Kids Corner


Where The Turban Meets The Kimono:
Sarbjit Singh Chadha





This smiling 60-year-old man, who can effortlessly pair his turban with a kimono, is the first non-Japanese singer of Enka, a  genre of Japanese songs that can be compared to ghazals for their slow, meaningful melody.

Sarbjit Singh Chadha owes a lot to the turban. It is the reason why the Land of the Rising Sun warmed up to him, why every Sardar in Japan is known as Chadha and why he is now known in the country as the Dancing Sikh.

How a Sardar moved towards Enka and earned his spurs in the genre is a long story.

Sarbjit Singh, who first set foot in Japan in 1968 to learn how to cultivate oranges, felt alienated not only from fellow students at the agriculture institute but also society: he recalls women waking up their slumbering children to point out the boy with the turban. But while he received no sympathy from his teacher Iefuji Sensei in whom he confided his experiences, it was the latter who subtly nudged Sarbjit into integrating with Japanese society -- he bought him a Japanese alphabet book and asked him to learn it on his own.

Soon, Sarbjit not only gained mastery over the language but also learnt to express himself through Enka, the perfect outlet for his bottled feelings. This entailed various sessions with his shisho (mentor) that were marked by "lots of hard work and lots of drinking Sake after". Like ghazals, Enka too bears the melancholy of romance, pain, separation, sadness and, at times, mischief.

After returning to India, Sarbjit Singh found no future in orange cultivation ("It was a tax shelter then") and began working as an interpreter in the hope of going back to Japan. A generous client, who owned a snake farm in Japan, asked him to accompany him along with a few snake charmers and a dancer. There, with help from a friend, Sarbjit set up his own business that would allow him a longer visa period and the chance to hone his musical skills. His vocal scale even impressed a music producer enough to dub his style 'Himalaya Enka'.

However, the brand of a turbaned man who sang Enka even better than some of the Japanese wasn't automatically saleable. Sarbjit had to become a spectacle first via the role of a television comedian. Soon, his records started to sell, requests for concerts poured in and many more TV appearances followed.

"I even met my wife Kyoko there," says Sarbjit, who then stopped singing for over 25 years to concentrate on his business. Japan does not respect those who juggle two jobs.

In 2008, Sarbjit got a call from Japan, asking him to lift the spirits of a nation drowning in the economic effects of recession. He did so through a pop version of Enka, the video of which shows him dressed in a floral shirt and white blazer. Soon his exotic appeal opened many doors. "I became an ambassador,"  says Sarbjit, who took Indian curry for Tsunami victims in Tokamachi in Japan and even sang heartrending songs. He even raised Rs 15 lakh for Tsunami victims by performing Enka at the Hilton in Delhi and Chennai.

His beard has now turned grey and his celebrityhood in Japan is over 35 years old, yet, Sarbjit secretly hopes that his songs will melt away the myths about the country that gave him fame and a wife. "It is not an expensive nation and, yes, you can find food that is 100 per cent vegetarian," he says, adding that one of the Japanese dance forms resembles the bhangra. Many Japanese words, he says, have their roots in Tamil, and his wife, who speaks both Hindi and Tamil, finds that Chennai is similar to Japan as it is also "relaxed, fun and full of greens". 


[Courtesy: Times of India. Edited for]

March 18, 2013


Conversation about this article

1: Roop Dhillon (Reigate, United Kingdom), March 18, 2013, 3:04 PM.

Good stuff.

2: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), March 18, 2013, 4:24 PM.

Send a Sikh even to Timbuktu, he will come out smelling of roses despite the thorns.

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Sarbjit Singh Chadha "

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