What was that line again‹"Bridge full of ashes"? "Grim fool of fashion"? Few could discern that Cornershop, the East-West pop group of Indian heritage, was actually singing the words "Brimful of Asha" in its infectious 1997 hit. But beneath the catchy licks, the song holds deeper messages about Bollywood, the center of India's dance-filled musical films.
The song praises the legendary Bollywood vocalist Asha Bhosle, whose hypnotic voice suggests the vigor of one much younger than her 74 years. Bhosle‹customarily garbed in a dove-white sari, her knuckles adorned in oversized jewels‹is the most-recorded artist in the world, having sung more than 12,000 songs in her lifetime.
At age 14, after her father's death, Bhosle was "forced to sing" to make ends meet, sometimes up to 16 hours a day. "It was a question of my family's survival," she explains. "I had no choice, as it was the only thing I knew." Necessary labor turned into Bhosle's foremost passion; she began as a playback singer for Bollywood films and quickly branched into the eclectic worlds of Indian classical, Turkish ghazals, and even pop tunes. She has paired with the likes of George Michael, Phil Collins, and Bryan Adams, and on April 17, Bhosle returns to Carnegie Hall, where she appeared in 2006 with the Kronos Quartet.
"Music is like my breathing," Bhosle says. "The day it stops, my breath will stop too ... I hope I can continue singing in my next birth." Lucky for us, she's still sharing her remarkable vocal gifts in her current incarnation.