The moment a tumbi was strummed in the Baar Baar Dekho trailer almost a month ago, just as a chiseled Katrina Kaif showed tireless diligence towards synchronised moves alongside Siddharth Malhotra, there was a familiar feeling. Originally composed by Punjabi composer Prem Hardeep, the high adrenaline, touched up version of Kaala chashma — a two decade-old ditty which is currently rocking the charts, has turned out to be kind of spry, seasoned with occasional yelps, back spinning and quite some swag looped into Indeep Bakshi’s rap, Aakriti Kakkar’s nasal voice, and composer Badshah’s beats. It hits and smashes and with enough glamour from Kaif, the song has the 20 somethings bonding inside clubs and on social media alike. The piece has caught enough bandwidth (more than 60 million views already) so much so that that the audience is likely to walk in for the song if not for the Karan Johar production.
The untreated tumbi piece, the sharp voice with its vibrato and the loops are all in place. Just like they were, when the song was originally recorded in a makeshift Jalandhar studio almost two decades ago. The song stayed on, becoming a favourite at weddings and local events in Punjab. It was again brought to life almost a decade ago by music producer Baljit Singh Padam aka Dr Zeus, who took it to the UK, in turn exciting the diaspora in the English-land.
But what’s little-known is that Kala chashma, the song that’s igniting almost all street parties and clubs around currently, has been sung by a folk singer named Amar Arshi, who sings at local jagrans and weddings in Punjab. The song has helped the singer through this “re-created” version by way of increase in the amount of money he makes during his performances, especially the few that take him to Australia and the UK — two countries with considerable Punjabi population. The number of his shows, says Arshi, has also increased “I’m really happy that the song is doing so well and has come back into the limelight yet again. But people who know me ask me, why is your name nowhere there despite your voice being there? I wish they’d given some prominent credit,” says Arshi, in a telephone conversation from Jalandhar, a few minutes before getting on the stage.
Arshi, a few months ago, was asked by the owner of Angel Records — a Punjab-based music label — to re-record one of his most popular pieces so that an advertisement could be made out of it. “I did get some basic recording money then. They said they would use 10 seconds from it for some advertisement. Later, someone from Bombay studios, where the song was being reworked by Badshahji, told me that my song is being converted into something bigger. But no one really asked me for anything, certainly no permission. I heard it exactly how you or the rest of the nation did,” says Arshi, who has no idea if he is to get royalty for the song. “Dekho ji kuch dende ne agar. (Let’s see if they give something),” says 47-year-old Arshi, who is often seen in local music videos singing with his wife, folk singer Narenderjyot Kaur.
Growing up in a poverty-stricken family in the village Nangal Majja, in which no one was interested in music, Arshi taught himself by listening to folk songs sung by legendary Punjabi singers such as Gurdas Mann, Surinder Shinda and Kuldeep Manak, regular on All India Radio Jalandhar. This was until he found a guru in popular singer Amar Singh Chamkeela. “I would find myself at his office at 4 am and sing for him, learn from him. Whatever I know is because of him,” says Arshi, whose parents didn’t appreciate the idea of a career in music and would often ask him to do something “constructive”. “My mother would constantly get irritated when I would play the harmonium. But I wouldn’t budge,” says Arshi, for whom Kala chashma, 20 years ago, was one of the 10 songs being recorded to be taken to England. “I was excited that some music producers were actually recording me. I sang with all my heart,” says Arshi, who didn’t get any money for the song then. “I would get happy if I got paid in those days. I was okay if I didn’t,” says Arshi, who is happy that at least people in Punjab are recognising that his voice exists in a Karan Johar film.
“It’s funny that people are asking me to sing Kala chashma at maata ka jaagrans now. I tell them this is not the place for a song such as this and do not oblige,” says Arshi, just when its time to get on the stage. The opening piece is, well, the earworm that has most Punjabi music lovers in a tizzy. “They’ll hear my version of it. The original one,” he says.
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