From ‘Sumintra’ To Superstar: The Rikki Jai Story
  Chris Selochan
June 2015

Remember Sumintra? No, I don’t mean the woman from next door who you grew up calling ‘Auntie’ or the girl who was a few classes ahead of you in primary school.

I mean ‘Sumintra,’ the monster hit song that catapulted Samraj Jaimungal (Rikki Jai) into the limelight and precipitated his transformation from an East Indian band singer to a nationally known cross over artiste.

Even though I was a child, I can still remember the ‘Sumintra’ music video being shown on what was then Trinidad and Tobago’s lone television station, TTT (which stood for…you guessed it: Trinidad and Tobago Television!). “Hold de Lata Mangeshkar, gimme soca, ah ha, ah ha!” sang Rikki Jai, as he told the story in song of an East Indian woman from Debe that he was courting who was expressing a preference for soca music over music from the great Indian songstress Lata Mangeshkar.

During a recent interview with Paradise Pulse Online Magazine at Big Rich’s D Pungalunks Factory in Couva, Rikki spoke with us about his life and career in the entertainment industry.

Born in Friendship Village, San Fernando in a family that he fondly describes as ‘not rich but very contented with what we had,’ the now fifty year old Rikki Jai was exposed to music almost from the womb. His father was a tradesman who worked hard to provide for his family, engaging in such occupations as plumber, carpenter, taxi driver and cane farmer. His mother’s role was equally important as she nurtured and looked after the family as a housewife. Both parents, however, loved music. His father had a passion for Indian classical music and his mother loved to sing. His grandmother would sing at weddings and other events in the village. There was always a cassette player pumping out Bollywood hits at the house. (MP3 players and even CD players were not around then). It is therefore perhaps somewhat ironic that he is the only one of his parents’ six children (of whom he is the fifth) to have pursued a career in music.

He was exposed to Carnival and other aspects of local culture by his father, who would take the children to the pan yards and to look at mas on J’ouvert mornings.  


While growing up and even until today, his musical idols remain the Bee Gees. He is also a fan of Lionel Richie, Kishore Kumar, Baron, Sparrow, David Rudder and Shorty. Later on, as a singer, he found himself emulating Sundar Popo.

As far as religion goes, Rikki was brought up in a Hindu home (and indeed his singing repertoire includes bhajans), but he also attended Christian churches. He describes himself as a practising Hindu, Christian and Muslim and as not being fanatical about religion.

He recalls there being a lot of love in the village and camaraderie among the youths and was fortunate to have had many mentors, including his big brother, his uncle (Ruben Pariagh) and his cousins.

Rikki’s primary education was at St. Paul’s Anglican Primary School and this was followed by secondary schooling at Naparima College, St. Stephen’s College and Queens College. He eventually secured employment as a clerical officer at the Ministry of Finance. At 4.00 p.m. on 4th October 1996 Rikki quit his job to pursue a full time career in music. He has not looked back since.

Of course, Rikki’s music career had begun long before he started singing full time. In 1986 he had joined the Naya Andaz band and in 1988 he became a member of Triveni. About one year after joining Triveni, however, he saw Drupatee performing live, singing her now legendary song ‘Roll Up De Tassa.’ Rikki was amazed by, as he put it, “This Indian woman making waves in a soca party.” It was the turning point in his career that changed his way of singing. He was no longer satisfied with singing for four hours per performance as part of a band.

He researched the way in which Drupatee recorded her music and brought out a song called ‘Getting On’, which he jokingly says nobody now remembers. This was supposed to be his ‘A’ song. His ‘B’ song, upon which he had less hope, was ‘Sumintra.’ The rest is history.

Today, Rikki maintains an excellent working relationship with the woman who inspired him. He describes Drupatee as a simple, fun loving person and they have even toured together.


He has attempted to convince arranger Kenny Phillips to do a remix of ‘Sumintra’ but such is the iconic nature of the song that Phillips does not want to touch it.

Rikki’s musical exploits have taken him all over the world, including India and, on numerous occasions, to the United States and Canada. In 2010 he performed at the World Expo in China as part of a Trinidad and Tobago team that included Kees Dieffenthaller and Nadia Batson. His most memorable experience, however, was performing in Germany in 2006 as part of a Trinidad and Tobago cultural delegation for the FIFA World Cup.

There are many people of Indian origin in the Caribbean who believe that persons in India have little regard for them and their culture, but this has not been Rikki’s experience. When he landed in Delhi he was featured on nine newspapers and eight television stations and did not face any form of negativity. Indeed, he recalls people in India being fascinated and impressed with chutney music and many of them seemed to prefer it to Bollywood film songs.

Ironically, Rikki’s most memorable moments are not to be found in his music career but rather were the birth of his three kids: his sons Aashish and Vaashish and daughter Aavisha (ages eleven, nine and three respectively). The Rikki Jai of today is an avid family man, a far cry from when he was in his twenties, a time in which says he had no responsibilities, had a roof over his head at the family home and, as he put it, had no parrot on a stick.

In terms of music, he remembers most fondly the first time that one of his songs was played on the radio. Needless to say it was Sumintra and Ian Eligon was playing it on his drive time radio show. Other memorable career highlights include winning the first chutney soca title in 1998, entering six national competitions and winning four of them in 2001, and winning both the Traditional and Chutney Soca title in the competition’s twentieth year in 2015.

His lowest moment was being ‘stoned down’ at the Soca Monarch competition in 1998.


Rikki was high in praise of Big Rich, with whom he has been recording from around 2009. He describes Big Rich as having brought change to the industry and considers himself fortunate to have recognized and embraced this change.

In whatever precious little spare time that he has, Rikki loves to watch movies at home. He has a particular affinity for the sci-fi genre (especially Star Wars and Star Trek) but he’s also a fan of Hercules, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter.

Interestingly, Rikki is not a fan of crowds and his idea of relaxation is to spend time at Mayaro, which he describes as the best beach in the world. No doubt, many southerners will agree with this assessment!


He readily admits to not being very proficient at sports and humorously recalls always batting at number eleven during village cricket and only being picked on the team because his brother was the captain. His football skills were no better. Rikki was always given the position of goalkeeper and his defence ensured that the ball never got to him. Like most Trinbagonians, he maintains a casual interest in sports but prefers to watch highlights of matches or read about the results in the next day’s newspaper rather than watch the entire matches live.


He considers the music of today to be ‘not all that interesting’ and prefers to listen to the music of James Ingram. Indeed, he and his wife enjoy listening to vintage songs on You Tube.

So, having already accomplished so much, what else would Rikki like to achieve? “I want to release a song that will be a true international hit. I would like the world to sing one of my songs,” he answers without hesitation. Given what he has already achieved, one would be foolish to bet against him fulfilling this elusive dream.

In the two part video interview on this page, Rikki Jai gives Paradise Pulse’s Sephra Alexander some exclusive insights into his life and career, and deals with such controversial issues as the contention by a few that he and Ravi B needed to team up to defeat KI at the 2015 Chutney Soca Monarch competition.

Sephra at D Pungalunks Factory just before her interview with Rikki


















By: Chris Selochan | MUSIC-CULTURE | June 2015

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