Lalchan “Rafi” Singh: Trinidad’s Songbird!

Lalchan “Rafi” Singh

By Dhanpaul Narine

Lalchan “Rafi” Singh is one of the most versatile singers to emerge from Trinidad and Tobago. He has cultivated a following over the years and remains a sought-after singer in the New York area. In addition to his singing talent, Lalchan is modest, personable, and has a wealth of information about the arts and social issues.

Lalchan was born in Tunapuna, in Trinidad and Tobago. His mom was Somaria and his dad was Girwar Singh, a sadhu from India. Girwar arrived in Trinidad in 1910 on the vessel “Matla Jahaj.” He was from Nandagao Barsana in Vrindavan and the port of entry was Mathura. On arrival in Trinidad, Girwar was assigned to work on Bodhoo Singh estate in San Fernando. He married Somaria and the union produced one child, Lalchan. Growing up in Trinidad was exciting for the young Lalchan. His dad took him to various religious functions and taught him Hindi, a language that Lalchan can read and write fluently. Girwar and Pandit Satnarine Panday worked closely and they would ask Lalchan to participate in the singing of bhajans.

Lalchan attended the Tunapuna Hindu School where the headmaster was Ramcharitar Rickey. He then went to the Tutorial School of Commerce in Morton Street where he learned Advanced Bookkeeping. Lalchan did a series of jobs that included delivering mails and collecting advertisements for some of the leading newspapers. He would listen to the radio and decided that he liked the Mohamed Rafi songs. He practiced hard and joined the Beena Sangeet orchestra where he did well. This led Lalchan to the Naya Zamana orchestra that was led by Narsaloo Ramaya. A street is named after Ramaya at the Diwali Nagar in Trinidad.

Lalchan “Rafi” Singh, winner of the 1971 Mastana Bahar. Here he sings at the 2023 Indian Arrival Day program in New York, sponsored by the Indo-Caribbean Federation.

The Naya Zamana orchestra gave Lalchan the opportunity to improve his singing talent. He teamed up with such notables as Myroon Mohamed, Jameer Hussain, Myadeen Akbarali, Terran Persaud, King Ratiram and Dolly Gulcharan. The late Kamaludin Mohammed, one-time right hand of Eric Williams, was the MC for Naya Zamana. It was Mohammed who gave the “Rafi” title to Lalchan. Lalchan credits the Yankaran family as being influential in his singing, especially Isaac Yankaran. In 1966, Lalchan’s idol, Mohamed Rafi, visited Trinidad. There was a ‘Rafi competition’ and Lalchan won it. The song was ‘Rakhwale’ from Baju Bawra and his prize was a trophy. This led him to sing with BWIA International and Dil-e-Nadan orchestras. In 1971, Lalchan was invited to sing in the Mastana Bahar where he won prizes in the preliminaries. He went on to win the competition and was awarded a motor car. This pleased his dad greatly.

Lalchan began working with Kirpalani’s in Frederick Street where he was assigned to the record department. In 1975, a most joyous event occurred in Lalchan’s life. He met the love of his life Parbatee. She was from Los Lomas. The marriage has produced two wonderful children, Narendra and Anju. Lalchan went on to own a record store which gave him the opportunity to meet with famous stars such as Zeenat Amman, Waheeda Rehman, Mehmood, and others. As a devoted son, he built a house for his parents.

In 1983, there was a momentous occasion in his life. Lalchan went to India to visit the spiritual guru, Sri Satya Sai Baba. He took the time to tour Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore. The meeting with Sri Satya Sai Baba was electrifying. Sai Baba looked at Lalchan and asked out of the blue, “You sing?” A book on the trip was published in 2005 called “Sparshan.”

Girwar Singh, is Lalchan’s father. He arrived in Trinidad from India in 1910 as an indentured servant.

Lalchan left Trinidad for the United States in 1994. He stayed in Richmond Hill and found a job at JFK Airport. He became friends with Jimmy Maharaj and soon he was singing in the mandirs and making CD’s. The community in New York has shown its appreciation for Lalchan. He is warmly received and given the respect as one that carries the culture in his bosom. Lalchan says he proud to connect with India. He knows the lyrics and the meanings of the Hindi words, thanks to his dad. This was evident in his performance at the Indian Arrival Day 2023 celebrations that was sponsored by the Indo-Caribbean Federation.

Lalchan excelled on stage and was accorded a huge round of applause.

Lalchan is grateful to the many persons that have helped to mold his career. His parents Girwar and Somaria remain icons in his life. He thanks singers Bansraj Ramkisoon and Latchman Bissoon for their guidance. Lalchan speaks highly of Pandit Reepu Daman Persaud of Guyana who was an inspiration to many. Apart from singing, Lalchan follows cricket. His favorite cricketers are Garfield Sobers, Rohan Kanhai, and Brian Lara. There is no doubt that Lalchan “Rafi” Singh has done much to put Indian culture on map in Trinidad and Tobago, and in New York. He is only too happy to sing at various events and to share his talents. We salute him for his contributions and wish him and his family all the best in the future.