The evening of Saturday, the final day at TD Mosaic Festival 2013 was destined to experience a historic performance by Channi Singh OBE, the founder of Alaap and better known as the Godfather of Bhangra Music.
I could see people of all age groups from young to many from middle aged to seniors from Mississauga, Brampton and as far as from Richmond Hill came to hear their favorite bhangra music hero. The lawns was almost near full capacity from the outset.
Before the show began, I talked to a middle aged lady Harjeet Kaur, who had come early to occupy the front row. “ I have not seen him yet, but I have danced on his music all my life, on weddings, manjas , and other occaisions.”
While introducing Channi Singh on stage, Asma Mahmood, the co-founder of the Mosaic Festival acknowledged to have “danced to his songs on our wedding nearly three decades ago”.
As Channi Singh appeared on stage, I could sense the current of energy run through the crowds. Amidst a roar of applause he began with on of my favorites: “We Wanjareya, karma waareya…”
This was followed by a song from his first album, “Teri Chunni de sitare…” and then his song with Asha Bhonsle: “Main nu chooriyan chara de chan we., main cham cham nachdi phiraan…”, which set the pace for one electrifying song after the other.
“Bhabbhiye ni bhabiye ni sun bhabhiye”, was the song that created history by being the most popular bhangra song, the world over.” Revealed the Godfather himself, before he began the song. As song is also referred as the Anthem of Bhangra, I could sense that outnumbering the young, many escited middle aged women, who had begun with tapping their hands and feet, now stood up to dance. The beats were certainly irreristible for anyone in the crowd.
I noticed quite a few nondesi faces dancing too. I asked Sue, who is from Singapore : “Do you know this music?” She responded while still dancing, “Oh I have heard him a lot in Singapore, everytime on our Indian friends weddings.”
While talking to Channi Singh earlier he told that 90% of the songs are his own lyrics and music compositions. He also mentioned of the few of his songs that were blessed to have been the original tunes on which Bollywood numbers were copied.
An elderly Gurpal Kaur, in her mid sixities, stole the show by coming right to the front of the stage to bhangra on “Nach kuriye ni zara nach kuriye…”
She later shared with excitement, “This took me 40 years back in my life”. And then excitedly asked, “But am I not still young?”
Her husband, a retired brigadier from the Army, teased her, “He is still her hero, not me.”
As he sang “Makhna” , “Soneya” , “Mere Haniya”, “Dil janiya” the electrified crowd went berserk with the chants of “Oye hoye “. The atmosphere was charged beyond words.
“It feels being in Lahore.” felt Lubna Sami, as she screamed back Oye Hoye.
The energized crowd was finally rewarded with a powerful Damadam Mast Qalander, on which many including Lachman Balani also could not hold their hands and feet still. Nita told of how it is a must to have Damadam Mast Qalander on every Sindhi wedding.
Channi Singh has 26 albums to his credit, in a career spanning 35 years. He has the honor of being bestowed the highest British Award in Music, by the Queen of England, and also to have performed in 10 Downing Street. He also has his name as the most selling Asian Band in the Milleneum Edition of the Guiness Book of World Records.
While talking to him, he shared his belief in unity of humanity beyond regions and religions, and was blessed with being the first Bhangra band to visit Pakistan. He said before he performed in Lahore, he went to the Data Darbar for blessings.
He also performed for several fund raisers for Imran Khan’s Cancer Hospital in UK and some other cities of Europe.
He himself has to his credit many performances for charitable causes like Children in Need, Teenage Cancer. He has a foundation called One Britain One Nation.
I found him a very humble and pleasant person to converse with, and could not hold back my observation that he bore some resemblance to my favorite Singer Jagjit Singh, in both appearance and conversation. He informed that Jagjit Singh was a close friend, and he too was fond of his Urdu ghazals.
A sample of Channi Singh music ( from his album):