The Silence | Resources | Strange world of... | The Strange World of... Asha Puthli (2023)

Before a performance in Le Guess Who? Utrecht festival, Tara Joshi explores the work of Indian cosmic artist Asha Puthli, with some reflections from the artist herself

The Silence | Resources | Strange world of... | The Strange World of... Asha Puthli (1)

Asha Puthli is one of the holders ofHe guesses who? Festival Utrecht, The Netherlands, which appears on Sunday, November 10

When it comes to cultural fusion, Asha Puthli is a shining example. Born in Mumbai, she grew up studying Indian and European classical music while listening to American jazz on the radio. Puthli toldNew York Timesin 2006 that she had trained to be an opera singer as a child, before discovering that pursuing this career would mean not being able to use any other style of singing to preserve her voice, so she decided that a certain medium would prevent her from doing what she felt forced to do as an artist.

While her voice still retains the formidable power that an operatic accompaniment can suggest, her instinct was to make music that blended the sounds and styles of her home country with the American music she loved. It's something she's been successful at: Asha's music falls largely into the space of cosmic disco, jazz, glam and soul, though it also draws on reminders of her Indian classical training, most notably, when it slides into those thin, high-pitched voices. which are wonderfully meandering.

His career began singing in jazz clubs in Mumbai, where he improvised with what would become a mix of jazz and classical Indian-style vocals on the same songs. She also had a small role in a Merchant-Ivory film and trained in classical Indian dance (Bharatnatyam and Kathak). It was this latter skill of hers that brought her to New York on a scholarship in 1969 to the prestigious Martha Graham contemporary dance company. During her stay in New York, she established herself in the innovative art scene there, discovered by renowned talent scout John Hammond, working with Ornette Coleman on his 1971 album.Science fictionand performing at Studio 54 (she was also photographed by and with Andy Warhol).

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However, Europe was where he would find the most acclaim for his music. It was at CBS Records in the UK that she recorded and released her 1973 self-titled debut album with Elton John's producer Del Newman.

Over the years, Puthli's work has been used on tracks by hip hop artists, electronic producers, and even grime beats (Kano sampled his version of George Harrison's 'I Dig Love' on his Diplo-produced track at 2005, 'Reload It'). .

Of course, his influence is far-reaching, but his art is also vast. While she is perhaps best known for the glam, galactic proto-disco of her early work, or the softer, more soulful jazz tracks with shimmering harps and strings, she has also dabbled in rock and dance music, as well as working of soundtracks. .

Before her appearance in Le Guess Who? festival, Asha Puthli selected ten notable moments from her back catalog for us, which we unpacked and placed in the context of her strange, beautiful, and expansive world.

Space Talk (1976)

“It has a life of its own,” Asha says of perhaps her best-known song. Taken from his albumThe devil is loose, 'Space Talk' opens with a cinematic chorus, before the entrance of cosmic bells and a nimble bass line; these are soon rounded out by her distinctively luxurious and silky voice channeling the sweet and smooth high register of trained Indian female voices. A galactic bop record, it had what she describes as "a kind of organic evolution", where she sampled on several hip hop songs, most famously on P. Diddy's 'The World Is Filled' and the Notorious BIG, onLife after death, Biggie's posthumous album. It was also sampled by Pharcyde and G-Unit.

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Peek-A-Boo Boogie (1979)

taken from the album1001 nights of loveThis is one of Asha's favorites, she says, because it was written with her son. “[It's from] when I had to balance being a single mom and a songwriter with an album deadline,” she explains, “The song was written while I was playing hide and seek with him, [so it was] an interactive, multitasking composition. Women are good at multitasking.” However, instead of literally playing "peek-a-boo" with a young child, the track uses the motif to berate a romantic interest who isn't paying enough attention to it. Over the backing of sumptuous glam-disco guitars, she sings: "Now I see you, now I don't / Let me dance with you alone, I want you to myself."

'The Devil Is Loose' - television performance (1977)

The seductive and expansive title track from their 1976 album, it's filled with shimmering symphonic strings and serene yet commanding vocals. 'The Devil Is Loose' was Asha's first gold single in Europe, and she credits it for expanding her jazz audience into the mainstream. That performance took place on Starparade, a West German music show known for its live orchestra. Seeing her here feels like a revealing, one-sided look at her art, as she sways, draped in her seraphic white gown, as she sings in that uniquely captivating voice that here is formidable and powerfully fluid.

