King of Bhangra Pop - Channi Singh

Khushwant Singh

King of Bhangra Pop- Channi Singh (OBE)


This interview was conducted in 2005 when I was working on my first book,  “Sikhs Unlimited.” Although significant changes may have transpired in the life of the protagonist since then (was conferred with the Order of the British Empire in 2011), it remains a pivotal interview due to its invaluable contribution to understanding the evolution of Western influences in Bhangra music.


9 August 2005, Southall 

Big ones, small ones, pointed, flat, plain and starched turbans and the kinds you’ll never see in Punjab was the first sight when the No. 120 Double Decker turned into Southall on a sunny English afternoon. Punjabi suits, sleeveless and skimpy tops and bleached hair of the young Punjabi women was the second thing to catch my attention, as I alighted from the DD and waited for Channi Singh, founder of the Alaap group, the godfather of pop bhangra music, to pick me up from King’s street. Rakhees— decorated bands that sisters tie on their brother’s wrists as a mark of their relationship—lay stacked on the pavements, the hustle-bustle of cars rent the air as a huge truck—‘Gill Storage’— blocked the traffic. Aromas of the freshly fried jalebis filled the air, while a ‘Just Arrived from Punjab’ sold mangoes to passers- ‘ by, shouting ‘Amb (aam), mango two paund (pound) only!’ at the top of his voice. Simply put, it was ‘Sada Punjab’, and I enjoyed the twenty-minute wait, hoping Channi Singh would be late. ‘How are you?’ asked a stocky man in a black Pathan suit and an earring pierced in his left ear as he unrolled the left window pane of his Mercedes E55AMG after pulling over at the bus-stop, where I was standing. ‘Channiji?’ I asked. ‘Yes, are you Khushwant?’ ‘Yes,’ I replied and hopped into the passenger seat, embarking on what was to become one great musical sojourn.


Bhangra King 

The two days spent with Channi Singh, originally Harcharanjit Singh of Salar, near Malerkotla in Sangrur district of Punjab, were not only days steeped in his everlasting melodies, like the ‘Bhabiye ne Bhabiye’ or ‘Jind Mahi’ but a tryst with history. They were memorable moments with a person who had changed the face of Punjabi music, after his first release in 1977—‘Teri Chuni De Sitare’, a song inspired by the beauty of his wife.

The song ‘Bhabiye ne Bhabiye’ (sister-in-law, oh, sister-in- law—get me married) from his second album soon confirmed Channi was no fluke. The true Bhangra King had arrived. His fan, multi-millionaire Dave Bance, who later was to buy rights to some of Channi’s music, describes Channi as somebody ‘simply legendary and revolutionary’, and far above anyone else in the Bhangra Pop industry. ‘Channiji, allow me to share a scene from Singapore, where one of the women fans wanted your autograph on her bosom,’ carried on Bance, as we all burst into laughter. Channi Singh, lead singer of Alaap, along with producer Deepak Khazanchi, was able to meet the aspirations of the huge diaspora by mixing traditional Punjabi tunes with western ones. The duo introduced the synthesiser along with traditional instruments like the dhol, tumba and ektara and created modern music that Channi termed as melodious Punjabi tunes. Whatever that meant, I thought. Isn’t all music supposed to be melodious? This hybridising of Punjabi music sparked a revolution in the early Eighties and a whole new breed of Punjabi hip-hop musicians started emerging, catering to the needs of a diaspora that existed in countries like Canada and USA. A similar phenomenon also took place in India and the switch over to modern tunes saw Punjabi music finding its way into mainstream Bollywood films.

Khushwant Singh