Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Album Review: Kronos Quartet and Asha Bhosle "Youve Stolen My Heart"

Asha Bhosle featured on the cover of Kronos Quartet's "You've Stolen My Heart"
I just heard the most wonderful news! The Kronos Quartet has just released an album of Rahul Dev Burman's (a well-known Bollywood music director) best-loved songs, reworked by Kronos Quartet and sung by none other than the very talented and timeless Asha Bhosle. For those of you for whom Asha Bhosle's name draws a blank, she is RD Burman's muse and wife and one of India's film industry's (Bollywood) most talented playback singers with a career that has spanned nearly 62 years now. It is amazing and probably somewhat of a miracle that at 73 years her voice is still as sweet, fresh and as seductive as ever.

The album opens with one of my all-time favorite songs, "Dum Maro Dum". This song was included in the 1971 movie, "Hare Rama Hare Krishna", which tells the tale of a wayward Indian girl who's fallen in with a hippie commune in Katmandu. She sings of "the nihilistic joys of smoking your cares away." The song title, by the way, translates as "Take Another Toke. When Asha Bhosle first recorded it, the conservative Indian society was determined not to like it, but with the popularity of the movie, the song took off and became one of Asha's most popular songs to date.

"Mehbooba, Mehbooba" (Beloved, Beloved) is another track to look out for to see if you can spot Chinese composer Wu Man's virtuositc pipa playing on it. Although the Quartet never really succeeds in imitating RD Burman's sensual, raw and passionate style, they do an elegant, if somewhat restrained, version of it.

While making the album, Kronos Quartet often had problems in trying to identify certain otherwordly sounds in an RD Burman song. After pondering on it for weeks, they finally realized that the odd sound at the start of track 2, "Rishte Bante Hei" or "Relationships Grow Slowly" was the sound of matches being struck and lit and they have recreated that effect in their remaking of that remarkable song.

The Kronos Quartet was painstaking in their effort to recapture the sounds of RD Burman's music so that they could sound as authentic as possible. Some of the methods they resorted to was to use vintage pianos (the Burman songs selected for this album were mostly from the 60's and 70's). They recorded in hotel rooms and other unlikely spaces to achieve a warm, tonal quality that perfectly matches the music. Various exotic instruments were also used, ranging from the Uzbek chang to Harrington's granddaughter's tambourine! Tabla maetro, Zakhir Hussain was also invited to explore new textures. Surprisingly enough, the album documents the first encounter between Asha Bhosle and table maestro Zakir Hussain, who started his career writing and playing on Bollywood scores.

But the real star of the album is Asha Bhosle and her ageless voice. It is truly amazing to me that this graceful septuagenarian has the voice of a 25-year old!

This has truly been a trip down memory lane for me.

For a treat, listen to four songs from the album at the Kronos Quartet site. You can always write to me for a translation!

Another treat- an interview with Asha, HERE