Hollywood dominates the American movie industry, but Tinseltown's output pales when compared to Bollywood, the name given to the Indian film business. Each year, India releases twice as many films as Hollywood, and the audience is huge: 3.6 billion annually. The Bollywood films are also grandiose. Epic stories are told through exotic production numbers done Busby Berkeley style with lots of soaring, psychedelic and sensuous music.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Ms. ASHA BHOSLE (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

HANSEN: That voice belongs to Bollywood superstar Asha Bhosle. Since her debut in 1948, Bhosle has recorded some 20,000 songs in 19 languages, making her the world's most recorded singer. Bhosle has sold more records than The Beatles and Elvis combined. Now she has one more to her name. This track is on her new collaborative CD with the Kronos Quartet, "You've Stolen My Heart: Songs from R.D. Burman's Bollywood."

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Ms. BHOSLE: (Singing in foreign language)

HANSEN: Kronos Quartet violinist and artistic director David Harrington as well as vocalist Asha Bhosle are in the studios of KQED in San Francisco.

Welcome to the program, both of you.

Mr. DAVID HARRINGTON (Violinist and Artistic Director, Kronos Quartet): Thank you.

Ms. BHOSLE: Thank you.

HANSEN: Ms. Bhosle, let me start with you. You have to give us just a little bit of information about R.D. Burman, Rahul Dev Burman. This is your late husband.

Ms. BHOSLE: Yes. So...

HANSEN: Now he wrote music for over 300 films?

Ms. BHOSLE: Yes.

HANSEN: Wow. What is it that makes his music so special to you when you sing?

Ms. BHOSLE: He gave me such a song that my voice is going up, down, and he gave me very difficult songs because he knows that I'm doing very hard work.


Ms. BHOSLE: And I like that because every song is challenge for me.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Ms. BHOSLE: (Singing in foreign language)

HANSEN: David Harrington, when did you first discover Asha's music?

Mr. HARRINGTON: I first heard Asha's singing about 15 years ago. There was a song called "Aaj Ki Raat," or "Tonight is the Night."

(Soundbite of "Aaj Ki Raat")

Ms. BHOSLE: (Singing in foreign language)

Mr. HARRINGTON: And I just loved that song and thought the melody was so beautiful and the orchestration was so beautiful and found out it was written by R.D. Burman. And eventually that ended up on an album that we recorded called "Kronos Caravan." Since then, I've listened to probably more than a thousand of R.D. Burman's songs, and the ones I always loved the most were the ones that Asha sang.

(Soundbite of "Aaj Ki Raat")

Ms. BHOSLE: (Singing in foreign language)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Morning dove, oh, my darling. Morning dove, oh, my darling.

HANSEN: We were inspired by the vitality of the original recording and just the amazing orchestration that R.D. Burman came up with, and, of course, the unbelievable virtuosity of Asha's voice. And we tried to find ways of reflecting the inspiration of the original.

(Soundbite of "Aaj Ki Raat")

Ms. BHOSLE: (Singing in foreign language)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Morning dove, oh, my darling.

Mr. HARRINGTON: Frequently on the different songs, Hank, our violist, might be playing keyboards, or John(ph), our other violinist, might be playing the trumpet violin. And, in fact, we even invented some instruments. I know that John and I took out all the bows in our violin cases and made a percussion instrument out of throwing them in the air and catching them at the same time. And basically we were inspired by Burman's incredible creativity, and I have the sense that he found music in so many places where a lot of people just don't find music. And so we tried to turn the recording studio into many different instruments, and if a friend of ours showed up, they ended up on the record.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Ms. BHOSLE: (Singing in foreign language)

Mr. HARRINGTON: I feel that these songs--once they enter your imagination, they will never leave. It's so vivid, this music, and so--and Asha's voice is so human. It's so beautiful. And sometimes I look over at her and I think she's a trumpet, and other times I look over at her and I think she's a viola. And then I realize, no, this is all coming from her voice. It's just thrilling.

(Soundbite of unidentified song)

Ms. BHOSLE: (Singing in foreign language)

HANSEN: Asha, if I might--if I may tell people, I mean, you are in your seventh decade. I mean, how do you keep your voice in such wonderful shape? You've been singing for so long.

Ms. BHOSLE: I don't know, but I'm--What do you call it?--reavsi(ph)--practice in the morning, classical practice. And I don't eat ice cream or any sour thing and like this. And I think that's why. I don't--nothing special.

HANSEN: You take care of it. You know, you've been given a gift and you've nurtured it and taken care of it.

Ms. BHOSLE: Yes.

HANSEN: What is it like to perform this music live? I mean, you've been performing together in California. You'll soo--in the spring, you're going to be performing at Carnegie Hall. It's one thing to listen to this on a CD, but what's it like for you to do this live?

Ms. BHOSLE: This whole life, 62 years, I'm singing and recording in mikes. That's my life. But when I go to stage perform, live perform, that's very different. I mean, I like that very much because people give their intent (unintelligible) you're good or bad. I like that very much. I was a little bit nervous because so many American people there, Indian and American people. So I'll just--I'm thinking what they will think about Indian music and Indian lady--old lady singing like that. But it's very nice experience.

Mr. HARRINGTON: For me, when we played our first concert at the Yerba Buena Center here in San Francisco--I mean, I'm a collector of musical experiences, and I would say that this concert is the jewel in the crown of all the music experiences I've ever had on the stage. It was just so much fun and inspiring, and I can't wait for all the opportunities that we have in the future to play.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: David Harrington from the Kronos Quartet, thank you so much.

Mr. HARRINGTON: My pleasure.

HANSEN: Asha Bhosle, thank you so much.

Ms. BHOSLE: (Foreign language spoken)

HANSEN: "You've Stolen My Heart: Songs from R.D. Burman's Bollywood" is the new CD from the Kronos Quartet and singer Asha Bhosle. They joined us from the studios of member station KQED in San Francisco.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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