I woke up to receive a horribly shocking email from my cousin in India a few days ago that Amit Saigal had passed away at the age of 46. Amit deeply impacted music in India, developing the rock scene there for the past 25 years through the publication of his magazine, Rock Street Journal, and through the endless support and promotion of Indie rock musicians. He was affectionately known as “Papa Rock.” Amit also had a major impact on me, and my relationship with my Motherland.
I met Amit in November 2003 when my jazz group (Rez Abbasi, Steve Welsh, Gary Wang) was invited to perform at the Jazz Yatra Festivals in Mumbai and Delhi. Amit and his team, which included Sam Lal, were handling production for the Delhi festival. I wasn’t aware just yet of Amit’s trailblazing contributions to the Indian music scene, but regardless we clicked and instantly became good friends. The day I met him, Amit set up 2 more local club gigs for my band and started introducing me to musicians in Delhi.
I already knew that performing in India was going to be a profound experience for me. It had been a dream of mine since age 19 and now with nearly a dozen of my family members watching me perform for the very first time, hearing my jazz rendition of a Jain Bhajan, it was a sense of validation. A bridge between cultures had finally been completed. I’ve always felt somewhat embarrassed for not being fluent in Punjabi or Hindi, but now I was communicating through music to the very land I had been yearning to connect with for much of my upbringing. Amit was there on that very day sharing in this experience with me and subsequently arranged 2 more tours for me in India. The last tour Amit arranged for my group was through Punjab, where my family comes from. I remember playing a song I had written and emulating the dhol on my drumset, and everyone bounced up and started dancing Bhangra. It was an amazing experience for me, and all made possible through the gracious support of Amit Saigal.
Amit was one of those guys that months could go by without being in touch or seeing one another, but as soon as I would step foot back in India, he was there to meet me within hours, and we’d pick up like great friends do….like no time had passed. There are so many great moments I think about with him: his hilarious Raghupati lyrics, crashing at his pad, singing Beatles songs, visiting the Rock Garden in Chandigarh, hanging with Talvin Singh till the wee hours in Delhi, fully funtastique, setting up dhol lessons for me, and meeting and hanging with so many wonderful musicians in Delhi. But above all, I’ll always remember Amit Saigal for deepening my connection to my Motherland. You will be greatly missed.