As many people now know, India (not Hollywood) is the world's largest producer of films. The center of Hindi-language Indian film production, which is located in Mumbai, has affectionately become known as Bollywood. This CD honors Rahul Dev Burman, one of Bollywood's most industrious and popular composers. At the time of his death in 1994, he had scored more than 300 films. Burman was able to write effectively in almost every genre, from classical (Indian classical, that is) to rock. Asha Bhosle (also spelled "Bhonsle") was married to Burman in 1979. Most of the vocals in Indian films – and almost all popular Indian films contain intricately choreographed songs – are sung by so-called "playback singers." (In other words, actors lip sync to someone else's pre-recorded vocals. Think of Marilyn Horne, who was the singing voice of Dorothy Dandridge in "Carmen Jones.") Bhosle is one of the great playback singers, with more than one thousand films to her credit!
This CD contains songs from 12 films dating from the 1970s and 80s. These are new recordings, and not literal duplications of what can be heard on the original film soundtracks. Bhosle's vocals are all newly recorded, and the members of the Kronos Quartet play not only their usual instruments, but percussion and "vintage electronic instruments," among others. A spirit of innovation characterized the recording sessions, as the musicians and engineer/co-producer tried to recreate Burman's unusual sounds and general unpredictability by whatever means they could. Overdubbing was necessary to pull it all off. Pull it off they have.
Bollywood's best music – and these are fine examples of the genre – has a way of sticking in one's ear. Burman expertly combined Indian classical and folk music with popular music genres from the West to create an infectious hybrid, and this is a pattern which persists in Bollywood today. Bhosle, well into her seventies now, still sings with girlish allure. (Think of a sexy yet innocent Minnie Mouse.) The Kronos Quartet has succeeded in recapturing the distinctive sound of Indian string ensembles. The addition of Zakir Hussain strengthens the music's rhythmic base, and Wu Man's Chinese pipa acts as an imaginative replacement for traditional Indian instruments – the santoor and the sarod.
Songs are an afterthought in many Hollywood films, and when they are included, we often wish that they had not been! Not so in Bollywood, where music is crucial in genres ranging from thrillers to romantic comedies. This CD, while it isn't entirely authentic, is a fine introduction to the genre nevertheless. Leave it to the always innovative Kronos Quartet!
Copyright © 2005, Raymond Tuttle