Kumari Kanchan Dinkerao Mail sang one of the biggest disco hits of the 1980s, “Laila O Laila” (Qurbani, 1980), but not under that long-winded name. She is better known as Kanchan of the Babla & Kanchan Orchestra, which she formed with her husband.
Born in 1950, Kanchan’s career as a playback singer began in 1974, when music composers Kalyanji-Anandji gave her a break in the devotional film Har Har Mahadev. She sang the bhajan “Paiyan Pade Parvati.”
The next year, Kanchan sang the romantic duet “Tumko Mere Dil Ne Pukara Hai” by Kalyanji-Anandji in Rafoo Chakkar. Shot with Rishi Kapoor and Neetu Singh, the song gained popularity and familiarised listeners with her voice. In 1975, Kanchan followed the hit trail with “Kya Khoob Lagti Ho” in Dharmatma for the same composer duo. She sang exclusively for them in the films Chori Mera Kaam (1975), Kalicharan (1976) and Atithee (1978).
In 1980, Kalyanji-Anandji composed the music for Qurbani, but their soundtrack was nearly usurped by guest composer Biddu, who introduced the Pakistani singer Nazia Hassan in the song “Aap Jaisa Koi.”
Although “Laila O Laila” was plagiarised from “Chicano” by the African funk band Black Blood, it gave Kanchan a boost as a stage performer. She earned a Filmfare Best Playback Singer nomination, which she lost out to Nazia Hassan. Yet, the success of the song set into motion extensive tours across the world with Babla. They met record producer Rohit Jaggesar and released an album called Kuch Gadbad Hai (1984), mixing Indian dholaks with Caribbean drums. It was very popular in the West Indies and was considered a milestone in the chutney music genre, which blends Caribbean, Bhojpuri and Western sounds.
Kanchan had a string of hits such as “Kaise Bani”, “Tiny Winy” and “Leggo Me Na Raja” in the Caribbean. While fame followed her elsewhere, she lost out in Bollywood. After Qurbani, she sang for only two films, one of which was “Sapno Ki Duniya Hai” in Hero Hiralal (1988), in which she makes an appearance.
Kanchan died in 2004. “Laila O Laila” is being remixed for the upcoming film Raees, and will feature Shah Rukh Khan and Sunny Leone. A fitting tribute, perhaps.