Legendary Singer Takes Audience on a Musical Journey Spanning Seven Decades
By Geeta Goindi
Vienna, VA, June 29, 2016 – It was an eagerly-awaited event: after seven decades, legendary Indian playback singer Asha Bhosle bid adieu, headlining a concert in the Washington area.
Over 3,600 discerning listeners flocked to the amphitheater and sprawling lawns of Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts on a perfect summer night under the stars. It was the iconic singer’s farewell concert in the national capital region, and the solo event on the US leg of her international Farewell Tour.
Bhosle arrived in Washington on Sunday and delved into rehearsals from the very next day. “Looking forward to my first-ever concert at Wolf Trap with their orchestra – one of USA’s finest performance venues”, she tweeted.
Hailed as “the last empress of Indian music” by Dr. Punita Bhatt who remained in the background providing introductory remarks before each song, Bhosle received a standing ovation both at the beginning and at the end of the concert. It was a mark of respect for a supremely gifted singer blessed with a long, illustrious, successful career.
On stage at the Filene Center of America’s national park, the songstress, at 82, took the audience on a musical journey embarking with Bollywood romance and culminating in Indian pop at it’s best!
Donning a pale blue shimmering saree, she said, “Bahut saal baad aayee hoon” (I have come here after many years) and proceeded to welcome everyone with her opening number, ‘Aaiye meherbaan, baithiye jaane jaan’ (Howrah Bridge, 1958).
It was followed by another timeless classic, ‘Chura liya hai tumne jo dil ko’ (Yaadon Ki Baraat, 1973). Bhosle joked that the song has been re-mixed so many times that her husband Pancham da (the late R.D. Burman) who composed the musical score couldn’t even recognize the various versions. It’s noteworthy that Bhosle’s Grammy-nominated album, ‘You’ve Stolen My Heart’ (2005), is named after the song.
In a tribute to her elder sister Lata Mangeshkar, revered as the Nightingale of India, Bhosle selected one of her awe-inspiring songs, ‘Lag ja gale ki phir ye haseen raat ho na ho’ (Woh Kaun Thi, 1964). “Listen to the words and you will know what is life”, Bhatt told the audience. The lyrics acquired an even deeper meaning, Wednesday evening at the Filene Center, given that it was the singer’s last concert in America.
More tributes followed, including to her colleague the late Mohammed Rafi, a powerhouse playback singer in his own right! Bhosle has recorded the maximum number of duets with Rafi. “I have sung 900 songs with him”, she said, drawing gasps from the audience. She selected the vibrant song ‘Gulabi aankhen jo teri dekhi’ (The Train, 1970) which was picturized on sixties and seventies mega stars Rajesh Khanna and Nanda in a garden, shown in visuals on stage – a tribute to the late artistes.
In fond remembrance of her father, the late Pandit Deenanath Mangeshkar (1900-1942), a Hindustani classical vocalist and theater actor, she rendered one of his classical numbers. “We belong to a classical khandaan (family)”, she told the audience. “I am singing with my father’s blessings”.
Bhosle also evinced her proficiency in ghazals with ‘Dil cheez kya hai aap meri jaan lijiye’ and ‘In aankhon ki masti ke mastane hazaaron hai’ (Umrao Jaan, 1981), transporting the audience to a bygone era. She won the prestigious National Film Award for Best Singer with ‘Dil cheez kya hai’ and Rekha took home the National Film Award for Best Actress.
Regarded as the most versatile Indian singer, she effortlessly switched to a north Indian folk song, ‘Jhumka gira re’ (Mera Saaya, 1966), known for its vibrancy of rhythm. Revving up the pace of the concert even more, she rendered ‘Yeh mera dil pyaar ka deewana’ (Don, 1978), ‘Aao na gale lagalo na’ (Mere Jeevan Saathi, 1972), and ‘Aaja aaja main hoon pyaar tera’ (Teesri Manzil, 1966).
But age is catching up with Bhosle who turns 83 on September 8. At the Filene Center, she sang for about an hour in a 2.5 hour concert. For the opening act, Falu’s Bollywood Orchestra, spearheaded by New York-based singer and songwriter Falguni Shah, took center stage for some 45 minutes, followed by a short break. Bhosle entered an hour after the show was underway, accompanied by the Wolf Trap orchestra and a couple of musicians from India. For the most part, she held on to a chair for support and occasionally, her voice seemed to trail off as she got to the end of a verse. The concert was her parting gift to loyal listeners.
Concert-goer Nirathi Rao Kalavapudi, Founder and Director of Virginia-based Rhythmaya Dance, gushed, “I’m in love with the Wolf Trap orchestra. They carried her 82-year-old voice right through the whole concert. Good times Asha Bhosle! And great seeing so many friendly faces on a beautiful summer night”, she posted on social media giant Facebook.
Even as all good things come to an end, there is always room for the new – hope springs eternal! The pride was unmistakable in Bhosle’s voice as she welcomed her granddaughter Zanai on stage informing the audience that the young girl has lent her voice to a song picturized on actress Vidya Balan with music composed by Anu Malik.
Zanai, daughter of Anand Bhosle who is Asha Bhosle’s son, is multi-talented and she is only 14 years old. On stage at Wolf Trap, she charmed the audience with a Kathak performance set to an Indian classical song rendered in her own voice. Singing is in her genes as was evident when she belted out two of her grandmother’s superhit songs, ‘Tu tu hai wohi dil ne jise apna kaha’ (Yeh Vaada Raha, 1982) and ‘O mere sona re’ (Teesri Manzil).
“I am lucky to be born into a musical family”, Zanai told the audience, acknowledging that her grandmother has been her greatest guide and inspiration.
In the finale, she joined the senior Bhosle — the duo drawing many in the audience to their feet with ‘Piya tu ab toh aaja’ (Caravan, 1971) and ‘Dum maaro dum’ (Hare Rama Hare Krishna, 1971).
It is interesting to note that Asha Bhosle is the most recorded artiste in music history with over 13,000 songs ranging from Bollywood to classical ragas. She rendered her first song in 1943, and has never looked back!
“Singing is my life”, she says, vowing to sing until her last breath.
BBC calls her “The world’s most celebrated playback singer”, and CNN lauds her as one of the 20 most iconic artistes of all time!