Janki bai/ Chappan Churi
Jankibai was born in Banaras in 1880. Her father Shivbalakram was a wrestler from the Ahir caste. Her mother was Manaki. Shivbalakram abandoned his wife and daughter, but Manaki sold her house and came to Allahabad with the help of a lady in Banaras, who then sold both Manaki and Janki to the owner of a well-known kotha. When the owner died, Manaki began running the kotha. As a child, Janki was fond of music and her mother had noticed her talent. She appointed Hassu Khan of Lucknow as a teacher on a monthly salary of Rs. 2000.
Jankibai had been attacked 56 (read as ‘chhappan’ in Hindi) times with a ‘chhuri’ (small knife), and hence was called ‘Chhappan Chhurivali’.
She was invited to perform by many royal patrons including the princely state of Rewa. She was a contemporary of Gauhar Jan of Calcutta. They were good friends and sang together even in 1911, when King George V visited Allahabad. He was pleased with their performance and gave 100 guineas to them. She was also a lyricist and composed many songs. A collection of her songs has been published in a book ‘Diwan-e-Janki’ from Allahabad. She was a vaggeyakar - a person who writes, composes and sings songs. She became very famous and led a prosperous life in Allahabad. She had appointed special teachers to learn Urdu, Persian, Sanskrit and even English. She was very religious and donated food and clothing and built many dharmashalas (resting houses) in Allahabad.
Due to her popularity, the Gramophone Company decided to record her on discs. During the period 1907 to 1929, she cut over 250 songs on 10" shellac discs revolving at 78 rpm. Initially, she recorded in the ‘acoustic’ era, but later she was also recorded using ‘electrical’ equipment. The vocal compositions are in Hindustani and Urdu and largely contain raagdaari music and forms like dadra, hori, kajri, chaiti, bhajan, ghazal, among others. She was paid Rs. 250 for twenty songs at the beginning of her recording career. Towards the end of her recording career, she received Rs. 5000 for twenty songs. These recordings were made at Allahabad, Lucknow, Delhi and Kolkata. She announced her name at the end of the song as: ‘Mera Naam Jankibai of Ellahabad’. In many songs, she has sung this in the notes of the raag that she recorded.
The area near record stores in Allahabad was crowded by record buying public whenever the new stock of her discs was on put on sale. Print order of many of her records crossed 25,000 copies.
She died in 1934 and has left behind her voice in disc records. In 1994, some of her songs were reissued in the ‘Chairman’s Choice’ series on audio-tape (CMC 882524).