A singer, songwriter, actress, producer and publisher, Asha Puthli’s is a name that is legendary for many reasons. Over her five decades in the music industry, she has made music ranging from jazz to rock and pop to Indian fusion, been sampled by the likes of Notorious B.I.G., Jay Z, 50 Cent, Diplo and more, and collaborated with some of the finest names in the business.
In October, she returns to Mumbai for her first-ever Red Bull Music Academy lecture, which will be moderated by media producer DeeptiDutt.
“Every time I return to Mumbai it’s an ‘E.T. come home’ moment. The minute my feet touch the ground it is a joyful, emotional, and spiritual experience. It is thrilling to see how the music landscape in India has changed, with so many more women now involved in music and the music business. I am happy to be able to share my experiences as the first Indian woman to break into American mainstream music at a time when boy bands were at the top echelon of record label demographics, and female solo artists were at the bottom of the tier. I feel blessed to be given this opportunity and hope my anecdotes can amuse, educate, empower or encourage our audience,” says Asha Puthli.
Following the lecture, Asha Puthliwill also give a rare performance, alongside city-based electronic musician Madboy who will play with a full band featuring Saba Azad, Gouri(additional vocals and keyboard), JJ (drums), Anand Bhagat (percussions), Nitish Rambadhran (keyboard), Naama Choonawala (trumpet), and Rahul Joshua Thomas (sax and trombone).
A long-time fan of Asha Puthli, Madboy/Mink cite her as one of their numerous influences on their latest EP Persons.Elastic.Superior.Fantastic (PESF). “The first time I heard Asha Puthli's music I was just bowled over by the simplicity and beauty in her voice and delivery. For the longest time, I had heard just about four or five songs that I kept listening to on repeat. But as I dug deeper into her other albums, I realized the versatility that was at play here. From experimental jazz with Ornette Coleman to her own special breed of cosmic funk to some intense, post modern New Wave and disco-inspired stuff, her individual personality shines through always. For an Indian artiste to have made it across to New York in the ‘70s and done what she has done, working with some path breaking musicians and producers is definitely an inspiration. I often make my friends and fellow musicians listen to her tunes and the reactions are always indicative of the fact that a lot of this music, in spite of having that lovely, unique ‘70s character, was ahead of its time,” says Madboy, aka Imaad Shah.
Born in Mumbai to an orthodox and well-to-do family, Asha Puthli studied both Indian classical music and western music, but always harboured a dream to move to America and become a jazz vocalist. As a teenager, she would go on stage at clubs in Mumbai and perform with jazz bands, with her back to the audience to avoid being spotted.
In 1969, Asha Puthli finally made it to America on a dance scholarship with Martha Graham. Soon after, through contacts she had managed to attain, she earned herself a recording session with Ornette Coleman for his album, ‘Science Fiction’, which won her a spot in the DownBeat Critics Jazz Vocalists Poll along with Ella Fitzgerald. At the same time, she also featured on the Peter Ivers Blues Band’s cover of Ain’t That Peculiar which entered the Top 100 Singles Billboard charts.
Simultaneously, she had kicked off her acting career, which famously began back in Mumbai when she was cast as an extra in a film being shot at a friend’s house.At the time, she promised the director, James Ivory, that she would look him up when she made it to America, and did so, landing a role in the 1972 film ‘Savages’.
Although her early dream had been to make a career in America, it was with CBS Records in England that Asha Puthli got her big break, recording her self-titled, debut album, and subsequently the next two. While her second album, ‘She Loves To Hear The Music’ continued to make people sit up and take notice, it was with her third, ‘The Devil Is Loose’, that Asha Puthli hit the big time.
Ten albums, over 25 singles and countless guest appearances later not to mention displays at the Grammy Museum and Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, Asha Puthli’s career is still going strong. Coming full cycle, she has recently completed a tribute album to Jazz legends she worked with in her early career: Duke Ellington, Ornette Coleman, Lionel Hampton and Cy Coleman.
Date: 19th October
Venue: G5A, Mahalakshmi
Time: Lecture – 6pm to 9pm - Red Bull Music Academy lecture
Performance – 10.30pm to 12am - Red Bull Music Presents Madboy Live featuring Asha Puthli