ASHA PUTHLI
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ASHA PUTHLI

Palm Beach, Florida, United States | MAJOR

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"Crossing Countless Cultures"

By JON PARELES
Published: August 12, 2006
No one could blame the Indian singer Asha Puthli for a little name-dropping. The collaborators and benefactors in her career since the late 1960’s include, just for starters, Ornette Coleman, Martha Graham, the Notorious B.I.G., the filmmakers Ismail Merchant and James Ivory, and the talent scout John Hammond. She has scandalized India and delighted British talk-show audiences; she has been a catalyst in German disco and an Italian B-movie actress.

With a four-octave range and a lifelong ambition to synthesize East and West, Ms. Puthli has sung jazz, disco, rock and Indian music. She is to perform her first New York City concert in 25 years tomorrow at Central Park SummerStage — joined by the jazz saxophonist Dewey Redman and the rapper Guru — followed by a Joe’s Pub date on Sept. 13.

Some of Ms. Puthli’s most improbable hybrids — the mid-1970’s tracks she recorded with a disco pulse, psychedelic guitars and vocals that segue from sultry jazz phrasing to the quavers and slides of Indian music — have been rediscovered by hip-hop and electronica producers. After years out of print, her 1973 album “Asha Puthli” can now be downloaded from the iTunes Music Store, and a compilation album — “Space Talk: The Best of Asha Puthli, the CBS Years” — is due later this year.
“I feel like a global person,” she said in an interview at a friend’s apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. “My psyche, I think, is very American. My soul and my roots are very Indian. And my career has been more European.”

Since her first exposure to jazz as a young girl, Ms. Puthli said, she had wanted to fuse the 6,000-year-old culture of India with American music. Asked her age, she said, “I’m spiritually 6,000, I’m mentally 98, I’m emotionally 5 and chronologically in between.”

Cross-cultural encounters were always part of her life. Born in Mumbai, formerly Bombay, to a well-do-to family, she was educated at a Roman Catholic school and practiced Hinduism at home; she studied classical Indian music and dance, along with European music. She trained to be an opera singer until, she said, she found that it meant giving up other styles to preserve her voice.

“I’m like a wild horse,” she said. “I decided, I have to give up opera if it’s going to put any kind of restraint on me.”

Ms. Puthli heard jazz on Voice of America radio broadcasts, and started to sing it in Mumbai nightclubs — arriving as a customer where musician friends were playing, and stepping onstage with her back to the audience, lest her parents find out. One performance impressed Ved Mehta, a writer for The New Yorker, whose article about a young singer who was determined to go abroad for real jazz — “a beautiful, mercurial girl,” he wrote — appeared in the magazine and in Mr. Mehta’s 1970 book, “Portrait of India.”

Her professional career started, she said, with a calculated laugh. Mr. Merchant and Mr. Ivory were filming their 1969 movie, “The Guru,” in Mumbai at a house where one of Ms. Puthli’s girlfriends lived.

“I was absolutely dying to be discovered,” she said. “They were filming in the big hall, and I was talking in another room with my girlfriend. When you sing opera, your voice changes, and your laughter changes — I used to laugh like waterfalls. Although I had heard them say, ‘Silence on the set!,’ I gave my operatic laugh. It worked! The door flings open, and there is Mr. Merchant, saying, ‘Who was laughing?’ I did the apologetic thing, although I had done it deliberately, but Mr. Merchant said: ‘No, no, no, we want you. Get into a sari and come into the scene.’ But all they wanted was my laugh.”

She began to perform more seriously as a singer, including an appearance at the Bombay Arts Festival, where she improvised in both jazz and Indian styles in the same song.

“It was only fusion in the sense that it was coming from one mouth,” she said. Ms. Puthli wangled a dance scholarship with Martha Graham and looked up Mr. Mehta when she got to New York City; he directed her to Mr. Hammond, who had read the article. And Mr. Hammond soon sent her to a recording session for the Ornette Coleman album “Science Fiction.”

