has never been more difficult, and it will become even more so because Raquel hopes to add rock and alternative to the mix. “I spend almost $100 a week on music,” says Hanz, taking a break from the turntables as young women rush the DJ booth with requests. One particularly determined dancer wines with vigor, brushing her backside against another DJ in hopes of currying favor for a request.
Hanz laughs. “And he don’t even know her.”
“Living in America,” the James Brown anthem from Rocky IV, plays over the speakers at Beyonce. It’s New Year’s Eve, five-and-a-half hours before 2002. Nathalie helps Samantha with her hair while knocking out nail designs for a host of women prepping to hit the dance floors later that evening.
Victoria Ramdial, a 23-year-old nurse, had made her weekly trip to Liberty Avenue from her home in Forest Hills. She could have gone to a salon in her neighborhood, but Beyonce, she says, offers “that West Indian flavor. It’s more like you’re going home.”
Victoria is offering some personal opinions on the club-hopping rite of passage and why, as a Trinidadian immigrant, it means something different to her than it did to her 19-year-old cousin, who was born in the States. “There’s nothing for him to miss, ’cause all he knew was America,” says Victoria. She recently took her cousin out, only to make a troubling discovery. He couldn’t dance.
Nathalie protests that it’s simple, natural. “The waist moves more than anything else. Mostly the hips and waist,” she says of wining, which can resemble anything from an artfully executed up-tempo hula to a thumping vertical lap dance.
Nathalie’s earliest memories of childhood are of dancing. Her mother, who separated from Nathalie’s father in Guyana, would dress her up in outfits and call the neighbors over to watch. “I was like four or five, and I see pictures of me in sequins,” she remembers.
Samantha, who’d been enclosed in a hair dryer, rejoins the conversation as Nathalie leads her to a barber’s chair and sets upon her damp locks with a curling iron. Talk turns to CalypsoCity, where most of the women were headed, and where Nathalie first met the contacts that led to her job at Beyonce.
“When we’re there, we’re in our own world,” says Samantha, who would make her entrance a few hours later. “People recognize you.”
Samantha and Nathalie had checked out other spots, even Brooklyn clubs, but CalypsoCity was the place where they could count on seeing folks from Liberty Avenue, acquaintances as far back as high school, old flames. They were comfortable with CalypsoCity and CalypsoCity was comfortable with them. Most of the time, the bouncers let them in for the small price of a smile.
The first time Samantha and Nathalie went to the club together last fall, they danced by themselves all night. “They thought we were lesbians,” Nathalie says of the crowd. The night would mark the first chapter of “CalypsoStories,” the name they’ve given to recaps, usually by phone, of the weekend’s highlights. Another juicy chapter came a few weekends later, when the club hosted a male revue.
The performer rode in on a motor bike and Nathalie couldn’t contain her excitement. “She jumped on the bike and she just started like, you know…. She was riding the bike,” laughs Samantha. “I tried to pull her off.”
Samantha and Nathalie agree that one reason they get along so well is because they don’t go for the same type of guys. Likewise, the same type of guys don’t go for them. Nathalie tends to be approached by non-Indian suitors. Maybe it’s her Grand Concourse accent or her hair on club nights, a wild-style high-rise that she describes as “a flat twist with petals and red highlights.” But if the rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot had a say, the verdict on Nathalie might simply be, Baby got back.
“I have that black look,” giggles Nathalie, who spent her first eight years in America in the South Bronx. “Most Indian girls, they’re like more conservative and skinny. They’re bones, like anorexic-looking. But a certain type of guy likes a certain type of body–like me.” For the moment, though, Nathalie cares more about school and work than men. “I’m at a stage in my life where I want nothing to do with guys,” she says. “I don’t have time for their games.”
Samantha, meanwhile, had fallen hard for a 6-foot-3 Punjabi dreamboat. She’d met him at a dingy Liberty Avenue bar that Nathalie dragged her to on Christmas night. Less than a month after they’d been dating, Samantha got to meet his mother. “I know Indian people; their culture’s more strict than ours,” Samantha says. “But he always dated Latino girls, and she didn’t really like that too much. So I asked him, ‘What does she think of me?’ And he’s like, ‘Oh, she likes you. You’re Guyanese.’”
By all accounts, Samantha saw long-term compatibility. Her new guy was ambitious, with plans to apply to med school, and she couldn’t stop gushing over the looks of this preppy, light-skinned “pretty boy.” “Like my complexion or lighter,” Samantha says. “I just like the way they look better.”
Nathalie’s brow furrows over that remark, but she doesn’t say anything.
“He’s very into the culture,” Samantha continues. “He leads it, he speaks it, he eats it.”
Nathalie shoots Samantha a cock-eyed glance and mischievous smirk.
“Food!” Samantha says, smacking her arm.
“I’m not saying anything,” Nathalie demurs.
“I was talking about food. You’re so dirty!”
