How Hindi Cinema’s ‘Go-To-Guy’ Accidentally Invented a Global Music Genre


How many of you have heard of Charanjit Singh, the multi-instrumentalist session musician coveted by legendary Hindi film score composers like RD Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Naushad?

Did you know that he also unwittingly pioneered a genre of music – acid house – which is the source of much of the popular contemporary music you hear around the world today?

Despite some recent studies of his contributions, very few Indians are aware of the work of Charanjit Singh and the incredible influence he had on modern music.

There is no doubt that he ranks among the most influential figures in the history of contemporary music that you have yet to hear of. From playing the distinctive drone of the transicord (an electric accordion) at the opening of ‘Dum Maro Dum’ (1971 film ‘Hare Rama Hare Krishna’) to the keyboard solo at the start of ‘Meri Umar Ke Naujawano’ (1980 film ‘Karz’), his signature is apparent on some of Hindi film music’s most memorable records.

Going further, Charanjit enlightened RD Burman on the importance of the bass guitar, which would not only have an indelible influence on his music, but also on the future of modern Hindi film music. Burman reportedly once said of Charanjit, “If you take the bass track out of my songs, they’ll fall flat.” He taught me that the bass can be used as a solo instrument.

What’s even more extraordinary, however, is how his once-obscure 1982 album “Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat,” which was rediscovered by a Dutch DJ and record collector in 2010 at a Delhi, has been referred to by music historians as the beginning of acid house.

Previously, historians considered Chicago to be the birthplace of acid house – a subgenre of house music whose “influence can be heard in later dance music styles” such as trance, jungle, techno and the trip-hop.

Decades later, however, they discovered that it had been Mumbai all along.

Charanjit performed in Bollywood orchestras, toured with Kishore Kumar and performed at weddings from the 1960s to the 1980s.

However, the rediscovery of his music led him to tour Europe and the United States with popular DJs and to play in front of young, dynamic and often tattooed electronic music fans under half his age at festivals such as the inaugural 2013 edition of Magnetic Fields in Rajasthan in its 70s.

Tragically, he passed away just two years later on July 4, 2015, at his home in Bandra, Mumbai, at the age of 75, but not before leaving his mark on the music world like few. did.

Charanjit Singh (Image courtesy of Facebook/Pepsi MTV Indies)

genius multi-instrumentalist

Born in 1940, Charanjit grew up in humble circumstances in the Matunga area of ​​Mumbai.

What is particularly interesting in his career is that he comes from a family of luthiers. His family ran the famous Singh Musical Instruments founded in 1920, whose harmoniums have found a place in the music museum of the Philharmonie de Paris.

An introverted man by nature, his life was marked by a deep devotion to music. He learned and mastered a variety of instruments starting with the mandolin and the Hawaiian steel guitar, and moving on to others like the bass guitar, the clavioline (electronic keyboard responsible for the famous melody ‘Nagin’), the transicord and finally the synthesizer itself. .

From the 1960s to the next two decades, he was a regular in the orchestras of Hindi film music composers like RD Burman and Laxmikant-Pyraelal, among others.

According to the Mumbai Mirror, Charanjit was “the Hindi film industry’s ‘go-to-guy’ when it came to procuring musical instruments.” The report adds: “When RD Burman requested a transicord, an electric accordion, for the recording of ‘Dum Maaro Dum’, it was Charanjit who procured one.”

In fact, his family’s background in sourcing and building musical instruments played a key role in his career. At great expense, he purchased the latest instruments abroad which no one in India could access.

Even his seminal 1982 album, “Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat”, was the result of a trip to Singapore, where he purchased a set consisting of a keyboard, drum machine and synthesizer from newly launched Roland bass. It is probably his desire to experiment with the latest musical technologies and global music trends that sets him apart from most of his peers.

But it is also important to note that he was classically trained and spent a huge amount of time with extremely gifted artists like Manna Dey, Kishore and Mukesh Kumar.

In fact, Charanjit was introduced to his wife Suparna, a classical dancer studying at Shantiniketan, by Kishore Kumar. They would marry later in 1978. While not in the studio, he was touring with Kishore Kumar’s troupe or his own Charanjit Singh Orchestra, which performed at weddings, performing some of music’s greatest hits. Hindi film of the time.

Such was his caliber that his son and renowned music composer, Raju Singh, noted in a 2015 HuffPost article that “…people like Burman and Laxmikant-Pyarelal were known to cancel or push back sessions to accommodate to the availability of Charanjit”.

Furthermore, the same article notes that he was “apparently the only musician ever privileged to have a glass of whiskey before recording a take – such was the confidence in his abilities”.