Other singers had had trouble with Mr. Coleman’s tricky melodies, but Ms. Puthli learned them on the spot. For her two songs on the album, she shared the award for best female jazz vocalist in Downbeat magazine’s annual jazz critics’ poll.

But Ms. Puthli didn’t want to stay within jazz. She worked with a psychedelic blues band whose recordings went unreleased after Ms. Puthli held out for more money than Columbia Records was willing to pay her. She appeared, scantily clad, in the 1972 Merchant-Ivory film “Savages,” which was banned in India.

“I was known as a maverick,” she said. “It was breaking tradition to be in show business, to show my body onstage, to be half-naked in a movie.”

Ms. Puthli had wanted a career in the United States, home of the jazz and soul she loved. “When Americans talk about fusion, they talk about the American artists who have gone and brought in Indian elements,” she said. “I’m proud of my Indian heritage and I want to build the bridge and let them understand that someone has come here who can sing on a level playing field — even though it wasn’t a level playing field — without compromise. ‘Hey, guys, I’m talented, so what if I come from another part of the world?’ But it was a one-way traffic, and when I was coming this way, the doors were closed.”

Instead, she got her chance in Europe. After a cheeky appearance on a British talk show, Ms. Puthli was signed to a recording contract with CBS Records in England. On her debut album she aimed for the pop mainstream, working with Elton John’s producer, Del Newman. Amid its hodgepodge of styles, the album, “Asha Puthli,” included “Right on Time,” with a midtempo wah-wah groove and whispery vocals that might have been a template for Donna Summer’s hits a few years later.

It also had a version of George Harrison’s “I Dig Love,” a wild, post-psychedelic artifact, complete with sound effects, soul horns and Ms. Puthli alternately breathy and giggling.

“The way the Beatles saw it was as a spiritual song,” she said. “They did it like a bhajan, an Indian religious song. In 1973, when I did it, I felt I was already Indian, and the spirituality was inside me. I was trying to become Western, so I brought out the material aspect, the sexual aspect.”

Ms. Puthli’s third album, “The Devil Is Loose,” perfected her disco sound. Made in Germany, with Ms. Puthli collaborating on most of the songwriting, it had airy vocals riding lean but plush grooves. One of its songs, “Space Talk,” would be sampled for the Notorious B.I.G.’s song “The World Is Filled ...” in 1997 (although the B.I.G. album credits it incorrectly as Kit Walker’s “Spacewalk”).

Ms. Puthli recorded soundtrack songs for an Italian B movie, “Squadra Antigangsters” (also known as “The Gang That Sold America”), then stepped into the lead role when Ursula Andress dropped out. In the early 1980’s she tried rock, reaching the charts in Japan and singing, on her 1982 album “Only the Headaches Remain,” about a nuclear meltdown and about the wave of anti-Asian violence in England.

For a decade she nearly dropped out of music to raise her son, Jannu. He was the one who told her, in the late 1990’s, that a friend who was a New York disc jockey had just bought one of her old albums — now a collectors’ item — for $100. The disc jockey, Sean Dinsmore, was behind the Dum Dum Project, an Indian-electronica hybrid, and at her son’s urging Ms. Puthli sang, “Hey Dawani, Hey Dawana” for him. “Then I found out about the sampling,” she said. Her old tracks have been revived by Jay-Z, the Neptunes, Governor and others.

Suddenly Ms. Puthli was in demand in the United States — but as an Indian-style vocalist. She sang mantras for the bassist and producer Bill Laswell, and improvised in a high, Bollywood-style voice for the English group Stratus. But she has recorded an album of jazz tunes, and at Central Park her set may well include songs from Lionel Hampton and Nirvana, along with her own music.

“I’m a free spirit,” she said. “My mind always operates on the in-betweens, like the microtones in music. I’m an artist, and it’s difficult for artists to draw lines. We draw circles — concentric and eccentric circles.”

