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charanjit singh with jazzy joe
Jazzy Joe with Charanjit Singh

Charanjit Singh was a musician from Mumbai, India, who performed as a session musician, often as a guitarist or synthesizer player in numerous Bollywood soundtrack orchestras from the 1960s to 1980s, working with such great filmi composers such as Shankar Jaikishan, R.D. Burman (Rahul Dev Burman), S.D. Burman, and Laxmikant-Pyarelal. Singh led a wedding band and recorded and released a large number of albums covering popular film songs. These were a form of instrumental elevator music, some of which have since been re-released by Sublime Frequencies, such as his steel guitar renditions of "Manje Re" from Bandhe Haath in 1973 and "Chura Liyaa Hai Tumne" from Yaadon Ki Baraat in 1975. In 1981, he produced synthesizer-based electronic renditions of the Silsila soundtrack in his record Charanjit Singh: Plays Hit Tunes on Synthesizer of Silsila.

Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat, an album of original electronic disco compositions Singh recorded in 1982, was a commercial failure at the time of its original release, but its re-discovery in 2002 and re-issue in early 2010 garnered attention due to its resemblance to music from the acid house genre of the late 1980s. Since then, certain commentators in the music press have recast Singh as an originator of acid house music. 

By chance the machines Singh bought were exactly the synths that would define the sound of electronic dance some years later. The beat he synthesized with the Roland TR-808; the bass-lines he programmed with a Roland TB-303, the synth that some 5 years later would create the sound of acid house. Last but not least, he used the Roland Jupiter-8 keyboard, with which he generated psychedelic melody patterns and improvised the melodies of the ragas.

With its restrained minimalism and lack of cheesiness it is hard to believe Singh recorded and issued it in 1982. All that is essential to house is there: the hypnotic beat, the mesmerizing melodies. And the sound of the Roland synths give it that House sound and feel that some years later would captivate the world’s dance floors. On top of that the LP makes a consistent listen: all ten tracks are equally good, minimal and captivating.

Back then, the LP was far too experimental for Indian standards. Pressed quantities were tiny, and it took some 25 years before a few surviving copies emerged from the vast Indian subcontinent. Hearing the LP Re-released now, after almost 30 years, is an almost unreal experience. Not only was it way ahead of its time, but also today sounds animated, fluid and unabashedly alive. Singh set out to translate centuries old Indian ragas to the synthesizer, and invented house and acid house along the way, respectively 3 and 5 years before the first records in those genres were released in the West.


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