Charanjit Singh was not only a highly sought after session musician for the likes of RD Burman, but also invented a genre of music called acid house.
Charanjit Singh: Extremely talented session musician for some of Bollywood’s greatest musical directors, including RD Burman, Naushad and Laxmikant-Pyarelal (image courtesy of Facebook/Imprints and Images of Indian Film Music)

“Ten Ragas on a disco beat”

By the early 1980s, disco music had captured the world’s attention. Also, at this time, there was a wave of Indian musicians who had already begun to adopt ragas from traditional Hindustani classical music to Western instruments. Influenced by this practice as well as by mega hits like Bappi Lahiri’s ‘Disco Dancer’, he too wanted to bring together disco and Indian classical music.

In 1982, in the space of only two days, he recorded all the tracks (in individual takes) of his album “Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat” at the HMV studio in Cuffe Parade, Mumbai.

In an interview with Shreya Vaidya (published in 2018 by Homegrown), Charanjit said, “At that time, I mainly worked in films. And often the musical directors would record songs with disco themes. Like Bappi Lahiri’s ‘Disco Dancer’. You know?”

He added, “I wanted to do something different from different songs; ragas, so to speak. I decided to add a disco beat to the ragas, which remained constant, but the ragas were all different.

In a 2011 interview with The Guardian, he also said, “I had the idea to play all the Indian ragas and give the beat a disco beat – and turn off the tabla. And I did. And it went well. »

Describing some of the album’s final plot lines, he told Shreya, “The baseline is very important. [Sings] Na din dha. I would improvise with the ragas in different ways, but I wouldn’t mix any other notes into the raga. Although, in a live show, I give vocals with the raga. The main thing is that the disco rhythm is common, but the songs are constantly changing.

Suffice to say that the disc is a commercial failure. He was reportedly heard on All India Radio on occasion, but according to Charanjit, “it didn’t click”. A possible explanation for this could be that it was an album so far ahead of its time.

In the following months, however, Charanjit and his wife Suparna visited different parts of the world, including the United States and Pakistan, where they performed their ghazals.

Things took a turn in 2002, when Dutch DJ and record collector Edo Bouman discovered the album while visiting a store in Delhi.

Speaking to The Guardian, Bouman said: “When I got back to my hotel, I played it on my portable player and was blown away. It sounded like acid house [music]or as an ultra-minimal Kraftwerk [a German band of innovators and pioneers of electronic music].” When Bouman looked at the release date, however, he was in shock.

Seeing its release in 1982, he realized that this album had been made five years before what many Western music historians considered at the time to be the world’s first acid house record by the American band ‘Phuture’. called Acid Trax released in 1987. .

Unable to contain his excitement, Bouman would reunite with Charanjit in Mumbai.

“He was very nice and surprised that I knew about the album. I remember asking him how he got to that sour sound, but he didn’t quite understand what I meant. He didn’t didn’t realize how incredibly modern it was,” Bouman recalls.

He will go on to add:[Charanjit] said to me, ‘Honestly, it’s the best thing I’ve done. The other albums are all movie songs that I just played. But it was my own composition. Do something uniquely yours and you can create something truly different.

In 2010, Edo Bouman re-released the album under the Bombay Connection label and it took off. Curiously, Charanjit was not overly impressed with some of the more popular acid house tracks, noting its lack of “variations”.

Given his eclectic musical background, did Charanijit consider himself “different” or “conventional”? In the interview with Shreya Vaidya, he offered a rather interesting answer.

“How do you know I’m unconventional?” (laughs) Yes, I worked with a lot of different instruments and all the latest equipment. Every time I went abroad, I brought something new. In the morning, at rehearsals, I was always the one who tested. As for “different”, I have always experimented with things. I started playing bass guitar, RD Burman was very fond of bass guitar. We played the keyboard together. Sometimes I played Hawaiian guitar… (stops singing hai hai yeh majboori). Everyone had their advantage, today it’s hard to be yourself because everyone is copying themselves,” he said.

(Editing by Divya Sethu)

(Presentation image courtesy of Facebook/Converse)


‘RIP Charanjit Singh, the most influential musician you may never have heard of’ by Suprateek Chatterjee; Published July 8, 2015 Courtesy of HuffPost
“Charanjit Singh, Pioneer of Acid House” by Louis Pattison; Published on 10 April 2010 by The Guardian
‘Charanjit Singh on how he invented acid house… by mistake’ by Stuart Aitken: Published 10 May 2011 Courtesy of The Guardian
‘On Acid House & Disco Beats, an interview with music legend Charanjit Singh’ by Shreya Vaidya; Published January 3, 2018 Courtesy of Homegrown
“The Story of Two Musical Legacies” by Arnab Ganguly and Reema Gehi; Published 16 August 2020 courtesy of the Mumbai Mirror.

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