Ishri Singh played important role in cultural broadcasting

Dear Editor,
It is sad to read of the passing of Shri Ishri Singh. Ishri was a legendary broadcaster in Guyana and in the US. I fondly remember him growing up in Guyana thru 1977 and my many encounters thereafter in New York. He played an important role in cultural broadcasting in Guyana and in America in addition to making guest appearances in Trinidad and Canada.
He is remembered for his versatile talent and golden voice serving Indian communities for some sixty years. He was gifted with a beautiful majestic voice. Besides a commanding voice, he had a charming personality and suave looks. He became one of the most sought-after hosts in America for Indian Caribbean concerts, weddings, pujas, etc. He kept the audience’s interest in programmes very high while ensuring the smooth flow of cultural events or radio and TV programmes. Some of his notable emceeing gigs include various Independence and Republic Day programmes, festivals, commemorative events, and receptions of visiting Presidents of Guyana and Prime Ministers of Trinidad in NY.
He appeared on several Indian cultural programmes in Trinidad including the popular Mastana Bahar singing and dancing contests. 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 institutionalisation 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. He also emceed charitable programmes and was present at the annual Diwali and Phagwah parades in Richmond Hill. His voice was also lent to promote numerous brand and product and their launches.
Tens of thousands grew up during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s listening on the radio to his very distinct voice on programmes that provided a staple of Bollywood music and songs with birthday requests. Almost everyone I knew would tune in to his programme. People used to pen requests for songs to be “played on-air”. Phones were not available then (through the 1970s and 1980s). 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 hypnotic, tuneful, uplifting, breathtaking, and captivating.
Forbes Burnham’s institutionalised racism saw Ishri 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. Ishri appeared on radio programmes hosted by other broadcasters before getting his own programmes 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.
In NY, Ishri condemned the Burnham Government for marginalising 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 diaspora. He courageously spoke out against Burnhamism, the banning of foods critical to the Indian cultural diet, and restrictions on foreign currency for the importation of Indian films and music.
Those who knew him mourn the loss. 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 programmes.”
Although he was never recognised for his contributions to culture in Guyana, Ishri Singh belongs on a list of national honorees for his contributions to broadcasting in Guyana. He was honoured by community organisations in NY. In my book, Ishri would be automatically inducted in any kind of “Hall of Fame” for Guyanese or Caribbean or Indian broadcasters or emcees. Thank you, Ishri Singh, for your lifelong contribution towards the music and culture of the Guyanese people and Indian diaspora in NY.
Yours truly,
Vishnu Bisram