- New York Times


"In the Groove"

By Melynda Fuller
Published: August, 2006
Asha Puthli is an Indian phenomenon. Thirty-five years after her debut, she remains one of India’s most successful artists. Like Madonna, she continually reinvents herself. That’s no surprise—her vocal talents range from free jazz to electronica. This year, she’s releasing a remixed collection of her classic songs entitled Space Talk: The Best of Asha Puthli, The CBS Years and on August 13, Puthli brings her sultry vocals to Central Park SummerStage, where she’ll sing with special guests Dewey Redman, Guru, Solar & DJ Doo Wop. British (via Delhi) DJ Talvin Singh kicks off the event with a rich recipe for fusion, mixing Indian bhangra and drum and bass. Both he and Puthli believe in matching and mashing musical styles that create an exciting blend of genres.

Puthli began her training as a child in Bombay, India, but felt stifled by the rigidity of classical music, eventually gravitating to jazz and British and American pop stars. After winning a competition at 13 and gaining her parents’ approval, Puthli, blessed with a four-octave soprano voice, jammed with a local jazz band. The organic combination of her classical Indian training and seductive jazz style led her to the U.S. Among her inspirations she counts “my sister, Usha, an amazing singer, and Lata Mangeshkar, the great Indian playback singer. Beyond them, I’d have to say Maria Callas, Dusty Springfield and Ella Fitzgerald were quite important.”

Puthli is adept at cooking musical stews; she fused Eastern and Western styles long before it was considered mainstream. “My sound is a seamless blend of influences—Indian classical, European opera, pop, jazz, R&B, soul and everything else you can think of,” she says, “I absorb music like a sponge.” Her 1970s albums, usually amalgams of disco and jazz, became American cult classics. Ornette Coleman’s 1971 album Science Fiction first featured Puthli in a guest appearance that caught the attention of jazz fans, who loved her daring style. With Coleman as her mentor, she went on to release two innovative albums: She Loves to Hear the Music and The Devil is Loose. During the 1990s, Asha’s music was a rich source for beats and exotic atmosphere, used by everyone from P. Diddy and The Notorious B.I.G. to Jay-Z.

Puthli’s talent stretches across the arts—she acted in a Louis Malle film and was photographed by Andy Warhol. A darling of the Studio 54 scene, she caught the attention of designer Manolo Blahnik, who dressed her for her nights out. As a result, Puthli entered the world of high fashion and the counterculture elite.

What’s next? “I’m currently working on my first solo jazz album that strongly grounds my Indian heritage. I’ve done some incredible records in free jazz, working with Ornette Coleman, Henry Threadgill and others,” she says. “But I’ve never had the opportunity to record solo. I’m very excited.” So are fans. Her voice is a Donna Summers/Aretha Franklin hybrid with a touch of classical Indian fluidity.

Ever versatile, she’s worked with rock legends Patti Smith and The Rolling Stones. What stands out in a three-decade career? Performing at Jazz Yatra in India with Sonny Rollins, sharing the stage at the San Remo Festival with Grace Jones and Barry White and singing for Mikhael Gorbachev at The Hague to celebrate the launch of The Green Cross. “It’s been quite a life!”

- ENCORE MAGAZINE


"A Jazzzy Diva"

Jazzy Diva
Text by Vinod Advani and Photographs by Himanshu Seth
Published: Volume 15, Issue 3, March, 2007
Three decades after she rose to musical heights, they are still digging the groove of the only Indian singer who made it big in New York. Vinod Advani unravels the enduring appeal of the enigmatic Asha Puthli

It didn't quite register at first. So the son repeated the sentence to his mother. The son, JAG, a 31-year-old cutting edge film-maker, told Asha Puthli who 'they' were. 50 Cent. Redman. Ka-No. Notorious BIG. P.Diddy. The kings of hip-hop breakbeats. Artistes known for their shrewd sampling of cutting edge music. Who have picked up her 1970s classic Space Talk and sampled it in so many chart-breaking waves, that once again Asha is hot. With dollar royalties clinking the cash registers.

