Amar Singh Chamkila
(In Punjabi: ਅਮਰ ਸਿੰਘ ਚਮਕੀਲਾ) (July 21, 1960 – March 8, 1988) was a high-profile Punjabi Singer, Song writer, and Musician. He is widely touted as the most influential Punjabi folk singer of all time. This is an incredible feat as Chamkila sang for less than a decade. He is also regarded as one of the greatest Punjabi folk live stage performers. In his heyday, he was known to do three stage performances in a single day.
Amar Singh Chamkila was born as Dunni Ram on July 21, 1960 in the village of Dugri near Ludhiana Punjab. He was born into a poor family and was from the Chamar caste. 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 dholi. Punjabi folk musician Surinder Shinda has said that in 1978, 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.
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 Amarjyot 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 Kudeep Manak. 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. It could be argued that his lyrics have a double meaning.
The couple’s appeal grew not only in the Punjab, but they quickly raced to international stardom among Punjabi uncles abroad. Around this time, Chamkila was considered by some to be more popular than folk legends such as Kuldeep Manak, Gurdas Mann and Surinder Shinda.
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 (a French organ) 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 Charanjit Ahuja but also experimented by working with SN Gulati & KS Narula.
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 himself. 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 recorded the song Mera Jee Karda for the Punjabi film ‘Dupatta’. Both films fared well at the box office and had a positive impact on Chamkila’s popularity. He also reportedly 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 recorded in excess of ninety songs before he got killed in Mehsopur, 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 sang another serious song on the folk hero Jeona Morh called Kaadha Soorma, which was remixed by Panjabi MC in 2007.
He also had many solo songs which have been sung in recent times by artists such as 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 by Jazzy B.
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 Sikh separatism, Khalistani movement of the 1980s may have found Chamkila’s lyrical content to be objectionable. The movement may have killed him.
Amarjot’s caste Jatt was commonly viewed to be higher than Chamkila’s caste Chamar. Disgraced by Amarjot’s involvement with Chamkila, her family or others 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.
Chamkila may have also been killed by rival singers who were jealous of his success.
Amar Singh Chamkila Death
Having arrived to perform in the famous village of Mehsampur, Punjab, both Chamkila and Amarjot were gunned down by AK47’S alongside Gill and other group members as they exited their vehicle on March 8, 1988, at approximately 2 o’clock. A gang of unknown youths shot several rounds fatally wounding the couple and other members of the entourage. The driver got away and ran for his life and saw the police coming towards him in a jeep, Chamkila’s driver told the police commissioner what had happened as they got near the community well in mehsopur where Chamkila was supposed to perform the disguised youths fled and the people of the village who had come to attend the akhara bravely chased them, but they got away, the gunfire could be heard in the neighboring village of Darapuralso. Chamkila was lying in the haystack near the well with shots fire on his chest.
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.
Chamkila had introduced the paradigm of modern-day relationships into Punjabi folk music which had 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.