Brown Girl Bosses: Meet Artistic Director and Lead Dancer Chandani Persaud
Written by: Priya Balakumar
Chandani Persaud is a UK based Indo-Caribbean Artistic Director and Lead Dancer for the Caribbean Indian Dance Company. Chandani was born in Trinidad and her parents are of Guyanese and Trinidadian descent. Her parents were well-known dancers in Trinidad, and after winning the second-place prize in the grand finals of the Mastana Bahar Talent Competition, they moved to the UK. Chandani is now the lead choreographer of the Caribbean Indian Dance Company, the Indo-Caribbean Dance class that her parents founded. Her family’s dance class provides a place where young people can connect with their cultural roots and traditions. The Caribbean Indian Dance Company also works with many charities to help them raise funds for various projects.
Even though she grew up in the UK, Chandani was lucky to grow up within a well-established Indo-Caribbean community. Religious venues were full, chutney fetes were pumping, and family park limes were plenty. Growing up, she was very involved in the Indo-Caribbean community and often attended and performed at many cultural shows and religious events. Chandani explains that over the years, these events have significantly decreased. When meeting people nowadays, she says, “As I spoke to them, I began to realise that unless you were fortunate enough to have connections to this once thriving community, the term "Indo-Caribbean" might well be one you had never heard of, let alone use as an identifier.”
As a community advocate, Chandani continuously works to maintain and spread the Indo-Caribbean culture in the UK.
When we asked Chandani what it means to her to be Indo-Caribbean, she said, “It means everything to me. Perhaps because I grew up in such a community-oriented manner, as a person, I find my grounding in my identity and my culture. It perfectly describes who I am: my ethnicity, my identity, my culture, my history. My hobbies. ME.” Being a part of such a rich and diverse community, Chandani shares her love of her culture through various artistic forms.
Though Chandani had a strong community, she still struggled to fit in at school. She said, “As I got older, it dawned on me that this would happen so often because I am of Indian heritage and do not 'look' Caribbean. Equally, even though I may look Indian, have trained in Indian Classical dance, watch Indian movies, and wear Indian clothes, in the eyes of British Indians, I am not one of them either.” Many of us face similar issues where we often can't figure out where we fit in culturally and ethnically.
Chandani’s role in the community plays a huge part in preserving the Indo-Caribbean culture.
Chandani uses her platform to educate and empower young kids in the community through her dance classes. She choreographs dance dramas depicting aspects of Indo-Caribbean culture, organises shows for Diwali and Indian Arrival Day. Chandani shared how her platform has helped give the community a “home”, she said, “Without the dance class, our performers and audiences would not have had a place to celebrate some of the Indo-Caribbean calendar's most special occasions. I am very proud of the experiences we have provided to all those who attended the class and how we have served the community through our hard work and dedication.”
As an artistic director, dancing isn't the only way that Chandani showcases and preserves her culture. Chandani continues to break down barriers and set an example of believing in yourself pays off. She was crowned the first Indo-Caribbean Miss Trinidad and Tobago UK. She has taken her talents and skills and used them to show the younger generation that anything is possible. Chandani has had the privilege to perform at the Divali Nagar in Trinidad, in front of esteemed guests such as Basdeo Panday, The Hon and Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Realizing that the cultural gap in the British Indo-Caribbean community was growing, Chandani took it upon herself in 2019 to organize ICulture Fest, an evening dedicated to celebrating our beautiful culture. Working together with London's prolific Indo-Caribbean religious organisations, food businesses, artists, entertainers, and DJ's, and even some Carnival Mas Bands, she was able to pull off an evening to bring the community together.
Chandani’s efforts and hard work paid off when the BBC Asian Network contacted her to make a documentary about Indo-Caribbean culture in the UK and explore the possibility that we are an unrepresented part of the 'Desi' community. The video gained so much traction that the network's executives chose not only to release it on the BBC Asian Network's hub, but to the main BBC homepage too. It quickly went viral and became the most-watched news feature at the time. Chandani explains that filming this documentary forced her to take a massive leap out of her comfort zone. She said “Ever since I joined social media in 2018, it struck me that most of the Indo-Caribbean culture profiles are mostly followed by Indo-Trinidadians and Indo-Guyanese— people who can already relate to the inside jokes and cultural content. But this film presented an opportunity for the world to see the beauty of Indo-Caribbean culture. My Culture.”
Chandani’s perseverance to showcase and preserve the Indo-Caribbean culture has been appreciated by many communities all over the world.
Chandani explained her reasoning for pushing the documentary forward, “Historically, the Indo-Caribbean community has never had strong media representation in the UK. In this country, the "Caribbean Press" does not cover our stories, and the "Asian Media" do not see us as Indians. BBC was giving me a real platform to bring awareness to my culture. After much deliberation, I decided to do it. I had to let people see our food, hear our music and listen to our stories.” Thanks to strong Brown Girl Bosses like Chandani, we are able to educate ourselves and the younger generations about who we are and where we come from.
Being proud of our melting pot of culture, history and traditions is what makes us uniquely “Indo-Caribbeans.”
Since the documentary was released, Chandani has been invited to discuss various topics on British-Asian radio. With this opportunity, she has built a network of international artists, singers, and dancers all over the world. When asked what she is most proud of being an Indo-Caribbean woman, Chandani said “I love my culture. I'm proud of my name. I’m proud to be a descendant of my amazing ancestors. I am proud of the survival and evolution of my culture, encompassing religion, music, food and all other art forms. I love everything about being Indo-Caribbean, I'm very vocal about it. I am the fusion of two of the world's most beautiful and interesting cultures, the Caribbean Culture and Indian Culture.” As she continues on both her professional and artistic journey, Chandani aims to raise awareness and create a robust Indo-Caribbean presence in the world.