In 2007 Asha Puthli, Indian-born singer and New York citizen by choice, finds not one but several spotlights on her. Life is a cabaret and Asha is the new beat of Nostalgia. A phrase that is presciently the title of her 1998 album.

Nostalgia is the rhythm of the moment, the flava of the year and Asha is being called Diva. Again. Indian diva of jazz, funk and soul. After over 30 years in USA, her career shows no sign of flagging. She is now a red hot guest artiste on the buzzing electronica music scene. Millions listen to her yoga music albums. And in November 2006, the 7th Bollywood Music Awards took place in Atlantic City and Asha won the Lifetime Achievement Award for outstanding contribution to global music.

If you've been familiar with Asha's music over the decades, you'll know this too. Her distinctive unusual recordings are pioneering. World beat or bhangra. Jazz or electronica. Pop or fusion. Asha Puthli did them all before anyone else. Herein lies her daring, her fearlessness, her adventure. Remarkable for having done it in an alien environment of New York which in the 80's music industry was almost impossible. Namumkin, as Don says.

Holidaying at her sister's home in Bandra right now as you read this, she exults, "It feels great to be appreciated by the younger generation. It's exciting to be getting all this recognition in the United States once again. When I recall how difficult it was for an Indian woman to survive singing jazz, funk and R&B in New York in the early 70s."

Not only did she survive in an alien, difficult environment, she flourished. Chalking out a career that proudly exhibits 28 (count them) albums! Spanning styles that jump genres. Blues, pop, rock, soul, funk disco, even techno, Wikipedia will provide you names of artistes with whom she has recorded, sung or shared the stage. Barry White (the deep voice that gave the world, You're My Last, You're My Last, You're My Everything), Grace Jones (Slave To The Rhythm), Patti Smith, Don Cherry, Tom Jones, Django Reinhardt. Rolling Stones ?
She has done that too.

Remember Savages? That path breaking Merchant Ivory film of the 70s? Asha played the lead role in that. As she did in Bruno Corbucci's film, The Gang That Sold America. In the 80s, her outré style sense added one more feather to her hat. She became part of the Andy Warhol set, a headliner at Studio 54, a fashion icon dressed by the likes of Manolo Blahnik and shot by Richard Avedon, among the world's most famous photographers.

Yet the paradox of life. The games of Karma. The inexorable march of time. In America, her fan base borders on the reverent and adoring, but in native India, she can drift unnoticed through a crowd unrecognised by the superficial P3 media. Sigh.

"I am," states Asha, matter-of-factly. Like all artistes, she has layers. Ask her about her career and her answer can fill up an entire volume of Panchatantra, one story leading to a second leading to a ninth before coming up for air 25 minutes later, to address the first question. But ask her if there is room for regret and there's the briefest of pause for introspection.

Then, as if reinforcing her own answer, she repeats, "I am. That's it. Abstract? Not at all. I have learned to live in the moment. It's a learning that comes when you have lived life on your own terms. So, I just am. I just can be. Happiness happens with a conscious application of this belief. Go with your instincts, follow your dreams, ride the wild wind, whatchamacallit! No regrets. If it means that a Mumbai born girl had to sing for her supper in New York to gain fame there, so be it."

That part, luckily, is not true. Singing for her supper bit Asha Puthli never had to.
Imagine this. An Indian singer in the 70s in New York. Having left a comfortable life in Mumbai to follow her dream. An impossible dream of making it as a singer in a city known for chewing up talent and spitting it out, a city where Asha had no contacts. Just the conviction of which Sting would many years later sing 'Be yourself, no matter what they say.'

The only way Asha knew how to be herself was to sing. Which she did for anyone willing to listen and soon enough word of this four octave singer spread strongly enough for her to audition for one of jazz music's outstanding legends, Ornette Coleman. Once people heard her sing on Coleman's Science Fiction album, a star was born. She could (and she still can) roller coaster notes indefinitely in perfect pitch and nobody would want her to stop. Because if she did, the angels would disappear. Devilish talent you might say. Not surprising then that the producers of her third album titled the best-seller 'The Devil Is Loose.'

