Lata Mangeshkar,
(Interra, 1996)

Lata Mangeshkar is a legend in her homeland of India. Lata (pronounced "Latha") has been performing since the 1940s. She is one of the most recorded artists in the world with upwards of 40,000 songs either produced as solos, duets or backed by a group. The minimal liner notes from her CD, Mata, state that she has more than 150 albums to her name and that she has contributed to countless Bollywood movie soundtracks. In fact, Lata is arguably considered one of the most powerful women in Bollywood. (Bollywood is the Indian equivalent of Hollywood, although it should probably be called Mollywood now since Bombay is now known as Mumbai).

I have a limited exposure to Indian music and own only a handful of CDs from India (many of which are from soundtracks, not surprisingly). Consequently, to get a better perspective about who Lata is, I asked a couple of my Indian co-workers for their impressions of Lata and her CD, Mata. Like Cher or Madonna, it seems that Lata only needs one name for recognition. Lata was very popular during the '60s, '70s and '80s. Unfortunately, with age, her voice has started to break during performances and her popularity is not what it once was. As an interesting side note, one of her competitors in the singing world is her younger sister, Asha Bhosle. I understand that these two musical queens have not gotten along for decades! This juicy bit of gossip was brought up twice by different people, so I figured it must be important enough to mention here.

Mata essentially means "goddess." It is a compilation CD; the 11 tracks can be found on other albums (but the liner notes do not indicate which ones). I'm guessing these tracks were recorded when Lata was younger as her vocals are very crisp, without the age-related issues I would have expected with more recent recordings. She sounds very young, with high-pitched vocals such as a teenager or child might have. It is a style I've heard many times when listening to Indian female vocals.

I do not understand a word of what Lata is singing. I asked my friend, Sarita, to give a rough lyrical translation. In "Aisa Vardaan de Dena Mata," she tells me, Lata "talks to God and asks Him to give her blessings and the strength to be a better person. Give us the understanding to do good and stay away from the bad things, to stay away from jealousy and greed. Make us strong so that we will overcome all the hurdles in life and also give us happiness."

What draws me to the song is not the vocals, but rather the melody carried by a variety of instruments including a flute and something that sounds like it is from the violin family. It is a very pretty tune and I would love to hear an instrumental version.

Sarita explains that in "Na Chitthi Aayee" Lata talks about how "she would like to visit God and be happy. She did not receive any invitation or a letter to visit God, but she is very keen, and she goes on to say that God knows everything and that He should give her courage and strength, whatever difficulties she has to face, she will try and overcome it in order to visit God and get peace of mind."

Like all the songs on this CD, Lata is backed by a chorus of male and female vocalists. And like the previously mentioned song, it is the melody that grabs me. Once again, I find myself focused more on the instruments rather than the vocals.

Mata by Lata Mangeshkar is a decent CD, but not a must-have. Those more familiar with her many CDs tend to agree that Lata has released better material. Is Lata worth checking out? Yes. Is Mata the CD to go after? That would be up to you. A determined seeker should easily be able to find more than enough sound clips to form their own opinion about this Indian diva.

- Rambles
written by Wil Owen
published 22 March 2003

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