Sunday, January 29, 2012

6000 Year old Spirit: Asha Puthli

Asha Puthli

If you don’t by now, the Washerman’s Dog loves Indian music.  Music by Indians who live in India, musicians who used to live in India but now in neighboring countries with newer names, as well as Indians in the diaspora.  

Asha Puthli is the sort of guest a shy person invites to a dinner party.  Her larger than life personality and wicked laugh galvanize everyone’s attention. She’s got an unusual background and drops names like a tropical thunderstorm.  The quiet host sits back and smiles as Asha regales the other diners with her story of how she filled in for Ursula Andress in an Italian B-movie, and sparked a disco craze in Germany.  One of the guests sniggers at the mention of the word ‘disco’. Ms Puthli fires a wilting glance at the offender and by way of putting him in his place reminds people that she won a couple of jazz awards for her work with Ornette Coleman.   The dinner party, everyone agrees as they stumble home in the wee hours, is a smashing success.

Asha Puthli, the truly unique artist upon whom the spotlight shines tonight, is what the tax authorities of India refer to as a NRI (non-resident Indian). Born into a Hindu home in Mumbai and educated in a Catholic school Asha fell in love with the American jazz she heard on Voice of America.  She began her career singing in clubs around India’s most hip city but always wanted to make it in America. “I wanted to fuse the 6,000-year-old culture of India with American music. I feel like a global person,” she once told to an interviewer. “My psyche, I think, is very American. My soul and my roots are very Indian. And my career has been more European.”

Ved Mehta, wrote an article for the New Yorker, about Bombay in which she got several mentions. Some time later she bagged a Martha Graham dance scholarship to the States in the late 60s. John Hammond, legendary producer and talent scout (Billie Holliday, Dylan, Springsteen) for Columbia Records who had read the New Yorker article recommended her to the giant of free jazz Ornette Coleman who was searching for a new voice to sing his complex music.

The match was made in heaven. Coleman found a singer he couldn’t believe and Asha won accolades from the jazz pandits for her performance.

Though she was off to smashing start in the land of her dreams the American music machine couldn’t find a place to fit her and opportunities dried up. She moved to Europe where she scandalized and charmed her way into the hearts of Italian, German and British audiences. Her records, which tread the ground between soul, jazz and disco (often seen as a forerunner to Donna Summer’s sensual stylings), were not only understood but appreciated. Asha was at last able to give her voice, trained in opera and Indian classical music, the freedom and varied terrain it yearned for.

Tonight’s post is a 1973 record made in the UK.  Asha covers JJ Cale and Jimmy Webb and makes it sound like something completely her own.   In recent years her music has been amply sampled by hip hop artists and Asha, still a resident of New York, has found a late life celebrity.

This is amazing stuff served up by a natural artist and cracker of a dinner guest.

            Track Listing:
            01 Right Down Here
02 Neither One Of Us Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye
03 I Dig Love
04 This Is Your Life
05 Love
06 Lies
07 Let Me In Your Lifes
08 I Am A Song (Sing Me)
09 Truth

 Listen here


Holly said...

Thank you! The Divine Ms P. is always a treat ;-)

Hmmmmm said...

♥ Asha Puthli and her wonderful Vocals. Thanks for the great Article.

ajnabi said...

Hmmmmm most welcome