Saturday, April 19, 2008

Asha Bhosle Returns: The Voice of Bollywood, in the Flesh

New York Times
April 19, 2008
Music Review | Asha Bhosle
The Voice of Bollywood, in the Flesh

“I sing everything,” Asha Bhosle told an adoring audience at Carnegie Hall on Thursday night, and she was not exaggerating.

Ms. Bhosle, who turns 75 in September, is probably the most recorded singer in history. As the voice of Bollywood musicals — called a playback singer, because actresses sing and dance while her vocals are heard — and a queen of South Asian pop, she has recorded more than 12,000 songs in a career that dates to 1943. (One of her few rivals is her older sister, Lata Mangeshkar, another hugely prolific playback singer. At Carnegie Hall Ms. Bhosle sang one of her sister’s hits, “Lag Ja Gale.”)

Ms. Bhosle has sung Indian classical and semiclassical styles and all the culture-hopping pop hybrids that Bollywood composers have devised. Bollywood music is wonderfully multifarious; there’s no telling what might show up in a song, from traditional tabla rhythms to funk guitars to synthesizers. Ms. Bhosle’s Carnegie Hall set encompassed the pristine, unaccompanied Hindustani classical-style singing as well as styles from across India and twists on disco, rock, polka, waltzes and Latin music.

They all found room for her voice: high, clear, sweet and girlish even now. It can hover in the weightless, long-breathed, intricately rippling phrases of classical style or push, lightly but firmly, over a danceable beat, whether it’s Eastern or Western or a mix. Through her career Ms. Bhosle has collaborated not just with film composers but also with Indian classical musicians, like Ali Akbar Khan, and with Westerners from Boy George to Michael Stipe of R.E.M. to the Kronos Quartet.

Ms. Bhosle can also sing in many of India’s languages. For the many Bollywood actresses who have lip-synched to it, her voice has been innocent, flirtatious, heartbroken, naughty or reverent.

Although Ms. Bhosle has spent much of her career as an unseen voice, she is at home onstage. Barefoot in a glittering white sari — and later in regal saffron and pink — she was elegant and playful, whether reminiscing about learning to sing in classical style from her father, the singer and actor Dinanath Mangeshkar, or twirling a wrist in graceful dance gestures.

Sharing the concert with her was Amit Kumar, a singer and actor who is the son of Kishore Kumar, the Bollywood actor, director and singer with whom Ms. Bhosle recorded 656 duets. Amit Kumar sang his father’s hits, including a few duets with Ms. Bhosle — love songs — in which she danced him across the stage.

Near the end of the concert Ms. Bhosle unfurled a pink and saffron scarf, matching her sari, and within seconds expertly tied it around her head in a Sikh-style turban. The beat picked up into the earthy 4/4 of Punjabi bhangra, while she traded long, improvisatory phrases with a keyboardist.

Then the beat moved toward the Caribbean as the band plunged into a riff straight from Santana. In the finale, “Dum Maro Dum” — an award-winning song from a 1971 film — she sang “Hare Krisha” over a hand-clapping, galloping beat and wailing rock lead guitar: devotional, frisky and joyfully cosmopolitan.

SEE ALSO: NPR Story on Bhosle's tour.

No comments: