Published On:12 March 2012
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Honor to a great Trinidadian Icon: Haniff Mohammed

By Shama Harrysingh

West Palm Beach: On April 24th, 1933, a legend was born in the beautiful village of San Francique, Trinidad.

Ustad Haniff Mohammed was born to Esaha and Kaliman Bachan Mohammed. Music peeked his interest from an early age. He started by singing film songs and bhajans around the house and hummed almost every song he heard.

While he took an instinctive delight in Hindi film songs, he spent some of his earlier years participating in Moulood competitions of the Massahood Junction Jamaat. Naturally, he represented ‘his’ Jamaat in Islandwide Moulood competitions in the early sixties up to 1965.
Incidentally his nephew Wazim Mohammed was quite instrumental in the foundation of the Massahood Junction Muslim Youth Organization, where he sang on a regular basis.

His guru, Pundit Mahase, first heard him at a Tilak– pre-wedding ceremony– at Akbar Trace in Avocat Village and invited the 17-year-old to visit him. Haniff, overjoyed and excited turned up the next day at the pundit's home and was initiated into Indian Classical Music with a Saraswati Pooja. (Saraswati - the goddess of knowledge, music, arts, science and technology, who embodies the wisdom of Devi). This was the genesis of Haniff’s musical career and one of the most memorable occasions in his life.

He was so inspired by his Guru, that he was determined to utilize every minute to his advantage to do what he loved and what was his greatest passion – music. The late Pundit Mahase had a great influence in Haniff becoming an accomplished singer.

Of his introduction to classical singing, Haniff recalled, "My Guru composed two songs for me which I studied carefully. After that I would visit him late in the evenings and walk back home around midnight. He taught me pronunciation, timing, the varieties of classical singing and gave me many insights into this music. He had a memory that was very good, even composing two thumris for me on Hanuman."

Understandably, Haniff became the shishya of Pundit Mahase. Of Haniff, the late Pundit Mahase once said “I saw a passion and determination in this young man’s eyes for the classical music so much so that sometimes he did not want to go home, just wanting to remain by me and sing.”
The classical singer laureate won his first competition at Quarry Village Mandir at twenty years of age. Since then, he went on to win twenty-two B Class competitions.

He then graduated to A Class competitions in which he was quite active until the mid-eighties when interest in this type of singing started to lose its popular appeal. He developed a good repertoire and became a favorite singer on 'cooking nights' when he would encounter his rivals K.B. Singh and Yusuf Khan.

He sang at many functions throughout the island especially on the Bhatwan or ‘cooking night’. His traditional ensemble consisted of ‘dholak’, ‘dantal’ and a singer with the harmonium which was the versatile singer himself.

Ustad Haniff’s name soon became a household name in Trinidad and Tobago and one of the most sought after artistes in the 60’s and 70’s, the golden years of Indian Classical music. He entered his first major competition at Penal Vedic School where he placed first against singers like the late K.B. Singh, Henry Tooloom Dindial and many others. He shared many a stage with the late Ramdhanie Sharma, Isaac Yankaran, James Ramsewak, Yusuff Khan and Henry Tooloom Dindial to name a few.

He competed at The National Council of Indian Culture (NCIC) -sponsored annual competitions held at Himalaya Club, where he won the championship numerous times. He was always popular with the patrons and was always a serious contender for top prizes.

Ustad Haniff has many memorable performances. He recalled the "shoot out" with acclaimed melody King, the late Isaac Yankaran. He recalled smiling, "Singing against Yank was never an easy affair. The man was just too sweet. He could charm anybody. August 2nd, 1967, we had this big show in Globe Cinema, Port of Spain. We sang twenty songs including some of my most popular songs at that time, Dhobiya Jala Me Marata Piyasa, Khele Shiv Shankar Kajariya, Rajender Jeem, Joom, Rukh Say Na Khaab and many more inspirational selections.

The show was organized by the late Moean Mohammed, It was a packed cinema. Yank had more supporters than I did, but I received a great appreciation from the crowd. The great KB Singh, whom I admired greatly, was supporting me. It is a cherished memory.”

In 2003, Haniff performed at the St Andrew’s Hall in Lauderhil, South Florida, His performance was phenomenal and he sang for almost three hours more than scheduled. Extremely happy to see him, fans could not get enough. He was honored by The Honorable Mr. Chandradath Singh who was Trinidad and Tobago’s Consul General in Miami and his wife Mrs. Anita Chandradath Singh.

