Amar Singh Chamkila – 35 Years On

March 8th 2023 is the 35th death anniversary of Punjabi folk legend Amar Singh Chamkila and his wife Amarjot Kaur.

We have a look back at who exactly Chamkila was.

During the 1980s, a young and energetic Singer ruled the Punjab Music industry for a short period but became an icon forever. Amar Singh Chamkila, or Chamkila (which means “that glitters” in Punjabi), was one of the leading singers of his time and perhaps the most popular Punjabi singer who ever lived. His popularity not only grew at an exponential pace, but it also threatened the careers of other legendary Punjabi Singers of that time.

Early life and beginning of the music career

Born on July 21, 1960, real name was Dhanni Ram. He was born in the village of Durgi in the district of Ludhiana, Punjab. He was the youngest child of Kartar Kaur and Hari Singh Sandila. Chamkila wanted to be an electrician in his younger years but failed in the venture. For some time, he reportedly worked in a cloth mill.

From the beginning, Dhanni had an aptitude for music but apparently did not see it as a career at first. At the age of 18, he met his mentor, the legendary Punjabi Singer Surinder Shinda, for the first time. By that time, Dhanni was already fluent in playing the harmonium and dholki. When Shinda heard him singing for the first time, he knew he had discovered his ‘shagird’ or protege.

Dhanni was hired to help Shinda in the concerts and write songs for him. For some time, he worked for Shinda but slowly moved away as he felt he was not being appreciated enough. By that time, he had already worked with folk music legends, including K Deep and Mohammad Sadiq.

Dhanni joined hands with female folk singer Surinder Sonia who had previously worked with Shinda. She stopped working with Shinda after he started working with Gulshan Komal, and Sonia felt sidelined. Sonia and Dhanni released their first album ‘Takue Te Takua’ in 1980. Music producer Charanjit Ahuja gave music for the songs. Dhanni had written songs himself, and his words made the album an instant hit across the state.

Within months after the release, Dhanni decided to part from Sonia as he felt he was being underpaid by Sonia’s manager, who happened to be her husband. This was the time when he finally adopted his stage name Amar Singh Chamkila. With the birth of Chamkila, the music industry of Punjab changed forever.

For some time, Chamkila struggled to find the right female partner. He joined hands with Amar Noorie, Usha Kiran, and others, but things did not work out.

Amarjot Kaur’s entry into the life of Chamkila changed everything

Chamkila’s colleague and famous Punjabi singer Kuldeep Manak suggested he should approach Amarjot Kaur. When her name was suggested to Chamkila, she was not a well-established singer in the industry. The chemistry between the two struck the right chords, and they formed a permanent association thereafter.

Chamkila was known for writing suggestive and boyish songs. The double-meaning lyrics, close-to-heart music, and catchy beats of the songs made the duo famous overnight. Even at a time when it was extremely difficult to get national, let alone international, exposure, Chamkila’s music started to make rounds in every possible corner of the world. Gulzar Singh Shaunki, in his book ‘Awaz Mardi Nahin’, which is Chamkila’s biography, mentioned that at the peak of his career, Chamkila did 366 shows in 365 days.


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