Amar Singh(21 July 1960 – 8 March 1988), commonly known by his stage name Amar Singh Chamkila, was a popular Punjabi singer, songwriter, musician, and composer. Chamkila and his wife and singing partner Amarjot were killed, along with two members of their band on 8 March 1988 allegedly by a gang of unknown youths.
Chamkila is regarded as one of the best stage performers Punjab has ever produced. 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 got fame from his first ever recorded song takuve te takuva.
Early life and career
Amar Singh Chamkila was born as Dhanni Ram on 21 July 1960 in the village of Dugri near Ludhiana, Punjab, India. He was born into a poor family in the chamar caste. 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 had 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.
He was married to Gurmail Kaur by family with whom he had two daughters, Amandeep Kaur and Kamandeep Kaur(kaman was changed to kamal by mistake by her school teacher). 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 23rd May 1983.
Career in Music
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 1981 and 1982 and was produced by Charanjit Ahuja. The cunningly worded lyrics, which he had written himself, became hits across Punjab.
In 1980, Chamkila left Sonia and established a short-lived stage relationship with Miss Usha. He left Miss Usha in the same year in favour 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 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. Around this time, Chamkila was receiving more bookings than his contemporaries such as Kuldip Manak, Gurdas Maan and Surinder Shinda. 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 then 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 Charanjit Ahuja but also experimented by working with SN Gulati (Deora Ve Tavitan Walia) & KS Narula (Mera Jee Karda).
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 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. 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 Akhiyan Di Maar Buri. Chamkila also sang another serious song on the folk hero Jatt 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 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). He has a huge fan following in Punjab.
Having arrived to perform in Mehsampur, Punjab, both Chamkila and Amarjot were gunned down as they exited their vehicle on 8 March 1988 at approximately 2 o’clock. 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 other 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:
The Sikh separatism, Khalistani movement of the 1980s may have found Chamkila’s lyrical content to be objectionable. The movement may have killed him.
Due to the public’s declining interest in other Punjabi singers in favour of Chamkila, one or more of these other artists may have planned his killing. This theory is further backed by his colleagues (musicians, booking staff etc.) in a number YouTube interviews.
Punjab police could have been behind the murder, as killings by government officials and police were very common and many high ranking Punjab police officers were outraged by Chamkila’s lyrics and what they perceived as his vulgar songs.
Chamkila may have been murdered by an individual he might have refused to perform for due to a scheduling conflict or other reasons.
One of the possibility is honor killing. Chamkila’s wife Amarjot’s parents and relatives might be involve in Chamkila’s murder.