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Amar Singh Chamkila

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Amar Singh Chamkila’s biography

Amar Singh Chamkila (Punjabi- July 21, 1961-March 8, 1988) born 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. found work at a Ludhiana. With a natural aptitude for music, he learned to play the harmonium and dholki. Punjabi folk musician Surinder Shinda has said that in 1979, Chamkila approached him for the first time on a bicycle. When Shinda heard the 18-year-old Chamkila sing, he had finally found the protege that he had been looking for. Chamkila would go onto play alongside Punjabi folk artists such as K. Deep, Mohammad Saddiq and Surinder Shinda. He wrote several songs for Shinda and accompanied him as a member of his entourage before deciding to pursue a solo career. It is rumored that Chamkila was happy enough writing songs, but he wasn't earning enough money to look after his family, so had to start singing.

He was married and subsequently divorced. He had two daughters, one of whom has gone on to release albums of her own. These albums have contained songs written by her father.

Adopting the stage 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 cunningly worded lyrics, 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. Not much is known about Amarjot Kaur, except for the fact that she was previously married but left the marriage to pursue her dream of singing. Amarjot herself was a renowned singer and sang with Kuldip Manak. She was from a Jatt family. 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, for the most part, wrote his own lyrics, the majority of which were boyish and suggestive, yet fluent, commentaries on extramarital affairs, alcohol and drug use. 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, U.S., Dubai and Bahrain. They were also commonly booked for wedding parties, charging a reported Rs. 4000 per performance, an unprecedented amount for the time. Chamkila sold most HMV tapes/CDs in the world then any other singer in the world, even in North America.

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. Some of these include Main Digie Tilak Ke (Surinder Shinda), Gabroo Nu Marda (Jagmohan Kaur) and Deor Naal Nach Bhabiye (KS Kooner).

Starting in 1985, Chamkila and Amarjot released three devotional 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.

Chamkila’s song Pehle Lalkare Naal was featured in the soundtrack of the 1987 Punjabi film Patola. He also recoreded the song Mera Jee Karda for the Punjabi film 'Dupatta'. Both films faired averagly 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. Of these some were sung at stage shows including Dhee Mar Jai Badkar Loko, Jatt Di Dushmani and Tere Hik Te Amli. He also had many solo songs which have been sung in recent times by artists such as Chamak Chamkila, Nirmal Sidhu, Amar Arshi, and even his teacher Surinder Shinda. Some singers have used some of Chamkila's lyrics in their songs as part of their chorus. These include Nasha, Mere Yaar Ne (Gippy Grewal) and Chad De Vairne Yaari (Jazzy B).

Having arrived to perform in Mesumpur, Punjab, both Chamkila and Amarjot were gunned down as they exited their vehicle on March 8, 1988 at approximately 2 o'clock. 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.

It is widely believed that his death was brought about by the terrorist groups in Punjab, who were opposed to his songs containing sexual innuendo.

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 extramarital or other taboo relationships. Chamkila came under frequent criticism citing his work as offensive.

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.
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