By Laura Grande
As a longtime musician, Chet Singh still has stage fright.
“I think performing is somewhat terrifying,” he said. “For me, the greatest high is creating the piece. The reason I’m doing this is for the message I want to share.”
Despite his shy nature, Singh’s music and poetry is an extension of his activist nature.
“You are very vulnerable (on stage),” he said. “You are sharing something from deep within yourself. You are exposing yourself.”
Singh, 50, has been Centennial College faculty since 1996 – but he’s been a musician and poet for even longer.
“It started when I was a university student,” he said. “It was an outgrowth of student activism.
Back in the 1980s you saw the rise of neorealism, South African apartheid …in Canada you had a lot of racism through state institutions and First Nations issues were still not being addressed.”
Singh has been a musician since 1983-84, when he helped co-found the reggae/punk/Latin fusion band, One Mind – a group well known for their political lyrics. He’s also collaborated with reggae group, Dub Trinity. Singh has since gone on to record five albums, the most recent of which had a CD release party on Nov. 11th at the Smiling Buddha on College Street.
The political themes that enter Singh’s music are found in everyday news. He doesn’t have a particular creative process and will sit down and write his songs in a moment of sudden inspiration.
“Often, something will hit you,” he said. “An event or circumstance will trigger a strong emotional response.”
One of his earlier inspirations occurred while he was in the Human Rights Centre at York University. It was the Montreal Massacre in 1989.
“I had so many conflicting emotions,” he recalled. “(I thought about) what it is that leads to violence.”
The end result was his song “December 6th”, which he wrote in 2007. “I write based on triggers and social commentary,” he continued.
Singh is currently working towards his PhD, so his writing tends to come in random bursts of inspiration.
“I write sporatically,” he said. “I think we are all writers and I think we are all creators. For me, working in any institutional setting is soul-defeating.”
Although Singh feels his teaching profession is a rewarding experience, it’s the institutional surroundings that can be uninspiring.
“The only way to save our humanity is to be creative,” he said. “To be somewhat spiritual.”
Singh has a show coming up in January 2011 at Ellington’s Music and Café. An exact date has not yet been set. Check out Singh on his MySpace for more info.
Chet Singh’s new album, Recessionary Revolutionaries, can be purchased on iTunes or at any independent book/music store in Toronto (Another Story, Rotate This, Soundscapes, Toronto Women’s Bookstore and A Different Booklist). He collaborated with musicians Jarret Prescott from Fireflower Review and Rosina Kazi and Nicholas Murray from LAL.
The album can also be purchased from Singh himself and you will be given the option of buying the CD for $10 (which will go towards production fees and, once covered, the remaining money will be donated) or a free CD if you directly donate $10 worth of food to a food bank or environmental and/or human rights advocacy group. So far, 30 CDs have been donated towards the G20 defense fund.