Amar Singh ChamkilaAmar Singh Chamkila was a popular Punjabi singer, songwriter, musician, and composer. Chamkila and his wife Amarjot were killed, along with two members of their band on 8 March 1988 in an assassination which remains unresolved.
Amar Singh Chamkila is regarded as one of the best live stage performers that Punjab has ever produced and extremely popular with the village (pind) audience. His monthly bookings regularly outnumbered the amount of days in the month.
His music was heavily influenced by the Punjabi village life he was surrounded by growing up. He commonly wrote songs about extra-marital relationships, coming of age, drinking, drug use, and the hot tempers of Punjabi men. He earned a controversial reputation, with his detractors regarding his music obscene, and his supporters regarding it a truthful commentary on Punjabi culture and society.
His best-known hits include "Pehle Lalkare Naal" and his devotional songs "Baba Tera Nankana" and "Talwar Main Kalgidhar Di". Though he never recorded it himself, he wrote the widely popular "Jatt Di Dushmani" which has been recorded by many Punjabi artists. He became famous as a result of his first ever recorded song Takue Te Takua.
Early life and careerAmar Singh Chamkila born on 21 July 1960 in the village of Dugri near Ludhiana, Punjab, India. The youngest child of Kartar Kaur and Hari Ram 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. In 1979, Chamkila approached Shinda for the first time on a bicycle with his best friend Kuldeep Paras. When Shinda heard the 18-year-old Chamkila sing, he finally found the protege that he had been looking for. Chamkila would go on to play alongside Punjabi folk artists such as K. Deep, Mohammad Sadiq 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 rumoured that Chamkila was happy enough writing songs, but he wasn't earning enough money to look after his family, so had to start singing.
Chamkila's first time in the studio was providing backing vocals alongside Kuldeep Paras for Surinder Shinda's hit song "Putt Jattan De".
He was married to Gurmail Kaur by family with whom he had two daughters, Amandeep Kaur and Kamaldeep Kaur. Chamkila's second marriage was with his co-singer Amarjot Kaur, with whom he has a son Jaiman Chamkila. It was a love marriage held on 23 May 1983. Chamkila had spoken with close friends that he felt compelled to marry Amarjot as that was the only way to ensure the duet stayed together.
Rise to fame
Career in MusicAdopting the stage name Amar Singh Chamkila – Chamkila in Punjabi means one that glitters. Chamkila first partnered up with the female vocalist Surinder Sonia who had previously worked with Surinder Shinda. Sonia had felt sidelined after Shinda took Gulshan Komal to a tour in Canada, after which she was instrumental in pushing Chamkila to record his debut album. The pair recorded eight duets and released the album "Takue Te Takua" in 1980 with music produced by Charanjit Ahuja. The cunningly worded lyrics, which he had written himself, became hits across Punjab.
In 1980, Chamkila felt he was significantly underpaid by Surinder Sonia's manager (her husband) and decided to form his own group. Chamkila established short-lived stage partnerships with Miss Usha Kiran, Amar Noorie and others.
Chamkila was struggling to find a long-term co-singer to record songs with until fellow Punjabi singer Kuldeep Manak suggested Amarjot Kaur, who had been singing infrequently with Manak and had even featured on his latest album. 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. She would go on to 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. Around this time, Chamkila was rumoured to be receiving more bookings than his contemporaries. The biography "Awaz Mardi Nahin" by Gulzar Singh Shaunki found during its research that at the height of his popularity Chamkila had performed 366 shows in 365 days.
By the early 1980s, Chamkila and Amarjot had recorded hugely successful LPs on the HMV label and they toured Canada, US, 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 more HMV LP records in the world than any other Punjabi singer. He was also an accomplished player of the Tumbi instrument.
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. 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). Chamkila continued to work with music director Charanjit Ahuja but also experimented by working with SN Gulati and KS Narula.
Starting in 1985, Chamkila and Amarjot released three devotional LPs: Baba Tera Nankana, Talwar Main Kalgidhar Di Haan and Naam Jap Le. The LPs were highly successful, with profits reportedly donated to charities.
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 fared averagely at the box office, but still increased Chamkila's popularity. 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 "Akhiyan Di Maar Buri". Chamkila also wrote a song based on Punjabi folk hero Jeona Morh called Kaadha Soorma - a stage recording of Chamkila's vocals were remixed and released by Panjabi MC in 2007.
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 Shad De Vairne Yaari (Jazzy B). Chamkila's lyrics and compositions continue to be popular in contemporary Punjabi music.
Following various complaints to his office, Chamkila appeared before a five-member Sikh committee at the Golden Temple to seek forgiveness for any offence caused by his lyrics. The committee praised his hugely successful religious song "Talwar Main Kalgidhar Di Haan" and Chamkila was encouraged to lend his voice to religious songs going forward. Chamkila, working alongside friend and lyricist Swarn Sivia, was in the process of preparing for a studio recording of Asa Di Var however due to Chamkila's death this was never recorded.
Before his death, Chamkila was working on publishing a magazine titled 'Gaunda Punjab, which would include articles regarding prominent singers, upcoming artists and news from the Punjabi film and music industry. With considerable experience in theatre during his teenage years, Chamkila was also in talks to star in a lead role in the Punjabi movie 'Guldasta' directed by Veerendra and alongside Sridevi in a Punjabi movie titled 'Naanke'. Both films were never made.
AssassinatedHaving arrived to perform in Mehsampur, Punjab, both Chamkila and Amarjot were gunned down as they exited their vehicle on 8 March 1988 at approximately 2PM. A gang of motorcyclists fired several rounds, fatally wounding the couple and other members of the entourage. However, no arrests were ever made with connection to the shooting and the case was never solved.
There are many conspiracy theories as to why Chamkila was killed. It is widely reported that he had been the victim of several death threats. The nature of those threats or the rationale 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:
InfluenceIndian film composer Amit Trivedi called Chamkila "a legend, the Elvis of Punjab."
British Indian musician, Panjabi MC, cites Chamkila as one of his musical influences. The song Kaadha Soorma from his 2008 album, Indian Timing, includes Chamkila's vocals. Diljit Dosanjh also sang Chamkila's songs and was inspired by him.