The Devil is loose: Asha Puthli stages a come back!!
- Sunil Kothari in Los Angeles
| November 7, 2008
‘Footloose and Fancy Free’ was the title of a column by that veteran columnist, film and media critic Amita Malik. I have taken that title from her wonderful 'down memory lane' column for my 'globetrotting.'
Right now I am with the jazz singer, actress, model and dear friend Asha Puthli in Los Angeles where she has moved from Palm Beach, Florida. Her well appointed apartment is somewhere in West Hollywood near Sunset Boulevard. Hollywood is a part of our lives. Remember Gloria Swanson's famous movie of the same name? We are on a quiet by-lane at the base of the hill and a small theatre named 'Sunset' can be seen from the large window on the left.
Very few know that Asha studied Kathak privately when she was studying at the Home Science Faculty at the M S University of Baroda in the early sixties. We met after she returned to Bombay and I suggested that she should study Odissi. I took her to Menaka Thakkar at her Santa Cruz residence and Asha started learning Odissi for some time. The famous film director Mani Kaul has filmed her Odissi Mangalacharan. Asha also appeared on the Span magazine cover in Odissi costumes and when we were together in London, she and I used to give lec-dems on Odissi. She often uses hand gestures in her performances when singing and has written several songs.
Hers is a fascinating career. Hailing from a traditional Saraswat Brahmin family, and a niece of Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay, raised in Bombay and educated in Baroda, she studied Western music and also classical Hindustani vocal from Lakshman Prasad Jaipurwale. But she was interested in jazz, listening to it on Voice of America. And had dreams of "making it big in the jazz world in America." She came to New York on a scholarship to study dance at Martha Graham's school and ended up singing jazz with the legendary Arnette Colman. Won Downbeat Magazine Award. Being focused, she made it.
Asha’s career reads like a chapter from a novel.
We had planned to meet during my visit to the States as we were at the Carnegie Hall in New York on September 20th for the Dance Festival of India 2008. I informed her that I would come over to Los Angeles, after my visit to Canada in October for Diwali and spend a week together to work out details of her 'India Project.' She is planning to raise funds for a hospital she wishes to build in her father Umanath Puthli's memory at Tara village, near Panvel, in Maharashtra. She has invitation from the Jazz Yatra Festival in India organized by the Jazz aficionado and expert, the renowned former Solicitor General Soli Sorabjee. His column ‘Soliloquy’ in Indian Express is widely read internationally. Through Ved Mehta, the New York based author of 'Portrait of India,' Asha met John Hammond, Sr., the best talent scout who discovered the likes of Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday and Bruce Springsteen. Asha’s mentor and great admirer is jazz expert Niranjan Zaveri who introduced her to the Reverend John Gensel, the Pastor of the only Jazz church in New York in the early seventies and since then Asha has cut several records of diverse genre Pop, Rock and Roll, Disco, Funk, Soul and what have you for EMI, CBS International and some of them went on the charts and 'turn gold.'
She is a celebrity and her coming back once again has been hailed by the music critics.
Two years ago on August 12, 2006 she appeared on the front page of The New York Times which announced her 'First New York City Concert in 25 years' on 13th August at Central Park Summer Stage joined by jazz saxophonist Dewey Redman and the rapper Guru, followed by another appearance at Joe's Pub, a prestigious and trendy jazz club on 13th September. Overnight she was back in the news, and won over a large audience of the old and new 'second' generation.
Wrote Jon Pereles in The New York Times: "No one can blame the Indian singer Asha Puthli for little name dropping. The collaborators and benefactors in her career since the late 1960s include, just for starters, Ornette Colman, Martha Graham, the Notorious B.I.G, the film makers 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."
I had met Asha the previous year in 2005, when I was on a Fulbright fellowship and visiting New York, after my lecture at Philadelphia to attend Aditi Mangaldas's performance at The Asia Society. She told me a most interesting story about how all this happened. Jason King, Ph.D a young professor of music at the Tisch School at New York University who was doing a book for Duke University and wanted to write a chapter on her and refer to 'soul music,' interviewed her and put her in touch with DJ Spooky. From that meeting, things began to move and resulted in the Central Park event. The comments from the New York Times catapulted her once again into the world of music and she is busy recording her new album. To sum up Asha’s achievements, it is relevant to quote from The New York Times: "... an extraordinary voice. Ms. Puthli has a velvety lower register that recalls Billie Holiday. From there, she can leap up an octave or two into a clear, secure soprano."
