Indian Electronic Music Pioneer Charanjit Singh Remembered by His Manager and Agent Rana Ghose
The accidental inventor of acid house passed away this weekend, aged 74.
This weekend, Indian electronic musician Charanjit Singh passed away in his sleep. The 74 year old musician died in the early hours of Sunday morning in Mumbai. Singh is often credited with the accidental invention of acid house, with the release of his 1982 record Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat. While the record was commercially unsuccessful in India at the time, its rediscovery since prompted a resurgence of interest with many noticing the blueprints for acid house that didn't fully emerge in Chicago until many years later.
Having become a cult hero of sorts, Singh's musical career was reinvigorated by the reissuing of Ten Ragas in 2010, which was followed by subsequent international touring. Much of his belated success came thanks to Rana Ghose, who both interviewed Singh on camera before going on to become his booking agent and tour manager. We are very grateful to Ghose, who has taken some time this weekend to share his thoughts on the passing of this singular musician, with a remarkable story.
Three days ago I became convinced I have an allergy to lavender. I have since passed through three distinct phases across each day: a cartoonish, swollen upper lip, itchy welts across my arms and legs, and for the past 24 hours, fever delusions and a horrible cough. All of which has happened to coincide with my being on a sailboat in some of the most beautiful landscapes the world has to offer off the west coast of BC in Canada, rendering what I see and feel somewhat hallucinatory and removed.
When Charanjit Singh and I met for the first time in 2010 and I came to know of just how unaware he was of the genre of music that he predated by four years, it was as though his story and music was a sort of fairy tale, the kind of thing that happens in movies. It didn't seem real. It happened to coincide with a rather pivotal point in my life; I was just about to submit a doctoral dissertation, and was embarking on an entirely new series of professional challenges. What began as a film I wanted to make about his life became an enterprise that began to consume my life - I found myself entering the world of a new music industry in India and beyond as a producer and agent, ultimately starting an agency to do the same for a number of other artists. My own parents are about the same age as Charanjit and his wife Suparna were. Suparna and my mother actually grew up in a region in West Bengal separated by about 100km. I recall their speaking over Skype in our green room after his Field Day 2013 performance in London. They spoke animatedly in Bengali about me, and what a "good boy" I was. It was somewhat bizarre in how it was both endearing and saddening - perhaps I was just exhausted from the tour and, in the moment, too vulnerable, but for the rest of the day I just couldn't speak to anyone. This entire enterprise was becoming inextricably intertwined with my life. It was the only way I knew how to bring this man and his music to the world. It was an intensely personal exercise. This proxy parental dynamic was beyond my understanding. I just accepted it for what it was.
Soon after Suparna and my mother ended their Skype chat, I recall leaving with Charanjit to do some press in an other part of Victoria Park. The sun was setting, the shadows long. As the interview wrapped, we walked out of the tent. I began to roll camera as we walked away together in this orange light, and I asked him what he thought of the interview. In classic form, he stated that they asked the same questions. He shook his head slightly, and looked away towards the direction where our green room and Suparna was. This is essentially what drove his genius. Charanjit Singh was the kind of visionary that really cared little about talking about this music to people. Sometimes it seemed society in general didn't really interest him. The only thing that really seemed to matter to him was playing music. This of course would serve to explain why - and how - he could have made a record as singular as Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat, and how, beginning at the age of 72, he and Johanz could play raging shows to throngs of club kids at 1AM, travelling across thousands of kilometres, playing to crowds far removed from the middle aged private party set that he and Suparna played to in Bombay, and beyond within the South Asian diaspora internationally. After withdrawing from the film industry towards the end of the 70s, such an audience likely would have been the only one to watch him perform. Of course, that wasn't to be the case.
I remain proud that thousands got the chance to bear witness to his genius live. In bearing witness to all of this happening, I've often wondered if I could achieve that kind of stamina when I approach his age. I've never met anyone that committed to his art. He both inspired and confused me. Suparna passed away earlier this year in January due to a failing kidney. I feared the worst. They were a team, and they needed each other - she was his love, his life manager, one of the only people he trusted. It was she who encouraged him to focus on the vision that became 10 Ragas. They were inseparable. Late this morning, a fever dream was interrupted by a call from Bombay. On the other end was a voice of a friend, relaying the news that a man who inadvertently changed the course of my life multiple times was no more. In the early hours of Sunday morning, Charanjit Singh passed away in his sleep, peacefully at home. He would have turned 75 this December. I have been struggling with a variety of things all day, and I'm not sure what to make of them all - perhaps as much a function of my somewhat incapacitated state at the time of this writing as it is the nature of what has occurred. I feel angry, sad, frustrated, nostalgic, tired.