The Re-emergence of Charanjit Singh

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by Rana Ghose on Monday, March 11, 2013

Section
Performing Arts and Music

Session type
Q&A

Technical level
Beginner

Objective

To argue that electronic music as we know it today did not find its catalyst in the clubs of Chicago and Detroit in 1986, but rather in EMI Studios in Bombay in 1982 given one man's musical inspiration - Charanjit SIngh - and his landmark LP 'Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat'.

Description

Among those who are keen on the history of electronic music, most narratives point to the emergence of house and acid house music within the gay clubs of Chicago and Detroit in the mid 1980s. It was at that time that the now familiar “acid” squelch of the Roland TB-303 was divulged, tempered with the relentless beats produced by its engineered partner, the TR-808 drum machine. Together these two pieces of equipment forged an entirely new path of making and experiencing music, much to the surprise of those who initially produced these two pieces of gear in 1981 for entirely different purposes. From house, to acid house, and then across the Atlantic to Manchester and beyond, these two pieces of equipment not only changed the way in which we dance, but also the contexts in which we do so. It would not be an exaggeration to say that rave culture as we know it would not be the same if not for this essentially accidental application of a bass line sequencer and drum machine.

Yet, there is a missing chapter in this narrative, one that finds its origin not in North America or Europe, but in a far less obvious space – India.

Throughout the 1960s and 70s, Charanjit Singh worked in the Bollywood film industry as a session musician and arranger. Being Bombay based, embedded in the industry, and possessing remarkable talent as a multi instrumentalist, composer, and arranger, Singh was in the right place at the right time. In 1982, Singh traveled to Singapore, and purchased the Roland TB-303, TR-808, and a Jupiter 8 synthesizer. Upon his return to India, he booked time at EMI Studios in Bombay after convincing them of the value of doing so – no small feat considering the era - and recorded one album using this now classic set up, an album called “Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat”. The title is accurate.

On each of the two sides of this record are five tracks of Indian classical music, true to the classical raga form, but composed on what was then an entirely new series of tools. The underlying minimal beats and bass lines may sound recognizable now, but at the time, there was nothing that really sounded quite like it. Perhaps due to this, the album failed to resonate, and the number of copies pressed was limited to the hundreds. It essentially disappeared.

Twenty-two years later, a Dutch vinyl collector, Edo Bouman, travels to India on a record hunt. In a market in Old Delhi, he finds a copy of this record. Intrigued by what he sees on the cover – a kaleidoscopic image of a Jupiter 8 synthesizer with what appears to be a TB-303 sitting gingerly on top – he purchases two copies, goes back to his hotel room, and immediately places the record on the platter of his portable Fisher-Price turntable. The needle drops. Bouman is agog. This is unlike anything Bouman has ever heard before. He is stunned, but more sustainably, he is hooked.

Fast forward to 2010. After years of negotiating with EMI India to get the licensing rights, Bouman re-releases the record on his own imprint, Bombay Connection. It is difficult for many to fathom that a record of this calibre, of this kind of historical significance, is actually real. I was equally as sceptical, and was in disbelief that such a record was cut in 1982, let alone in Bombay.

Until I met Singh himself a month later.

Since then, I've been managing his business affairs and curating a series of spaces where a public - a broad public - can come to terms with this mans contribution in what I feel is the most appropriate arena - the dancefloor. Starting in November 2012 - and after a year long search for a producer who possessed the original Roland equipment - we've sold out shows in Europe, and are now planning to scale up to the festival circuit this May. With those shows now confirmed, I am planning the grand finale (for now) of Charanjit doing concert halls in November 2013, and then an India premiere in December. And it all looks very feasible.

This session will illustrate the story to date using video, music, and lecture, and if resources allow, a personal interaction with Charanjit himself.

Requirements

A love of good music and a good story.

Speaker bio

When Rana first met Charanjit in November 2010, he was immediately convinced that his musical work had to get out to a wider public. So he took it on, and he's been focused on doing just that since.