Asha's latest record 'Asha Puthli: Lost' is to be released recently. She is busy promoting the record. She now prefers to live in this part of the world near to her son Jannu Goldschmidt, 33, by her husband Marc Goldschmidt. They are divorced. Jannu studied film at the New York University and his film 'Taxi Bhaiyya' and 'Shutter' have won awards. He too moved from New York to Los Angeles and is currently writing a script for a movie. Tall like his father Mark, Jannu has, as all young film makers have, "dreams to make it big" in Hollywood. We, his well wishers, wish him good luck and hope that he will "make it one day."
Asha played for me the latest record which is bound to keep her busy. For Indian music aficionados, her music is still ahead of her times. But one feels proud that from India Asha has made it in this extremely competitive world in America. However, she had a more successful career in Europe, specially in Germany, Italy, France and UK-London. After her performance at the Central Park in New York, Asha also received Life Time Achievement Award in Bollywood Music Awards category, in 2006 at Trump Taj Mahal Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Reams have been written about her. Described as, "Singer Asha Puthli, the groovy vixen whose voice lent a psychedelic, swinging vibe at many a bachelor pad in her heyday in the '70s, made a come back at a recent concert at Central Park Summer Stage followed by a gig at the trendy Joe's Pub." Her forthcoming greatest-hits album 'Space Talk: The best of Asha Puthli, the CBS Years' features smoldering hits like 'I Dig Love.'
I met her friends in Hollywood. They all agree that she needs a music manager. Through Internet, her old records are downloaded and the 'second generation' has discovered her with a large following. Ajay Mehta, who appears in commercials and is business savvy, has no doubt that with her celebrity status, rubbing shoulders with celebrities in the world of fashion designers, painters, musicians, actors, film directors, socialites, she should soon have a fantastic career with such a 'god given' voice. Rajashree, daughter of director V Shantaram is her neighbour. A former film actress, Rajshree moved to USA and then to Hollywood some 30 years ago. She adores Asha. The legendary painter Andy Warhol, who photographed Asha and was a friend of hers, has his former friends in the media in Hollywood. They appreciate the fact that she dropped out of a busy career to raise her son Jannu for a decade. But now, she should leave no stone unturned. Brad Pitt and Angelina, the Hollywood stars when they went to India for shooting and met the Maharaja of Jaipur (known as Bubbles to friends) were given a set of records of Asha which they loved. I have no doubt that Asha will once again delight her audiences with her enchanting music.
For readers who wish to listen to Asha's velvety voice, I suggest to browse her website www.ashaweb.com and www.ashaputhli.com. You will have glimpses of Asha singing and performing.
Asha is a versatile artiste and knows how to charm her audiences and media. I was browsing through some of the press clippings. Some I enjoyed: "I feel like a global person. My psyche, I think, is very American. My soul and my roots are very Indian. And my career has been more European. I am spiritually 6000, I am mentally 98, I am emotionally 5 and chronologically in between."
Asha's old tracks have been revived Jay Z, the Neptunes and others in the electronic genre. Suddenly she is in demand in United States - but as an Indian vocalist. "I am an artist, and it is difficult for artists to draw lines. We draw circles- concentric and eccentric circles."
Dr. Sunil Kothari, dance historian, scholar, author, is a renowned dance critic, having written for The Times of India group of publications for more than 40 years. He is a regular contributor to Dance Magazine, New York. Dr. Kothari is a globetrotter, attending several national, international dance conferences and dance festivals. He has to his credit more than 14 definitive works on Indian classical dance forms. Kothari was a Fulbright Professor and has taught at the Dance Department, New York University; has lectured at several Universities in USA, UK, France, Australia, Indonesia and Japan. He has been Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific (2000-2008) and is Vice President of World Dance Alliance Asia Pacific India chapter, based in New Delhi. A regular contributor to www.narthaki.com, Dr Kothari is honored by the President of India with the civil honor of Padma Shri and Sangeet Natak Akademi award.