Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Musical Adventurer: Asha Bhosle

"Film music is good," Asha Bhosle once said. "But only [non filmi] albums give you enough of an outlet for your own creativity."

Asha Bhosle, more than any other major Indian film singer has searched for opportunities to give her silvery voice non-filmi settings. She’s sung with Michael Stipe of REM, been the subject of a Top Forty hit (Brimful of Asha), recorded with America’s premier and most innovative classical string ensembles, the Kronos Quartet ,as well as sung with many Pakistani artists.

In 1984 when she was still almost unknown outside of India and the South Asian diaspora Asha hooked up with a couple of English pop musicians and made a record of startling originality.  Even with the passage of thirty years its creativeness still stands.

The name of the group was West India Company. It comprised Stephen Luscombe, a synth-pop musician with a series of hits under his belt with his group Blancmange, and an early pioneer of the British Asian pop underground, percussionist Pandit Dinesh. The music was classic 1980’s pop with swirling layers of voices, agitated electro beats, drum programs, hopping bongos overlaid with Asha Bhosle’s voice.

The songs mixed religious chants (Ave Maria/Om Ganesha) with spiritual disco (Thieves of Our Lovers Life). The music, as one wag described it, was ‘Catholic, Hindu, latin, dance music.’
Asha Bhosle

When Stephen Luscombe was 11 years old he would regularly tune into Radio 4 and listen to a programme called “Make Yourself at Home” where requests were  played invariably for the UK’s Indian community.

It was on this programme that Stephen first heard the voice of Asha Bhosle. Intrigued by the singer’s tender passion when singing Indian love songs and impressed by Asha’s vocal gymnastics on more contemporary tunes, Stephen was immediately hooked on a form of music rarely heard at the time in England.

Stephen Luscombe’s avid interest in Indian music was to stay with him even when he formed Blancmange in 1980. When the band recorded Living on the Ceiling in 1982 Blanmange introduced the talents of Pandit Dinesh  to the world when he joined the band on a UK tour.

Born in 1955 in Calcutta, Pandit Dinesh first learnt music from his father—a well known classical singer. By the time he was 17 he took up a two year residency as a percussionist with his brother’s group in Bangalore, eventually leaving the group to play more ‘popular’ music in the film industry in Bombay where he worked with Asha Bhosle on many film soundtracks.

By 1978 he had become an in demand session musician in India embarking on a world tour that year with Kishore Kumar. When he returned he was persuaded to join Osibisa for another world tour.

He settled in England in 1982 where his talents did not go unnoticed by other musicians. Apart from countless sessions with Asian radio and TV programmes, Dinesh played for Billy Ocean, Monsoon, Galaxy, Thomson Twins, Nick Kershaw and others including working on the soundtrack of the film Gandhi.

When Stephen found out that Dinesh had worked with and knew Asha Bhosle personally, it fired his imagination that one day if she ever came to England, he might get a chance to meet her or better still work with his favourite singer.

 That day came after Asha’s sell out concert at Wembley Stadium in 1984. With a few days of ‘holiday’ Dinesh convinced her to meet Stephen and West India Company was born. (liner notes)

This is devotional music with a twist. Indeed, it is devotional music you could twist to. It is like nothing else Asha ever did and she deserves 5 big gold stars for pushing the envelope so far out of the Bollywood cage.

Track Listing:
01.     Ave Maria/Om Ganesha
02.     Calling You
03.     Thieves of Our Lovers Life
04.     Vishnu Shlokas

Listen here.


Holly said...

Love Asha - thank you!

Anonymous said...

ave maria-slash-om ganesha?!?!! what?!!?! i can't wait to listen to this.. thanks -- looks really cool & interesting

Ashwini said...

Very informative post about Ashaji's foreign tie-ups.

Easy Jams said...

More Asha Bhosle here: http://easyjams.blogspot.com/2012/06/pathar-ke-sanam-laxmikant-pyarelal.html