For all the free-flowing sexuality on the dance floor, the more West Indian a club, the more it feels like a tight-knit backyard barbecue. The brothers Ramesh and Vishnu Singh, along with several family members, pioneered the formula back in 1989 with Soca Paradise, the first major Indo-Caribbean nightclub in Queens. In its early 1990s heyday, Soca Paradise became known throughout Indo-Caribbean North America, drawing crowds from as far away as Toronto. There were parties before it, but this was a regular weekend spot, fully certified, unlike its predecessors, so the police couldn’t shut it down at a moment’s notice. DJs fondly recall it as the type of place they might expect their hip older uncle to run.
Soca Paradise is now under new ownership. In its current incarnation, the New Millennium Soca Paradise, it’s mostly used as a rental hall. Located in Hollis, it tends to draw African-American promoters, who throw events like Greek fraternity fests and r&b shows.
After they sold Soca Paradise, the brothers kept busy by organizing outdoor Caribbean music festivals. In 1998, with the help of a Trinidadian Brooklynite named Larry Williams, they founded a new club, Soca Arena, in an abandoned Crown Heights bingo hall. Still itching to reconnect with Caribbeans in Queens, they crept back last October, naming their newest venue Club Tobago–a none-too-subtle overture to the Trinidadian and Tobagan set that CalypsoCity has long dominated. The tables are now turned from 1994, when CalypsoCity began siphoning off Soca Paradise’s crowd.
But Ramesh and Vishnu aren’t following other clubs’ business plans. They say that since they left Queens, their competitors have alienated an important segment. “When you play a lot of hip-hop and reggae, you tend to draw a more young crowd,” says Ramesh. “People come in with their hats, and their shirt opened up, and the bandannas and all these things. Those people are kinda hyper.”
Ramesh wants to restore class, so he won’t hesitate to turn away roughnecks in raggedy shirts, big boots and sagging jeans, a look favored by younger Indo-Caribbeans who take fashion cues from their black and Puerto Rican peers. “You say, ‘No, you can’t come in with that.’ You know what happens the next week? He wears the nice slack. Dress nice. He get a girl and he comes down to the club and he behaves himself,” says Ramesh.
Another mandate is less talk (as in reggae and hip hop–style chatter over records), more Afro-Trinidadian soca and Indo-Trinidadian chutney. The brothers, who are in their mid-thirties, see themselves as torch-bearers for these styles, which among the young are less popular than reggae and rap.
Ironically, the brothers came of age in a golden era of New York hip hop and are products of its DJ culture. A few years after they emigrated from Guyana in 1977, the teenage duo cobbled together money from a city-subsidized work program and bought their first set of DJ equipment. Their mother didn’t encourage the hobby, but she preferred it to television.
Throughout high school, Ramesh and Vishnu roamed house parties in Brooklyn with a raging thirst. “We made sure we were listening to mainly a lot of Puerto Ricans play,” says Ramesh, who sports a curly black ponytail. “They were the best.”
They weren’t cruising for the sounds of the Sugarhill Gang, Kurtis Blow and Lisa Lisa, but to learn how mixing is done. The brothers’ true love remained West Indian music. “They taught us how to match the beats, how to scratch,” Vishnu says of his musical apprenticeship. “We took it and applied it to soca and applied it to reggae and applied it to chutney.”
The Singh brothers got their start with wedding parties and small clubs, always moving as a team, the Galaxy Midnight Spinners. “You gotta understand where we came from,” says Vishnu, whose baby face can turn dead serious when the situation calls for it. “We were DJs. So we know what the crowd wants.”
He sees this as Club Tobago’s secret weapon, a bank of historical knowledge that the brothers have passed on to their in-house DJ team, the Music Fanatix. Vishnu noted that the club’s collection of Caribbean music dates back to 1975. That’s before many of the other clubs’ DJs were born. “You know what?” says Vishnu, offering a broad view of the scene. “The culture’s confused. They’re confused with hip-hop, with r&b, with rap, with soca, with reggae–we have to lead them. And if we lead them right, they will follow us.”
The question, of course, is who is more qualified to lead: two Guyana-born brothers in their thirties or two U.S.-born sisters in their twenties?
Maybe there’s room for everyone, but Ramesh tends to view any step away from a Caribbean music core as surrender. For his part, Vishnu can see the logic in branching out musically, which always, eventually, means racially. “You gotta look for the new 21,” he says. That new 21 tends to have friends of different races influencing their tastes, as well as, inevitably, MTV and hip-hop. They also defined what was hot. “The older crowd wanna party with the young crowd,” says Vishnu. “If they party with an older crowd, they’re feelin’ old.”
Yet Club Tobago flaunts its old-school Indo-Caribbean image even as others tone theirs down. It would be difficult to be much louder than Tobago’s wall-to-wall tropical murals, glowing neon interior accentuated with black lights, and columns topped with fake palm leaves.
