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POP MUSIC REVIEWS : India's 'Elvis' Packs the Shrine

October 09, 1995|DON HECKMAN

Imagine a performer who combines the broad popularity of Bing Crosby, the emotional appeal of Judy Garland and the legendary qualities of Elvis Presley. That still wouldn't begin to define the significance of Lata Mangeshkar to the Indian community.

The revered singer, who appeared before an overflow crowd at the Shrine Auditorium Saturday, is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having recorded more songs--30,000 and counting--than anyone in history. Not only is she the most popular entertainer in India, but she is also one of the country's most widely known and respected public figures.

All this in a small, unassuming, bespectacled 67-year-old woman who, in performance, simply stood on stage behind a music stand and sang--beautifully. No theatrics, no grand gestures, just her remarkable voice, soaring, articulate, sometimes piercing in the upper range, warm and mellifluous in her middle register.

Most of the numbers were Indian pop tunes, many drawn from her decades of work as a playback singer for musical films. Although the music retained traces of the sitar and tabla sounds Americans identify as Indian, the songs had the generic characteristics of international pop, filled with synthesizer textures, simple melodies and rolling percussion.

In almost every piece, Mangeshkar's greatest achievement was her ability to transcend the tunes' lightweight attributes by linking them to the rich aesthetic of classical Indian music.

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