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Understanding Chamkila by delving into his songs

Bobby Marwaha

For some people, like his critics, Chamkila is a notorious singer who promotes vulgarity, sexism, alcoholism, and illicit relationships through his songs. For his listeners, who enjoy his songs, he is their beloved singer and lyricist.

We are not a part of either of the groups. We will attempt to understand Chamkila’s songs and lyrics from the viewpoint of a learner of folklore and cultural studies. Music or songs are a medium of expression as well as a reflection of society. In that sense, Chamkila’s songs are indeed a treasure trove for folklorists, which helps them understand 1980’s society, its character, values, practices, and moralistic code then prevalent. In folklore studies, culture is classified mainly into two categories: high culture and low culture. The former represents the elite section of society, while the latter represents the masses. Furthermore, the crowd that often opposes his songs mostly belongs to the elite class, while those, i.e., the masses whose culture Chamkila depicts through his songs, feel themselves associated with his lyrics.

Chamkila intends to portray through his lyrics or music the folk or culture of the proletariat (low-income or worker class), and he, himself a part of the aforesaid milieu, was once a factory worker and later became a singer and lyricist who was often cursed by the bourgeoisie as a vulgar and truckers’ singer. It would not be fair to label an artist vulgar without understanding his or her work through the lens of his or her socio-economic status. It is quite apparent from his lyrics that his songs are not based on fiction but on reality and his experiences. It would not be an exaggeration to call him an empirical lyricist. Before censuring Chamkila’s songs, it needs to be understood what cause and effect are in this matter. Are Chamkila’s songs a cause that affects society, or rather, is it an effect that reminds society about the cause, i.e., the character of society?

Usually, alcoholism, illicit relationships, masculinity, sexism, and sometimes moralistic codes, values, and lessons of life are the core ideas of his songs. In this way, Chamkila attempts to present two sides of the same coin through his lyrics.

Let’s understand Chamkila through the verses of some of his songs, viz.

1) Adhi raat ghare tu varhda, ve kadh ditta diwala gharda, jamm ke rakhle darzan niyane nang-tadangey bhukhan bhaane: An alcoholic’s wife points to him as he comes back home at midnight, have bankrupted the family, gave birth to a dozen children, and have no money to provide them food and clothing. (The harsh reality of an alcoholic’s family suffering)

2) Sohneya viah karwake ve, sanu milda gilda rahin: A girlfriend dedicates the song to her male counterpart, who is going to be married, to continue meeting her after his marriage (expresses the illicit relationship; a girlfriend wants to maintain it even after the marriage of her beloved).

3) Chah de pateele vich khor de dali, maar ke ghasunn hune charh doon bali, amli di akh vekh lal-lal ni, teri gutt da bana doon hune vaal- vaal ni: In this verse, the protagonist (who is an alcoholic) asks his wife to put some intoxicant in the tea. Will sacrifice you with a punch, see the red eye of the alcoholic, and tear your braid into single hairs. (Apprises about the prevalence of domestic violence against women.)

4) Khaandey peendeyan nu vekh ke naa sadiye, Aandh te gawaand ch kade naa larhiye, Vairi ghare jaa ke vi kade ni khaayida, Sajjna de naal dhokha nahin kamayida: Here Chamkila gives the lessons of life: to not be jealous of somebody who is earning well, to not fight in the neighbourhood, to not eat from the foe, and to never cheat friends.

5) Meri-Meri kardeyan bandeya, bhull gya rabb, naa dardeyan bandeya, Laggnian aakhir dheriyan, paani deya bulbuleya ki buniyadan teriyan: In these verses, Chamkila reminds society that people are becoming more materialistic, even forgetting God and having no fear of him. You will be burned at last. You are like a water bubble. What is your base?

Traversing through the aforesaid verses of Chamkila’s songs, it can be witnessed that he not only presents one side of society but sheds light on the other facet as well. Is it justified to still call such an artist vulgar? However, it cannot be denied that both society and music influence each other, but an artist can never dare produce content that society considers irrelevant or obscene.

Keywords: Vulgar, Obscene, Folklore, Culture, Alcoholism, Sexism, Moralistic Code, Masculinity, Truckers’ Singer.


References Or Sources

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Bobby Marwaha is working as Assistant Professor of Public Administration at Government College Mahain, Sri Anandpur Sahib, Rupnagar, Punjab since December, 2021. He is currently studying folklore and cultural studies. He belongs to Amritsar.

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