By Dr. Vishnu Bisram
Popular Indo-Caribbean emcee and disc jockey, Eshri Singh, has passed on. He died on Sunday morning April 25 at age 89.
Shri Eshri Singh, formerly of Guyana, has been a resident of Queens, New York, for the last four decades. Eshri had vast experience as an emcee and TV and radio host. He had versatile talent and was called the man with the golden voice.
While he worked mostly in Guyana and new York, he made guest appearances in Trinidad and Toronto. He had a huge following in Guyana and New York, even among Trinis, Jamaicans, Surinamese, and nationals from India. One can learn a lot from the legacy he has left behind in emceeing cultural shows.
Eshri was a legendary broadcaster in Guyana and in the US (among the diaspora), will be missed. He had a passion for broadcasting. Eshri has left a legacy of positive experiences in his homeland of birth and his adopted homeland. He was among the pioneers of broadcasting (for Indians) in Guyana. I grew up in Guyana listening to his radio programs during the 1960s and 1970s. He was enormously popular; there was hardly anyone who listened to (Indian) music and didn’t know his name. Eshri was a true master of his craft. Eshri had the gift of gab; few had such a pleasant voice that magnetically attracts one’s ears. He was gifted with a beautiful majestic voice. His voice was distinctive and recognizable. He was also spontaneous and entertaining. Besides a commanding voice, he had a charming personality and suave looks. He became one of the most sought-after hosts. While he was not as engaging, humorous, and vibrant like many other DJs or emcees, Eshri was versatile and adaptable to any program, be it formal or casual. He emceed both types of events. He engaged with audiences of all levels, making him a very much sought-after emcee. He communicated energy and excitement in his voice, which resonates with the type of atmosphere of the show.
Eshri kept the audience’s interests in programs very high while ensuring the smooth flow of cultural events or radio and TV programs. Some of his notable emceeing gigs includes various independence and republic day programs, festivals, commemorative events, and receptions of visiting Presidents of Guyana and Prime Ministers of Trinidad in NY.
Eshri had extraordinary talent and developed a remarkable broadcasting career, emceeing countless (Indian) concerts, and radio and TV programs in Guyana and America. Indians in Trinidad, UK, and Canada also knew him; he appeared on several Indian cultural programs in Trinidad including the popular Mastana Bahar singing and dancing contests. He related his Trinidad experience with me in chats we had. He spoke very fondly of the Mohammed clan of Mohammedville in El Socoro, Trinidad who were promoters of Indian culture (on radio and TV since the 1960s) on the island.
He contributed significantly to the institutionalization of Indo-Caribbean culture and community life among New York Indian Guyanese. He had a presence at countless cultural, religious, and community political events in the greater NY area. He was seen at events where Presidents Cheddi Jagan, Janet, Jagdeo, and Ramotar were main speakers. I do not think anyone emceed more events than him. I faintly recall his presence as a judge at a Miss Diwali pageant I organized decades ago. He also emceed charitable programs and was present at the annual Diwali and Phagwah parades in Richmond Hill. He was a professional. He worked very hard for success. He has always given the audience an enjoyable and memorable time.
Eshri, as we called him, had a mesmerizing voice that one could not forget. In fact, people would say he was the man with “the golden voice”. I can’t think of anyone who had a more pleasant and refined voice than him except in India and Trinidad. He brought great joy to audiences wherever he hosted or emceed musical programs or concerts and disc jockeying on radio and TV. His voice was also lent to promote numerous brand and product and their launches. I recall that his selection of music to air on radio or movie clippings shown on TV included several genres — classic, nostalgic, romantic, relaxing, old, and new. His emceeing can be aptly described as rhythmic, harmonic, hypnotic, tuneful, uplifting, breathtaking, captivating, masterful, stellar, and personable.