I'll Kill Tonight (1980)

Asha describes this as part of her lesser-known "rock phase": disco was fading from the fashionable musical spheres, so she released an album also calledi will kill tonight. It's a much more propulsive and intense affair overall, though there's certainly a glamorous sheen to this seemingly new song that's still consistent with some of their earlier releases. Instead of dealing with latent spiritualism or talking about the cosmos, this era drew on sociopolitical commentary, tackling issues related to gender and the environment. In fact, she says that this energetic title track is from a group of songs written about the victimization of women.

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No Diwani No Diwana (2001)

This is taken from a collaboration with the Dum Dum Project, an "East-West" fusion group created by New York producer Sean Dinsmore in the 1990s. While it has some of the spiritual energy of Goa Trance, this one is more alive and exuberant. (To put it in context, one of the Dum Dum Project songs, 'Air India', became a hit in Ibiza). The impromptu Hindi vocals are by Asha; he chose it because it shows its range and relevance in fusion songs in the 21st century, even in very different genres.

'Say Yes' (1976)

also taken fromThe devil is looseLP, Asha chose this one because it subtly references an Indian context that may go unnoticed by some ears. Although on the surface it sounds like a devotional love song, when she sings, "I'd walk through fire just to say yes to you," for example, she points out that it's a reference to the now-forbidden practice of "sati." This was a ritual found among the Hindus, where widows were historically expected to sacrifice themselves by sitting on top of their late husband's funeral pyre and burning with them, a practice that certainly rephrases phrases like "I love you so much I would die." She also mentions the double meanings associated with the Hindu religious ascetics, the sadhus: when she compares the sensation of "needles in my body" to a caress, it is a reference to the piercing ritual performed by some sadhus.

Ornette Coleman - 'What reason could I give?' (1971)

During her time in New York in the 1970s, talent scout John Hammond (who signed Bob Dylan) discovered Asha. He sent his audition tape to free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, and it resulted in Asha becoming the lead vocalist on his album.Science fiction, with her incredibly smooth, whimsical yet rich singing up close on two tracks. Asha says this release is significant, as it was her first US jazz release, but also because her work on her album led to the prestigious American jazz magazine voting it the winner. joint.Downbeatcritic's poll for the best female vocalist of that year. There's something almost psychological about this particular track, which finds lines from her contained as "How many times must I die for love?" over a fast, urgent rhythm and a melodic but plaintive instrumentation.

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'The Whip' (1979)

Asha chose this because it is the first time she has composed, co-produced and recorded music for a film, an Italian film in which she also acted.anti gangster squad, directed by Bruno Corbucci, in which Asha plays an Interpol agent who goes undercover as a mobster's singer/girlfriend, who ends up capturing the gang with her whip (in this clip, she dances with said whip while singing his brilliant disco song). She wrote three songs for the film, including the film's opening and closing credits.

'Ode to love' (2009)

This is from Asha's most recent album from 2009.Lost, which he recorded in Monte Carlo for the Italian label Kyrone. The track she chose is the final song on the album, a haunting version of the Edith Piaf song. There's something a little off about the instrumentation: after the live orchestral tracks, the strings and synth horns sound quite surreal here, particularly when it crackles into a haunted house crescendo that seems to wink at 'Being For The Benefit Of'. Mr. Comet!' Still, it's a choice that reflects both Puthli's powerful and yearning jazz heritage and the way he takes it into new spaces, whether through the use of new technology or creating strange and distinctive new arrangements. She also shows how, through the years, her voice remains incredibly soft.

Down Here (1973)

The last song that Asha wanted to highlight from her career takes us back to the beginning: this is the opening song of her debut.Asha Puthlialbum. The J.J. A version of Cale, it's all breathy, nonchalant, sultry vocals over a smooth Hammond organ and thunderous trumpets. Asha says she chose it because it was sampled on the hit 'Die-Da?' of the German hip hop group Die Fantastischen Vier. – every song that inspired something, or was sampled later, is “the greatest compliment you can give an artist,” she says. And there certainly has been a lot of accolades of this kind throughout her career, through the various guises of her. Asha Puthli may not be a household name, but her pioneering spirit and ambition have carried her through generations, creating fusions, yes, but also, as on this particular track, simply creating beautiful, timeless music that resonates throughout. the world.

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Asha Puthli is one of the holders ofHe guesses who? Festival Utrecht, The Netherlands, which appears on Sunday, November 10

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