That's where Asha's intriguing contradictions tantalise all those who meet her. Sometimes a devil, at others an angel. Sometimes an introvert, other times a seductress tormenting your sleep with her songs. An artiste famously known to have said, "I gargle with champagne every morning," but who now will not indulge her palate with even a glass of wine. An olive-skinned woman with blonde hair in an emerald green sari flirting coquettishly with every male at a Chivas Regal soirée. A woman who with a straight face tells me, "I started singing in the womb. Having been born a Saraswat Brahmin with only a passion to sing, what does that make me? A direct descendant of Goddess Saraswati!"

- Verve Online


Discography

PARTIAL DISCOGRAPHY

Solo Albums

Asha Puthli (CBS) 1973
She Loves to Hear the Music (CBS) 1974
The Devil is Loose (CBS) 1976
Asha L'Indiana (TK Records) 1979
1001 Nights of Love (Polygram) 1980
I'm Going to Kill It Tonight (Autobahn) 1981
Only the Headaches Remain (Polygram) 1982
Asha: The New Beat of Nostalgia (Top of the World Records) 1998

Appears on

Mirror - Charlie Mariano (Atlantic) 1972
Science Fiction - Ornette Coleman (Columbia) 1972
Squadra Antigangsters (Cinevox) 1979 - soundtrack
Slip into Another World - Henry Threadgill (Novus) 1989
Loft Classics XII - Various Artists (Loft Classics) 1995
Groovy Vol 1: A Collection of Rare Jazzy Club Tracks - Various Artists (Irma) 1996 - compilation
Groovy Vol 2: A Collection of Rare Jazzy Club Tracks - Various Artists (Irma) 1997 - compilation
Export Quality - Dum Dum Project (Times Square / Groovy) 2001
Walking on Music - Various Artists (Corona) 2001 - compilation
Psychedelic Jazz and Soul from the Atlantic and Warner Vaults - Various Artists (Warner UK) 2001 - compilation
Mpath - Wanderer - Gardner Cole (Triloka) 2003
Accerezzami - Fausto Papetti (n/a) 2003
Chillout in Ibiza, Vol. 5 - Various Artists (Smart) 2003 - compilation
The Karma Collection (Ministry of Sound) - Various Artists 2003 - compilation
Asana Vol 3: Peaceful Heart - Bill Laswell (Meta) 2003
Yoga Chill - Dum Dum Project (4 Square) 2003
The Trip - Tom Middleton, Various Artists (Family Recordings) 2004 - compilation
Jai Ma - (White Swan) 2004 -compilation
Signorina Estiva Leo Cesari (Rambling) 2004
Asana OHM Shanti - Bill Laswell (Meta) 2006
Cosmic Dancer - Voyage Three - Various Artists (Cosmic Dancer) 2006 - compilation
Pant and Fur - (Duet) Asha Puthli with Syr Gabriel (Kyrone)2007
Knight of the Blue Communion Peter Ivers (Hue Records) UK 2007

SAMPLED MUSIC IN:
Life After Death - Notorious BIG (Bad Boy Records) 1997
A night on the rocks - J Walk (Warner Bros) 2002
Home Sweet Home - Kano (679 Recordings) 2005

Photos

Bio

As written in Wikipedia.com;

Asha Puthli is an Indian-born singer, songwriter, producer and actress.

Best recognized for her daredevil vocals on the "Science Fiction" album by jazz iconoclast Ornette Coleman, Asha Puthli has recorded ten solo albums for labels like EMI, CBS/Sony, and RCA. She is a 'world music' pioneer and an intrepid cosmopolite.

