India's most popular vocalist pays performing visit to America

She's sold more records than the Beatles and Bing Crosby. In fact, she's recorded more than 10,000 songs and has sold more than 40 million records. She's Asha Bhosle, India's most popular singer. Mrs. Bhosle, who recently appeared here as part of the First New York International Festival of the Arts, thanks to Verna Gillis's Soundscape, is best known as the ``unseen voice'' in numerous Indian musical films. India's moviemaking industry puts out more than 800 movies a year, and Asha Bhosle has been singing in them for over 40 years.

This was Bhosle's fourth visit to New York to perform, and in an interview at her hotel she said she felt a little nervous. A sweet-faced, motherly woman who dresses in a flowing sari, Asha Bhosle doesn't have the look of a superstar, much less one who sings everything from rock and roll to jazz. But she does, indeed, sing it all, as she proved at her concerts here at Felt Forum.

The audiences were mostly Indian (so many colorful saris together in one place!), and they obviously loved her vibrant mixture of traditional Indian songs with a rock beat - and many sang along with the lyrics. Bhosle brings along her own band, a group of Indian musicians who play everything from synthesizers to Indian instruments like the tabla and the sitar.

Music has been a family affair

Asha Bhosle comes from a musical family - her brother sings and composes, and her two sisters are also singers. Although she has raised three children, and now has four grandchildren, she never really had a breather from her busy singing career. Nevertheless she says, ``I am first mother, then singer, then everything [else].''

She said it was difficult trying to juggle career and home, and at first her children were resentful. ``They didn't like my career,'' she explained. ``They told me, no, no, don't go out! Don't sing. So I told them if I don't sing, what will you do? Who's to look after you? Then they realized, and now they are very proud of me.''

Asha Bhosle still listens constantly to all kinds of music, and consequently different styles find their way into her own style.

Skilled improvisation

``Music is like this, you know? You listen, and in three or four months you will remember, and unconsciously you will play that music.''

But aside from her eclecticism, Bhosle's musical trademark is her improvisational skill, which she learned from singing in the movies.

``They give us melody and tell us, do something yourself, improvise, so we do that. And the public tells me - you always do something different [on your songs]. That's why they like my songs. They know that it is Asha singing, you know?''

Bhosle has returned to India, but plans to come back to the US at some point to perform with her sister, Lata Mangeshkar, who is also a well-known singer in India.

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