Bappi Lahiri death: Bollywood's 'undisputed king of disco music' dies at 69

The singer and composer had been ill for a while and died of obstructive sleep apnoea, his doctor said

Bollywood singer and music composer Bappi Lahiri died at a Mumbai hospital on February 16. He was 69. AFP
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Singer and composer Bappi Lahiri, a path-breaking musician known for fusing Indian melodies with disco beats who found great success in the 1980s and 1990s, has died at the age of 69.

The Press Trust of India, which first reported the news, said Lahiri had been treated for several health issues at Mumbai's CritiCare Hospital, where he had been admitted for a month. He was discharged on Monday, but was taken back to the hospital after his condition worsened, and died on Wednesday morning.

"He died due to obstructive sleep apnoea shortly before midnight," a doctor told PTI.

Born Alokesh Lahiri to musician parents in West Bengal, Lahiri began playing the tabla when he was only 3. Already an established name in Bengali music by the time he was introduced to Hindi-language films, Lahiri's first Bollywood success was for the 1975 film Zakhmee. He followed it up with music for the 1976 romantic thriller Chalte Chalte. The film's title song was sung by Lahiri's uncle, Kishore Kumar, regarded as one of the greatest singers in Indian music.

Lahiri popularised the use of synthesisers and gained a huge following in the 1980s and 1990s for his disco hits. He also sang many of his compositions. His songs for the 1982 film Disco Dancer helped turn it into a blockbuster and led to the rise of then fledgling actor Mithun Chakraborty.

Known for his flamboyant personal style and trademark gold necklaces, Lahiri became something of a pop-culture symbol and his career peaked in the 1990s with major hits for films such as Thanedaar (1990) and Aankhen (1993). Lahiri also composed the music for 1995's Rock Dancer, featuring English pop singer Samantha Fox in her Bollywood debut, and included songs such as You Are My Chicken Fry.

His career began to dip in the noughties as musical tastes evolved, but Lahiri would continue to appear in a few film soundtracks as a featured singer. His last film as a solo music composer was 2014's Main Aur Mr. Riight, which was a commercial failure.

He joined Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014, but lost in the election that year.

Until recently, Lahiri had been promoting his son Bappa Lahiri, also a music composer, living in Los Angeles. In 2021, he featured in the music video for Bachcha Party, a rap song by his grandson Rego B.

β€œIt’s a deeply sad moment for us. Our beloved Bappi Da has left for heavenly abode last midnight. The cremation will take place [upon] the arrival of Bappa from LA tomorrow mid-morning. We are seeking love and blessings for his soul. We will keep you updated,” Lahiri's family said on Wednesday morning. The message was signed by his wife Gobind Bansal, son Bappa and daughter Rema.

Celebrities and politicians reacted to news of Lahiri's death, with Indian President Ram Nath Kovind calling him "a matchless singer-composer".

"His songs found popularity not only in India but abroad. His diverse range included youthful as well as soulful melodies. His memorable songs will continue to delight listeners for [a] long time. Condolences to his family and fans," Kovind tweeted.

Bollywood actor Neil Nitin Mukesh called Lahiri "the true King of Pop".

"There was and will never be anyone like you. Thank you for making our youth rocking," he posted.

Speaking to The Times of India, singer Shibani Kashyap said Lahiri's death was "a huge loss".

"He was not just a music legend but also a person who was like a guide, mentor and a family to me. I did many concerts with him," Kashyap said. "He was a very helpful, loving person with a great sense of humour. It was always a joy to be with him. He was the undisputed king of disco music in India."

Updated: February 16, 2022, 7:49 AM