One thing is certain: you cannot talk about pop music in India without mentioning Asha Bhosle (respectfully known as Ashaji by her legions of fans). Singing thousands of songs over the decades, this singular woman has been the voice behind hundreds of Bollywood heroines. Though the majority of her songs are in Hindi, she has sung in several other Indian languages including her mother tongue, Marathi, and Gujarati, Punjabi, and Tamil. According to Anand, her son and manager, Asha Bhosle has recorded more than 13,000 songs, making her the most recorded artist in the world.
Known for her versatility as a “playback” singer, Ashaji has demonstrated an extreme versatility in her style that keeps fans wondering what persona she will adopt next. Over the years, she’s run the gamut from the courtesan singing classical Urdu poetry to the sultry and spunkified go-go singer of the 1960s. She’s sung bebop-rocking tunes marked by rhythms of a steely snare drum with electric guitar riffs, and she’s been a bold young woman dressed in black leather to impress the men at a Bombay club with athletic gyrations.
In a phone interview conducted in Hinglish (a combination of Hindi and English), Ashaji commented on the process of producing a “playback” song. “First, the music director would teach me the tune. Before recording, I would ask, ‘who is the artist? who will perform the song?’ Then in my heart, I would think about her face. How are her mannerisms? Then I would hope to sing a song that would suit her—one that would not seem strange for them.” In the recording studio, she says, “I did not regularly interact with the actresses. But actresses like Asha Parikh, Madhubala, and Helen (heroines of Indian cinema of the 1960s), would come to the recording, they would sit and chat. Back then, the recording process was not as separate from the shooting (of the film). This is why that time was nice. The artist and singer would spend some time together. These days, the singer and the actresses have no interaction.”
Asha Bhosle was born into a family of musicians in 1933, and it was no doubt that her life would be filled with singing. Describing her musical influences, Ashaji first cites her father, Dinanath Mangeshkar (“he was a big drama artist and singer”). A renowned classical singer and owner of a theatrical company, Dinanath began teaching her from the age of five, along with her older sister and legendary singer, Lata Mangeshkar. Lata soon began to navigate the evolving musical industry in an effort to help support the family, and Ashaji soon followed suit. In 1944, Ashaji acted and sang in the Marathi film, Maajha Baal.
Though subsequently she appeared in only two other films, it was the beginning of her career in the world of cinema. This was the dawn of India’s film industry—a time when the notion of the playback singer was being explored. Lataji maintained dominance as India’s top female playback singer for more than fifty years, and it was under her shadow that Asha had to strive for recognition.
The story of the two sisters' rivalry is one that has been dramatized in the Indian imagination through films, stories, and gossip columns, yet rarely spoken about by the two women themselves. Though the Indian film industry has gone through hundreds of actors, directors, and a range of technological advancements, one of the few consistent elements have been the screen voices that have accompanied the heroines of Indian cinema. Lataji dominated the genre in the Golden Age of cinema: it was her voice that was behind the heroines of hundreds of the film classics from the 1950s through the 1970s. Her voice came to represent the classic voice of Indian womanhood. Meanwhile, Ashaji, who was known to be a fan of Elvis, Earth Wind and Fire, and the Rolling Stones, was more open to a variety of roles, singing for the range of characters
Founded ten years ago by Mark Allen, The Bollywood Brass Band is Europe’s first Indian wedding ensemble: two trumpets, three saxes, two trombones, tubas, and three drummers. It’s the kind of group that makes a point of rudely awakening a bridegroom at sunrise on his wedding day by playing rip-roaring Bollywood tunes outside his bedroom window.
One of the most interesting and creative projects to come out of the British world- music nexus, Emergency Exit Arts, the group started as a street band, cavorting in multicolored costumes, playing weddings, parades and open-air festivals, especially the Indian festival of Diwali.
The idea of a brass band dedicated to the celebration of Bollywood film music may seem a little hard to sell, but this is a blistering display of musical virtuosity and sheer unadulterated coolness. Its first album, The Bollywood Brass Band, featured performers from Trans-Global Underground, Fun Da Mental, and the top Bhangra band, Alaap. The band also featured dhol player Johnny Kalsi, better known for his membership in the Dhol Foundation and his appearances with Peter Gabriel’s Afro-Celt Sound System. That debut album presented a rousing, foot-tapping music that owed a debt to Hollywood film scores, too. Imagine the theme from The Big Country given a strange Anglo-Asian spin and a funky drum rhythm, and you may begin to get an idea of the territory that this music inhabits. The songs range from traditional numbers played by the great Shyam brass band from Jabalpur to arrangements of the latest Bombay movie hits. The songs manage to be funny and stylish and with an intoxicating contemporary dance club sound.
Watch out for the brand-new album Rahmania, which celebrates the greatest of all Indian film composers, AR Rahman, whose eclectic mixture of traditional and modern forms perfectly suits the band's own approach. Full of raw energy and color, the new album uses tabla drums and studio-recording techniques to produce a thrilling range of sounds..
Warning to sleepy bridegrooms: The Bollywood Brass Band still does weddings!--Graham Henderson
The Bollywood Brass Band (BOLLCD 2001, Emergency Exit Arts) features the famous Samba Bhangra remix "Gur Nalon Ishk Mitha." Distributed by Stern’s Music.
Rahmania - The Bollywood Brass Band play the music of AR Rahman (BOLLCD 2002, Emergency Exit Arts). Distributed via mactwo@BMG and in the U.S. by Rerooted Media, 2836 W. Balmoral Ave., Chicago, IL 60625. E-mail:Imbizo@aol.com