Jayashree Singh, Skinny Alley and PINKNOISE Singer, Passes Away
Kolkata music community shocked by the death of one of the earliest voices in rock
The vocalist extraordinaire of Kolkata rock and one of the best memorable female singers in Indian rock, Jayashree Singh from bands such as Skinny Alley and PINKNOISE, passed away after battling cancer. The singer was in her 60s and residing in Chennai for the past year, receiving treatment.
Singh and her husband Gyan Singh – the veteran bassist, who passed away In 2012 – started out in rock music in the Seventies, before finally settling on writing original music in the mid-Nineties and formally creating Skinny Alley in 2001. Completed by guitarist Amyt Datta, keyboardist Jeffrey Menezes and drummer Jeffrey Rikh, they released their debut album Escape the Roar in 2003.
As the voice of Skinny Alley, Singh brought emotion as well as sophistication like few other vocalists, just as the band too traversed rock, funk, jazz and blues. She originally received training in Carnatic music, but took to jazz vocals after being mentored by Kolkata’s veteran voice Pam Crain. Singh told Times of India in 2015 about Crain, “She changed the way I looked at singing and taught me how to sing, how to use the mic, how to dress and how to behave on stage. […] Most importantly, she taught me how to listen…to those intricate nuances that go into creating the tapestry of music.”
They released their lo-fi, loud second album Songs from the Moony Boom in 2007. By then, Jayashree, Gyan and the avant-garde genius of Amyt Datta had already formed PINKNOISE, which they called the “late-night alter-ego” of Skinny Alley.
PINKNOISE not only featured the esoteric drumming of Jay and Gyan’s son Jivraj Singh (also part of dream pop duo Parekh & Singh), but also typified just how quirky and eccentric Kolkata rock can be. PINKNOISE, who released Dance of the Diaspora in 2014, were all about storytelling, but this time through jazz, electronica, punk and even industrial.
Vocalist Suman Sridhar wrote about Singh for our Women of Indian Rock special in 2015, “The sheer brilliance of her phrasing conjures up the imperceptible depths of our histories, identities and lives as post-colonial bacchas. We might otherwise be orphans in a jungle without the goddess leading us in an oft-merry dance of the diaspora — PINKNOISE’s new album has held my hand and stolen my heart. Jayashree Singh offers us priceless nuggets of humour, folly and the indomitable courage of experimentation. The voice of ‘Kasturi Amma’ indeed summons me to an “old bad new good” place I can call home. Yes, “nothing old will do”, only the ever-lasting and ever-changing Jayashree Singh.”
Kolkata guitarist Bodhisattwa Ghosh, a student of Datta, calls both Jayashree and Gyan Singh his “heroes.” He adds, “Jayashree di has been like a mother to me. It’s such a shock. Musically, when The Dance of the Diaspora came out, that’s a pathbreaking album for me. It changed my life and the way I look at music. I can’t tell you how indebted I am to her. I can’t fathom this right now. She’s always been there for me, every step of the way.”
Jivraj Singh’s bandmate and a family friend of the Singhs, Nischay Parekh told Rolling Stone India, “Jayashree Singh was a mother to me. A role she may have played for many artists from this country. However I literally have eaten 32 percent of all the meals in my life at her wonderful apartment, which is only a two-minute walk from my home. She’s been an educator, guide, mentor and above all a sounding board for the dreams that I cook up with her son, Jivraj. I have lost a parent and we have lost one of the great singers and songwriters that this country has ever produced.”
The singer-guitarist shared his favorite memory of Singh, saying, “I would be searching for a song in her music room, fiddling on guitar and she would walk in close her eyes and sit across from me. The song always miraculously came to life. She didn’t need to say anything, I always just wanted to impress her and play her a good song.”
Watch PINKNOISE perform “Bumble Bee”