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Ludhiana Personality :: Amar Singh Chamkila
(1961 - 1988)
Amar Singh Chamkila was a very high-profile Punjabi singer, song writer and musician of Ludhiana District. He is widely touted the most influential icon in the history of Punjabi music.
Early Life of Chamkila:
Amar Singh Chamkila was born as Dunni Ram on July 21, 1961 in the village of Dugri near Ludhiana, Punjab, India. The youngest child of Kartar Kaur and Hari Singh, he was educated at Gujar Khan Primary School in Dugri. His aspirations of becoming an electrician were unfulfilled and he found work at a Ludhiana cloth mill.
With a natural aptitude for music, he learned to play the harmonium and dholki and won himself the opportunity to play alongside Punjabi folk artists such as K. Deep, Mohammad Saddiq and Surinder Shinda. He wrote several songs for Surinder Shinda and accompanied him as a member of his entourage before deciding to pursue a solo career.
He was married and subsequently divorced. He had one son and one daughter.
Career Graph of Chamkila
Adopting the name Amar Singh Chamkila – Chamkila in Punjabi means one that glitters – he partnered up with the female vocalist Surinder Sonia and recorded eight duets. The record was released in 1979 and was produced by Charanjit Ahuja. The cleverly worded songs, which he had written himself, became hits across Punjab and paved the way for the unique lyrical mastery his fans would come to expect.
In 1980, Chamkila left Sonia and established a short-lived stage relationship with Miss Usha. He left Miss Usha in the same year in favor of teaming up with a female folk singer named Amarjot. She would become Chamkila’s permanent singing partner providing the female vocals for his duets, that is, the majority of the songs that he wrote.
Chamkila wrote his own lyrics, the majority of which were boyish, suggestive and titillating, and yet fluent, commentaries on extra-marital affairs, alcohol and drugs. The couple’s appeal grew not only in the Punjab, but they quickly raced to international stardom among Punjabis abroad. By the early 1980s, Chamkila and Amarjot had recorded hugely successful LPs on the HMV label and they toured Canada, USA, Dubai and Bahrain. They were also commonly booked for wedding parties, charging a reported Rs. 4000 per performance, an unprecedented amount for the time.
Much of Chamkila’s success may be attributed to the fan-base he acquired performing in free, open-air concerts (known as akhade in Punjabi) around Punjab. Accompanying the couple would be a harmonium and dholki player and Chamkila would play the tumbi, an instrument that he had mastered. The concerts served as a medium for gaining exposure and testing people’s response to new songs that were planned for future recordings. In addition to singing his own songs, Chamkila wrote several songs and sold them to other artists.
Starting in 1985, Chamkila and Amarjot released three religious LPs: Baba Tera Nankana, Talwar Main Kalgidhar Di Haan and Naam Jap Le. While the LPs were highly successful, none of the songs featured on them were written by Chamkila. The profits made from these LPs were reportedly donated to charities. His religious album were huge hits and allowed him to be able to sing at religious function and in front of women.
Chamkila’s song Pehle Lalkare Naal was featured in the soundtrack of the 1987 Punjabi film Patola. He also recorded the song 'Mera Jee Karda' for the Punjabi film 'Dupatta'. Both films faired averagely at the box office, but still increased Chamkila's popularity. He also recorded a music video for one of his songs for the state-owned 'Doordarshan' channel, but after his death his video was taken off the air.
Chamkila and Amarjot recorded in excess of ninety songs before they were killed in Mesumpur, Punjab in 1988. At the time of his death, he reportedly had 200 songs that had not been sung or recorded.
Death of Chamkila:
Having arrived to perform in Mesumpur, Punjab, both Chamkila and Amarjot were gunned down as they exited their vehicle on March 8, 1988. A gang of motorcyclists fired several rounds fatally wounding the couple and other members of the entourage.
No arrests were ever made with connection to the shooting and the case was never solved. The reason for the murder is the subject of speculation and is shrouded in mystery.
The appeal of Chamkila's music prominently lay in both the content of his lyrics and the delivery of those lyrics. The majority of Chamkila's songs were about extra-marital or other taboo relationships. Chamkila came under frequent criticism citing his work as offensive.
It would be controversial for a current singer to say that they are a fan of Chamkila's work, but a few singers have said this on Punjabi television namely Amrita Virk and Jazzy B.
Chamkila had introduced the paradigm of modern day relationships into Punjabi folk music which had, up until then, restricted itself to singing about legendary heroes, warriors and lovers from Punjabi folk-tales. His energetic singing style and the provocative nature of his lyrics are often considered to be the reason for his colossal success.
It is widely reported that Chamkila had been the victim of several death threats. The nature of those threats or the reasoning behind them still remains a mystery. The high-profile murder sparked a frenzy of controversy and speculation. Some of the most prominent theories explaining the killings are:
- Due to the public's declining interest in other Punjabi singers in favor of Chamkila, one or more of these artists may have planned for his killing.
- The taboo content of Chamkila's lyrics may have led one or more offended individuals to arrange for his death.
- Amarjot's caste, Tarkhan, was commonly viewed to be higher than Chamkila's caste, Chamar. Disgraced by Amarjot's involvement with Chamkila, her family or other individuals may have arranged for the couple's killing.
- Chamkila may have been murdered by an individual whom he rejected to perform for due to a scheduling conflict or otherwise.
Albums of Chamkila:
Chamkil's recordings on the HMV music label have been recompiled for release on CD by Saregama. The following albums are available:
- Hik Utte So Ja Ve
- Jija Lak Minle
- Lak Mera Kach Warga
- Mitra Main Khand Ban Gai
- Sharbut Vangoo Ghut Bhar Lan
- Bhul Gai Main Ghund Kadna
- Baba Tera Nankana (religious)
- Naam Jap Le (religious)
- Talwar Main Kalgidhar Di Haan (religious)
More about Chamkila:
- Chamkila walked with a limp.
- Amar Arshi, a popular Punjabi vocalist was a student of Chamkila and has sung many of his songs.
- Chamkila's daughter from his marriage released an album in 2003 called Kurti Sat Rang Di under the name Kamaljot Chamkila. The album contains eight tracks, one written by her father. She cited listening to her father's work as an inspiration for releasing the album.
- Although Chamkila wrote all his own songs (excluding religious ones), he sang Chaklo Drivero Purje Nu written by close friend Pali Detwalia and Kar Yaad Kurre by Gill Surjit.
- An aspiring electrician, Chamkila penned a song called Laggi Light Jagoan about a woman who calls an electrician after being shocked by a faulty light switch.
- Chamkila reportedly enjoyed eating saag.
- Chamkila was reportedly a great fan of Punjabi folk singer Rangila Jatt. He is said to have taken his name from a lyric in one of Jat’s songs.
- At the time of death, Chamkila had plans for at least two albums: Pundit Ji Patte Gaye and Kach Dia Mundra.
- Chamkila reportedly refrained from alcohol and drug use while performing. He also encouraged those in attendance to sit and listen to his lyrics instead of dancing. He would sing boliyan (verses) at the conclusion of his shows and encouraged people to dance.
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