Tens of thousands grew up during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s listening on radio to his very distinct voice on programs that provided a staple of Bollywood music and songs with birthday requests. No one else had that magnificent, superfluous voice as he did during that period. Almost everyone I knew would tune in to his program. People used to pen requests for songs to be “played on air”. Phones were not available then (through the 1970s and 1980s).
Forbes Burnham’s institutionalized racism saw Eshri and so many of us escaping Guyana never to return for domicile. His departure from Guyana was a blessing for Guyanese in NY. He became a promoter of Indian culture in America. Although it was not a paid full time career, he approached his task with great enthusiasm. He was a serious broadcaster who was not much into joviality. He collaborated with other broadcasters to promote Indian culture in NY.
I first met Eshri in New York sometime in the late 1980s through Ramesh Kalicharran who used his business earnings to fund radio and musical programs and concerts. I had countless encounters with him thereafter at various events including cultural programs that I emceed or organized including the annual Indian Arrival cultural variety concerts in Richmond Hill. At first, Eshri appeared on radio programs hosted by other broadcasters before getting his own programs on radio and on TV. He was a weekly feature (Saturdays and Sundays) on TV for several hours. There is no question he was the best emcee and had countless followers. He also served as emcee for concerts and other community events.
My experiences with Eshri were very warm and friendly. I once engaged him at his home in Ozone Park with a friend (Ms. Tanman) who was visiting from Trinidad for Miss India Worldwide pageant and whose organization had hosted Eshri and his wife on the island. Eshri and his wife were very good hosts. He was very humble. His humility and his voice were his real power. His personal values included respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration with other broadcasters and gratitude to those who assisted him especially during his early years in America. He always had very kind words to describe Mr. Kali who sponsored Eshri’s trip to India. When Eshri accompanied Kali’s group on a tour to India more than a decade ago, I communicated with him daily for a report on the tour of which I penned several articles. He described that India visit as most inspirational, incredibly beautiful, fantastic, and unforgettable. He shared wonderful pictures.
In NY, Eshri condemned the Burnham government for marginalizing Indian culture and discriminating against Indians in employment practices. He was not very active in the movement in NY against the dictatorship. But he lent his moral support and his voice to those of us who led the struggle in the diapsora. He courageously spoke out against Burnhamism, the banning of foods critical to the Indian cultural diet, and restrictions on foreign currency for importation of Indian films and music.
Those who know him mourn the loss. Many pay generous tribute. Ralph Tamesh, President of Indo-Caribbean Federation, thanks him for hosting several community events. “He was an icon. His voice was unique and he is irreplaceable as an emcee. He promoted local content and trained youngsters interested in the profession and for that our community is most grateful”. Guyana Democracy Project President Dr. Tara Singh stated: “He was an inspiration for several generations. He had a golden voice and the kind of poise, grace, and tenacity needed in broadcasting and emceeing programs. I know him since his days as an insurance valuator during he early 1970s. He was a great guy who did fantastic work for culture”. Ashook Ramsaran, President of Indian Diaspora Council, said Eshri was “a broadcasting pioneer, providing a reassuring voice and connection at a time when so critically needed as the community was being established”.
As he was aging, in his later years, Eshri mentored his daughter and son in the profession, with both appearing on radio and TV for over a decade. He also helped others emcee confidently. Many have found their passion in chairing programs. But none of those he trained or his progeny could match his voice.
Although he was never recognized for his contributions to culture in Guyana, Eshri Singh belongs in a list of national honorees for his contributions to broadcasting in Guyana. He was honored by community organizations in NY. In my book, Eshri would be automatically inducted in any kind of ‘Hall of Fame’ for Guyanese or Caribbean or Indian broadcasters or emcees. He was excellent, outstanding. Thank you, Eshri Singh, for your lifelong contribution towards the music and culture of the Guyanese people and Indian diaspora in NY.
Condolences to his extended family and all those whom his voice touched. It seems trite to say that Eshri’s voice will be missed. But it’s true. He was a great broadcaster whose skill and trained voice should be emulated.