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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Asha Bhosle, "The Rough Guide to Asha Bhosle"

Asha Bhosle
"The Rough Guide to Asha Bhosle"
World Music Network (2003)

1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die

Lil' Wayne once claimed during an MTV interview that he had recorded more than one-million tracks in his lifetime. I have not counted Mr. Wayne's recordings, and I'm sure there are a few sitting forgotten somewhere, but I think it's safe to say that his statement is false. At any rate, the Guinness Book of World Record's acknowledged holder of most individual recordings is Asha Bhosle, the famed Bollywood songstress. Bollywood puts out a lot of movies, and the small pool of musical artists (also called playback singers) that studios worked with 50 years ago certainly helped her reach the top. Her tally at the moment is more than 12,000.

Unlike previous collections Moon has presented (hint, Louis Armstrong), the "Rough Guide to Asha Bhosle" is not every possible track from her career. At 16 songs, it's rather minuscule in scope. It does provide a good variety of the styles Bhosle has dabbled in however, mostly from soundtracks but also from solo albums. Fortunately for the World Music Network (and I'm going to catch hell for saying this), the songs that go into most Bollywood films are not too original in composition. It's not like what would happen if there were 12,000 Frank Zappa recordings.

I'll break down the contents of "Rough Guide" into three even rougher categories: traditional Bollywood, ghazals, and Western/Bollywood. What I label "traditional" make up the largest group, songs culled from Bhosle's work in the '50s to the late '70s. These tracks highlight the draws of Bhosle's voice, a combination of her flirtatious tone and incredible sustain. From this lot I'd recommend "Mera Naam Hai Shabnam," a 1970 track punctuated with bits of conversational come-ons. The "Western" songs tend to be the newer ones, combining traditional Indian instruments like the sitar and tablas with western touches, including new wave ambience in "Jawani Jan-E Man" and big band-style swing for "Ira Mira Dika." The best subset is the ghazals, a form of Pakistani ballad which bemoans lost love with rhyming couplets.

The best song on this album, and reportedly Bhosle's personal favorite, "Mera Kuchh Saaman" borrows from the latter two categories. On one hand, the slow and mournful style accentuates Bhosle's talent, but the free-verse lyrical approach also avoids settling into a rhyming pattern, somewhat throwing tradition to the wind, even by western standards. "Saaman" highlights a talking point of all her later work. As most singers age, alas, they lose their voice. Bhosle's pitch may have dropped a small measure, but there's no doubt she can carry that same flirtatious tone she made famous 40 years earlier.

The best thing about most compilations is that they give you a wide variety to choose from. "Slumdog Millionaire" fans will find upbeat tracks to dance to on "Rough Guide," and bluesier listeners will settle down in the ghazals. Plus, the relative shortness of this collection doesn't leave any excuse not to check it out. Bhosle is a legend in Indian music, and this is as accessible as her repertoire will get.

INTERESTING FACT: Bhosle, like many celebrities, owns a small restaurant chain throughout the U.K. and Middle East. Unlike many celebrities, she is also a good cook. Unlike probably all other non-food oriented celebrities, she personally trained the chefs at several of her restaurants.

Mera Kuchh Saaman (Some Of My Things) by Kronos Quartet & Asha Bhosle on Grooveshark

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