“You cannot be better than an American club that is already American,” cautions Ramesh. “You’re a West Indian club. Show the people what it is in the West Indies, what music we play. How it is at Carnival.”
During this year’s Carnival in February, the nation of Trinidad and Tobago was stuck at an ugly political impasse. In a December election, the nation’s two largest ethnic groups, those of African and Indian descent–who account for 40 percent of the population each–voted chiefly along racial lines. The mostly Afro-Caribbean People’s National Movement and the heavily Indo-Caribbean United National Congress each won 18 seats in Parliament. President Arthur Robinson stepped in to resolve the tie by selecting the PNM’s Patrick Manning as prime minister. But the outgoing Basdeo Panday, who had been the nation’s first Indo-Trinidadian leader, didn’t accept the decision and refused to cooperate in naming a speaker of the House. Parliament has not met since.
But just as every year before, the country summoned its collective groove for Carnival. “They’re willing to have fun at any cost,” observes DJ Spreadlove Bobby, who was spinning reggae, soca and hip-hop at CalypsoCity that week. Bobby, who was born in Jamaica and grew up in Flatbush and then Roosevelt, Long Island, believes Carnival culture fosters an openness he doesn’t see in other Caribbean societies. “Like some really, straight-up Jamaican club, you go there and you take a chance, and they’ll clear the dance floor,” he says. “They won’t accept it.”
Indo-Caribbeans have accepted him–Bobby has played CalypsoCity for three years. “I’ll make sure I know, like, let’s say coming up this week or month it’s the independence of Grenada or Guyana, or there’s a Muslim holiday or a Hindu holiday,” Bobby says. “You say something because the next week they’re not gonna be here.”
Like last fall, just before the Muslim holy month. “I said, ‘’Nuff love goin’ out to all the Muslims inside CalypsoCity who are gonna be celebratin’ Ramadan. ‘Nuff love to you,” Bobby flails his arms, reenacting the jubilation that followed. “And it all went hey-rahhhhhhh!!!!” Then he laughs and bobs his dredlocks. “People love it when you give something to identify with them.”
On New Year’s Eve, DJ Spreadlove Bobby commanded a young and racially mixed crowd, while a large-screen TV in one corner aired the festivities in Times Square via MTV. The night’s live performance consisted of a short chutney stage dance, in which two female performers combined Indian hand motions with Caribbean hip-shaking. They were greeted with cheers and flying dollar bills.
Club Tobago, meanwhile, had a full line-up of live musicians, including Terry Gajraj. The 35-year-old father, who works as an insurance analyst in Connecticut, performed several hits from his 22nd album, Bhaita Gana. Themes ranged from lust for a woman, in the Hindi-sung “Zamana,” to his appreciation for the wisdom of his grandmother. Based on call-and-response analysis, the almost completely Indo-Caribbean crowd was a 50-50 split between Guyanese and Trinidadians.
It’s hard to say which club more closely resembled parties in the West Indies. “They have cable, so now they’re up with everything in the world,” says Anita, who travels to Trinidad at least once a year, for Carnival. “For the past two years, the girls are up-to-date. The guys are up-to-date–hip, whatever’s happening on MTV, whatever’s happening with whatever artist who’s hot at the time, they’re wearing it. They’re not wasting any time.”
Raquel, meanwhile, had noticed that some of the more popular clubs in Trinidad had sophisticated, modern interiors, which she found inspiring. Her own vision for the remodeled CalypsoCity this spring is in the vein of an Ian Schrager hotel.
“I’m gonna tone it down, I think,” Raquel says, alluding to the club’s remaining Caribbean decor. “I think it’s time. It’s so typical, if you go check everybody else’s place, you see palm trees, you see an Island background, and I’m like, ‘I don’t care for it.’ It’s cool maybe if we were in the Caribbean islands and stuff, but I think over here, our generation–a nice modern place.”
In CalypsoCity’s back office, she pulls out an earth-tone tile to show that the area around the dance floor might resemble the tasteful subtleties of Beyonce. “I’m getting rid of all the neon,” Raquel says with a dramatic sweep of her hand. “I don’t want no more neon colors.”
But Anita makes assurances that the old CalypsoCity won’t just disappear: “But also make it feel down home, too. Maybe with bamboo sticks.”
Those details would all be hashed out in meetings, but they were certain of a few things now: Competition was at an all-time high, and not every club was going to survive. They needed to stay hot. They needed to give the people something new. “We want to make it more where everyone can come in,” Raquel says, “so that it looks like one of the city clubs.”
It’s 12:25 a.m., and Hindi lyrics are playing on Samantha’s basement stereo. She and Nathalie have finished off the french fries and chicken wings they ordered from the Chinese take-out. Nathalie’s also thrown back three shots of tequila; Samantha’s downed one, along with two glasses of madras. In between drinks, jokes and gossip, they’ve found time to shower, put on make-up and change.
A breezy reggae song now seeps out from the speakers. “Girls, girls, every day,” goes the chorus. The Partners in Crime take one last