The legend has performed locally and abroad and His music has been on the top charts across the globe. Still beaming on the charts in many countries as far as Fiji, is one of his most popular songs ‘Rajender, Jeem, Joom’ which he composed for his dear friend, the late Moean Mohammed, who was very instrumental in promoting Indian Culture in Trinidad & Tobago.
He was once regarded as the best ‘Picong’ singer in local classical music and earned the status as one of the best classical singers in the Caribbean and South America.

With a diminishing interest nationwide for classical music he sought to do limited musical engagements in his latter days. Currently, he is restrained by issues of health. His work in the classical arena, however, has been acknowledged by way of awards bestowed upon him.


  • The National Council of Indian Culture – for contribution to the classical singing art form.
  • The National Chutney Foundation – Award for most played traditional song of the classical era ‘Rajender, Jheem Jhoom’
  • The United National Congress – Award for contribution to Classical; singing for the past 43 years.
  • SWAHA International – Award for contribution to charitable causes in community services by way of classical singing.
  • Honored by the Massahood United Group – Classical singer and song writer.
  • The Siparia Old Road/Ackbar Trace Village Council – contribution made towards cultural activities.
  • The St Patrick County Council - contribution made towards community services specifically Indian Classical singing.
  • The Mahatma Ghandhi Institute of Debe for his contribution to the classical art form.
  • The Dr. Ramcoomair Chatoor Trust/Palm Tree Foundation for his contribution to the the East Indian Music.

Today, the music our forefathers brought with them to the Caribbean when they came as indentured labourers is alive and vibrant, thanks to great singers like Ustad Haniff, the late Yankaran, KB Singh and others in the arena of Indian classical music, it is preserved and there is no doubt that Trinidad and Tobago have produced some of the best Classical Indian singers in the world.

It was an honor and privilege to visit the humble star at his home in San Francique, December 2011. Although, not in the best of health, his voice sounded sweet and melodious as always. I would like to thank his beloved son, Zannim who lives with him, for a wonderful visit and for sharing some beautiful memories of his father with me. I would always cherish this rare privilege.
Ustad Haniff is being cared for by his loving children, Zanim and Zanifa. Zanim is host of Chandini Raat on Radio Heritage.

Ustad Haniff is a great gift to the cultural Landscape of Trinidad and Tobago and the world of classical music.

There is no better way for his friends and fans to show their love and appreciation for the ‘King’ of Indian classical music than in words.


“The voice of Haniff Mohammed is etched into the landscape of Trinidad and Tobago in a way that has immortalized him, not only as one of the greatest east India classical singer of all times, but also as an outstanding leader,inspirator and educator. The fact that he is a muslim who has devoted years of his life (also) singing hindu devotional songs, speaks volumes of the high level of religious tolerance and peaceful co-existence among all religions in Trinidad and Tobago. In this sense, Haniff is a national icon and deserves the highest commendations for his contribution towards nation building in Trinidad and Tobago.” - His Excellency, The Honorable, Mr. Chandradath Singh Trinidad & Tobago’s Ambassador to India

“I have known Haniff Mohammed for a very long time. I have had the greatest pleasure of performing on various occasions with Haniff and although my style of singing is different, I yearn to sing Ghazals, Thumris, Bhairavi, Dhrupad like him. I enjoy listening to his music, it touches my soul .My father accompanied me to many classical singing shows and he always stayed back a little just to hear these artistes performing.[doing their pecong thing’.] It was at that time that I got the opportunity to really embrace classical songs and he was and will always be one of my classical singing Idol.” - Khamrune Ali-Singer/Artiste

“I had the honor and privilege of sharing the same stage with Ustad Haniff on many occasions and the audience was always stunned with his performance. They showed great love and appreciation for him. I respect him for the meaningful and devotional songs he sang, they are immortal. His versatility extends to other genres of music. Haniff has made a large contribution to the culture of Trinidad & Tobago. His contribution to the music of T & T, the Caribbean & its diaspora is significant.” - Boodram Holass, Singer/Artiste

(Courtesy: SouthFloridaCaribbeanNews.com)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on March 12, 2012. Filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on March 12, 2012. Filed under , , , . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

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