Her recordings, which span styles like blues, pop, rock, soul, funk, disco, and techno, have been produced by the likes of Del Newman (Elton John, Cat Stevens), and Teo Macero (Miles Davis, Vernon Reid). A quick glance at some of the artists with whom she has recorded, sung or shared the stage is a testament to her eclecticism: Lionel Hampton, Alice Coltrane, Barry White, Dewey Redman, Grace Jones, Charlie Haden, Sonny Rollins, Bill Laswell, Patti Smith, Cy Coleman, Don Cherry, Freddie Hubbard, Duke Ellington, Roy Ayers, Tom Jones, The Rolling Stones, The Pointer Sisters, Ashford & Simpson and Django Reinhardt.

Contents [hide]
1 The Early Years
2 The New York Years
3 European Solo Albums
4 Films, Fashion and Beyond
5 Partial Discography
6 External links

[edit] The Early Years
Born and raised in Bombay, Asha began training at an early age in Indian classical and European opera. Stifled by classical music's rigidity, Asha gravitated to western popular music emanating from her home radio. From Voice of America she consumed jazz masters like Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole, and she became acculturated to British and American pop singers like Dusty Springfield and Cliff Richard through Sri Lanka's Radio Ceylon.

She won a competition at thirteen singing "Malaguena," which gave her the encouragement some years later to begin improvising with a jazz band at local tea dances. This nascent scene was chronicled in Ved Mehta's chapter "Jazz in Bombay" from his classic book Portrait of India. Asha's sultry, four-octave soprano that has been described by scholar Niranjan Jhaveri in the following manner: "The ability to manipulate her voice and to introduce certain glissando effects embellishments and textures descend directly from Asha's training in the Indian classical idiom. Her improvisations are the envy of the best instrumental technicians in jazz."

[edit] The New York Years
Harboring an extraordinary natural talent, Asha made her way to New York under the auspices of a dance scholarship from Martha Graham. As luck would have it, Columbia Records impresario John Hammond, who had forged a brilliant career discovering acts like Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, became intrigued by Ved Mehta's portrait of Asha in Jazz in Bombay. After hearing a rough demo, Hammond championed her as a genius and vigorously recruited her for CBS Records. Unable to find a place for the jazz singer at his increasingly rock-oriented label, Hammond nonetheless used his connections to get her top-flight session work. She sang lead vocals on the Peter Ivers Blues Band's cover of "Ain't That Peculiar" which made a critical splash in magazines like Cashbox, Rolling Stone, and Billboard.

Hammond fortuitously sent her to audition for avant-garde pioneer Ornette Coleman, who'd been searching to no avail for a unique singer for his Science Fiction project. A quick study, Asha learned and recorded two of Coleman's songs, "What Reason Could I Give" and "All My Life," in mere hours. Historian Robert Palmer gushed about Asha's sound in the following manner: "A sound like Raga meeting Aretha Franklin, Miss Puthli's singing is equally extraordinary. There is just enough Indian training left in her style to give it an indescribable fluid quality. Her alternation of timbre from the breathiest of sighs to gospel derived moans is unique. She improvises off an impressive range and generally walks through the album with the assurance of a master performer." For her work on Science Fiction, Asha shared the Downbeat Critics' Poll award for "best female jazz vocalist," alongside Ella Fitzgerald and Dee Dee Bridgewater. Despite the shower of accolades, avant-garde jazz is not a genre known for vocalists, and recording opportunities did not materialize for Asha in the United States.

[edit] European Solo Albums
Asha's commercial promise was better understood in Europe, where she was promptly signed to a record deal by CBS honcho Dick Asher. Mostly unreleased in the US, Asha's series of inventive solo albums, in which she also delves into writing and producing, reflect the young singer's burgeoning interest in pop, rock, soul, funk and disco. Asha gravitated to glam, a scene populated by fashion-conscious provocateurs like Elton John and T-Rex. Her self-titled debut was produced by Del Newman, famous for his glitter rock treatment of Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and it featured languorous pop soul covers of tunes by J.J. Cale, Bill Withers, and others. She also recruited Pierre LaRoche, David Bowie and Freddie Mercury's makeup artist, and glam phot