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Jesus in Bollywood
Rev Thomas Singh preaches the Lord's word at the Anglican Holy Trinity Church in Biscot, Luton. As the parish vicar for the past seven years, his day is divided between pastoral duties and the chores of administration. As father to four daughters, Rev Singh's day also involves ferrying his girls around, and it was while he was on one of these errands, two years ago, that a tune suddenly popped into his head. Within minutes he had composed a whole song.
Now, two years later, he has a 14-song CD in Hindi titled Gospel Bollywood: Journey of a Saviour and he's currently looking for a label to release it in India. "I felt like god was inspiring me to write, " says Rev Singh of that afternoon. "I've been writing these songs for two years and composing music for them. The melody was so Bollywood in nature that I felt it would be a good idea to record it. "
Not a trained musician, Rev Singh has composed the music all by himself - with god's help, of course. "I fool around on the guitar and the tabla, but I haven't received any formal training whatsoever, " he says.
The Hindi version - there's an 8-song English version as well - has the who's who of the industry singing. There's Jagjit Singh, Anup Jalota, Roop Kumar Rathore, Kumar Sanu, Sadhna Sargam, Alka Yagnik and many other recognisable names.
To record the album, Rev Singh had to travel to Mumbai and needed £20, 000 and three months to do so. "Because god has inspired me, I wanted to give something back and I thought to myself that I must get these songs recorded to the best of my abilities, " he says.
His predominantly white parish came together to help the 49-year-old raise the money. A 15-mile-long sponsored walk - "It was a lot of fun" - and funding from charities was enough to kickstart the musical odyssey from Luton to Mumbai. With no knowledge of Mumbai or its ways - his family has been in the United Kingdom since 1974 - Rev Singh landed in India's commercial capital in January this year with a few leads but abundant faith. Fate led him to the music arranger, Paresh Shah. "Pareshji is an industry veteran, " says Singh. "He knew whom to call and he managed to get everybody on board for this project. "
Shah, who was introduced to Rev Singh through a common friend, is one hundred per cent sure that gospel Bollywood is a "great idea". "Usually, gospel music is too devotional in nature, made on the threefour rhythm, but Thomasji's compositions were typical filmi, " Shah says. "Every song is different and should work well everywhere, whether in Mumbai or in Manchester. "
The 14 tracks - 12 of which have been penned by the vicar himself - are on two CDs and include a qawwali and a ghazal by the Urdu poet Nida Fazli. The overarching theme is love: love of Yeshu. Rev Singh is quick to dispel fears that the album will sound like Bollywood-themed jagran songs. "These aren't songs sung on a popular Bollywood tune, " he clarifies. "These are original tunes that sound like Bollywood numbers. " Love or fear of god also made sure that everybody involved charged less than their normal rates.
While Rev Singh managed to get almost everyone he wanted on the album, his dream of getting the great Lata Mangeshkar to sing remains a dream. "I was told there's a long line of producers though I did get to meet her, " he says.
Though an English version wasn't planned initially, the clergyman was told that his English-speaking audience shouldn't be neglected. A couple of people were approached but many felt that Rev Singh was best suited to write the lyrics. The English version, which is available in Luton, has the pastor doing the vocals. "People love it here, " he says. "The Church Times has written about it and I have received a lot of positive feedback. "
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