What’s going on with this album? The Times Square site currently describes it like this:
75 YEARS OF ASHA is a journey through Ashaji’s career, featuring new recordings of her all time favorites, including songs made famous by these legendary female vocalists, who had a deep impact on Ashaji’s life. As an added bonus will be a song by another singer who Ashaji admired: Miriam Makeba. The song is being specially produced for Ashaji by Hugh Masekela.
But it isn’t. It isn’t a complete journey through Ashaji’s career, there doesn’t seem to be anything by Miriam Makeba, nowhere on the packaging do they mention Hugh Masekela, and my ears suggest that these aren’t new recordings of old favourites, they’re the original thing. The “Aao Na Gale Lag Jao Na” on this album is surely too close to the old one to be a reworking. The sound quality is crisper than in the YouTube clip below, but the singer’s inflections are recognisably the same. The same goes for “Dil Cheez Kya Hai”.
Perhaps the Miriam Makeba track will appear on the album Asha is putting out later this year, and the person writing the description got the two titles mixed up. Perhaps she performed the song live on her recent US tour but didn’t record it. Perhaps my ears and eyes are playing tricks on me. I’m not sure. A mystery.
A more accurate description would run something like this:
75 YEARS OF ASHA is a journey through some parts of Ashaji’s career, but not all of them. It features old recordings, along with two songs from the album Ashaji will be putting out some time between September and November this year. If you own a few western Asha compilations, then you’ll already be familiar with some of the old recordings. Others will seem new.
If the two new recordings are anything to go by, then the next album should sound something like her 2006 release Love Supreme, a two-disc set, one half ghazals, the other half love duets from Indian movies. On both songs her unhurried voice rides waves of instruments: gently hooting flutes, tinkles and sweeps of guitar, the deep, cupped notes of a drum. It’s a long way away from the songs that first brought her to the attention of the English-speaking world, the “Dum Maro Dums” and other ballsy, vivacious pieces from her filmi vamp phase, back in the 1960s and ‘70s, when the fallout of her divorce from a violent husband meant that she was left voicing the less virtuous, less prestigious onscreen characters.
The older recordings on 75 Years of Asha sit somewhere between the romance-paced pieces and the ballsier ones. There are characteristic Asha touches, those nimble trills and teases, but nothing as ruthlessly energetic as some of the other Asha songs you might have heard, such as 1956’s “Ina Mina Dinka”, or “One Two Three Baby”, that malapert 1968 duet with Mahendra Kapoor. There’s only one duet on this album, “Tari Vanki Re Paghaldo”, a Gujrati number in which she’s partnered with Veljibhai Gajjar. It has a harsher, folkier sound than most of the songs she performs in Hindi, and it’s interesting for that, for showing a side of Asha that is neither 1970s vamp-camp nor ghazal. Other tracks include “Jivalaga Rahile Re Door Ghar”, which coils forward with a hypnotic writhe, and “Le Gayi, Le Gayi”, which arrives in a barrage of electronic bangs and snaps.
The title seems to promise a concise one-disc career-encompassing retrospective, but if that’s what you want then you’re better off with the Rough Guide to Bollywood Legends: Asha Bhosle, which was compiled with help from Bhosle herself and her son Anand. The playlist covers a variety of styles, and there are liner notes for each song, while the notes for 75 Years of Asha are little more than a puff piece telling you how wonderful she is, which, if you’re buying this CD at all, is something you knew before you took it off the shelf.
This is a pity, because 75 Years, coming half a decade after the Rough Guide was released, is in a better position to evaluate her songs from the ‘90s, and ‘00s. Instead it concentrates almost entirely on the 1960s and ‘70s, two decades that have been ploughed over by other compilations before this. The exceptions are “Dil Cheez Kya Hai” and “Le Gayi, Le Gayi”, from 1981 and 1997 respectively, and of course, the two tracks from the new 2008 album, which seems as yet untitled. They refer to it simply as a “forthcoming Album of Asha Bhosle.” 75 Years is interesting for the non-Hindi songs, typically harder to find in foreign collections than the Hindi ones. Two of them are in Gujarati, two in Marathi, and then there’s a Bengali track called “Mohuay Jomecche Aaj Mou Go” which comes with some lovely, bottom-weighted switchback vowel-work.
This is not an essential Asha disc, not the cornerstone of a collection and not the place to start one, but worth it for the uncommon tracks, as long as you don’t mind buying duplicates of one or two songs you’ve possibly already got.
// Notes from the Road
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