Asha Bhosle - Biography

Asha Bhosle is one of the most prolific recording artists in the world, with thousands of 78s, LPs and CDs to her credit. It is estimated that Bhosle had made more than 12,000 recordings of Bollywood Soundtrack songs, pop releases, ghazals and bhajans (Indian devotional music), classical music and folk songs. She also recorded two styles of music from Bengal Rabindra Sangeets, songs composed by Nobel Prize-winning poet Rabindranath Tagore and Nazrul Geetis, as well as songs written by revolutionary Bengali poet Kazi Nazrul Islam, and qawwalis—the Sufi devotional music popularized in the west by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.


Bhosle sings in at least 14 languages including Hindi, Urdu, English, Russian, Czech and Malay. She was the first Indian singer ever nominated for a World Music Grammy for Legacy (1996 Troloka), a collaboration with Ali Akbar Khan, then again for You’ve Stolen My Heart (2005 Nonesuch), which was a collaboration with The Kronos Quartet performing the songs of Bollywood composer, R.D. Burman. She has won more awards than any other Indian singer including the National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer in 1981 and 1986; Nightingale of Asia Award from the UK Indo-Pac Association in 1987; Singer of the Millennium from the government of Dubai, 2000; Indian Filmfare Lifetime Achievement Award, 2001; BBC Lifetime Achievement Award, 2002; Living Legend Award by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce, 2004; and the Padma Vibhushan—a medal of distinguished service from the Indian government in 2008. Bhosle’s voice, even into her seventies, retains its youthful range.


Asha Bhosle was born in 1933 into a musical family. Her father was Pandit Deenanath Mangeshkar, a famous actor and classical singer. Her elder sister Lata Mangeshkar is also a singer and, like Bhosle, has recorded many thousands of songs. Mumbai—formerly Bombay, hence the nickname Bollywood—is India’s film capital, producing almost a thousand films every year, most of them using songs and elaborately staged dance numbers to advance the action. Indian films follow traditional theatrical guidelines and entertainment music, adventure and romance commonly playing a part of every story. Bollywood made Bhosle a star.


Bhosle began singing professionally along with her sister, Lata Mangeshkar, in the 1940s, when she was only ten years old. It was meant to be a way to help support the family after their father passed away. At 16 years old, she married the Ganpatrao Bhosle, a man almost twice her age, and who acted as her sister’s secretary. It was not a happy marriage—Bhosle was abused by Ganpatrao and eventually put out onto the street by his family. She returned to her mother, with two children and pregnant with a third child.


Though she sang for films, often her more famous older sister dubbed the parts of the heroes and the stars, with Bhosle dubbed the villains or fallen women. For the next few years, Bhosle sang for hundreds of low budget films.


Her first big break came in 1954, when she was hired by director Raj Kapoor to sing a duet with Mohammed Rafi, one of Bollywood’s great male singers. The song, “Nanhe Munne Bachche,” was a hit. Kapoor and his music director O. P. Nayyar were so impressed that they let her sing for the lead actresses in many of their films in the 1960s.


In 1966, R.D. Burman, one of the greatest music directors of the 1960s, asked Bhosle to sing a western-style dance tune, “Aaja Aaja.” It was another smash hit and led to a continuing musical relationship with Burman. Bhosle often said Burman’s songs put her in touch with her own feelings and made her a better, more emotional singer.


Subsequently, Bhosle would marry Burman in 1980. In 1981 she sang ghazals for the first time in the film Umrao Jaan for music director Khayyam, marking her first foray into devotional music. The film was a hit and Bhosle’s soulful performances garnered raves from audiences.


In 1990s, Bhosle began to branch away from the highly-competitive soundtrack scene to begin recording classical and devotional material. Though she did sing for young actress Urmila Matondkar in 1995’s Rangeela, with all the songs by A. R. Rahman, in 1996 she traveled to San Francisco to cut Legacy (1996 Troloka), a devotional album with sarod master Ali Akbar Khan.


In recent years, singers in the west have discovered Bhosle’s talents and her adventurous musical spirit, and the recognition has lead her into American and British pop culture. She recorded “Bow Down Mister” with Boy George for The Martyr Mantras (1991 Virgin); The Black Eyed Peas sampled “Aye Naujawan Hai Sab Kuchchyahan” for their song “Don’t Phunk With My Heart”; she recorded “The Way You Dream (One Giant Step)” with Michael Stipe for the British film, The Bullet Proof Monk (2003);


With so many CDs in print, the list of Bhosle’s work is impressive, but a partial view of her better known releases are: Bala Main Bairagan Hoongi (1993 EMI India), a collection of devotional songs; Jaanam Samjha Karo (1996 Tips), a pop music flavored soundtrack with music director Leslie Lewis that won an MTV India award; Asha Bhosle Reveals the Real R.D. (2006 Times Square), selections from films they made together starting in 1933; Rough Guide to Asha Bhosle (2003 World Music Network) gives an overview of Bhosle’s work and a brief bio; You’ve Stolen My Heart (2005 Nonesuch), which features The Kronos Quartet, whose leader David Harrington re-imagined 12 Burman/Bhosle hits with sting quartet, Indian percussion (Zakir Hussain) and Chinese pipa (Wu Man); 75 Years of Asha (2006 Times Square), another career-spanning selection of love songs and duets; A Love Supreme (2006 Times Square), two more discs of love songs and duets; and Legends (2006 RPG), a five-CD set of classic songs.


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