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Orange and black jacket for Usha's latest effort           




'The orchestra is predictable everywhere, and the ubiquitous dholak and brass put me off as soon as each new track began playing'



The Punjabification
of Usha Uthup

Shai Ra Re
Rs 65

This album comes from Jawahar Wattal, who made some of Daler Mehndi's early tunes, and the only consolation is that Usha Uthup's voice is still 24-carat gold


Who can forget Usha Uthup? The deep voice of hits like Rambha ho and Shaan se, not to speak of countless numbers in languages other than Hindi?

Asianet called her to do the new millennium programme for its Malayalam channel last year, and she sang some excellent numbers in Hindi, English, Malayalam, Kannada and Tamil. She did her own numbers, of course, and sang some songs she'd only heard and loved -- like Ilaiyaraja's swing jazz number Rum pum pum from the Tamil film Michael Madana Kamarajan, and Huttidare Kannadanaadal huttabeku, Rajkumar's Kannada hit from his film Akasmika.

Usha grew up in Bangalore and later moved to Calcutta. In her approach to music, she is cosmopolitan in the best sense of the word. She enjoys not just jazz and rock -- genres that her Westernised fans love -- but also music from India's diverse regions. She shares Salil Chowdhury's sensibility in this respect. And if you wanted a further statement of her convictions, you'd just have to look at her: she's never worn skimpy clothes to sell her music, has always sung true, and shown up the foolishness of people who believe women in saris can't sing pop and rock. In other words, Usha has never let stereotypes rule her heart.

Now that you know why I love Usha, you'll also appreciate why I picked up this tape. The inlay card says Usha sings "8 + 1 racy numbers". That ought to have warned me that this could be another of those unthinking dance albums, but I was taken in first of all by the idea of hearing new numbers by Usha, and also by the funky inlay card in orange and black (good work from Universal Music's designers!)

The music for Shai Ra Ri is by Jawahar Wattal, the Delhi man who made some of Daler Mehndi's early tunes. And since his hits have been in the bhangra-style, he does an entire album in the pseudo-Punjabi style that has now caught on in Indipop and refuses to go away -- dholak, tabla and some Latino brass played on the keyboard. This style stifles Usha in Unchi atariya, a song borrowed from the traditional repertoire, where she sings quick phrases to a pounding beat and can hardly show any expression.

The orchestra is predictable everywhere, and the ubiquitous dholak and brass put me off as soon each time a new track began playing. I couldn't find any natural instruments, besides the dholak and tabla that is, that could have added life to this album. A couple of numbers, like Nasha hai nasha, could have turned out more interesting if the dholak and the trumpets had been kept under control.

Hai re mera dil is offered twice, and that only disappointed me twice over. The only consolation is that Usha's voice is still 24-carat gold, and she can't be put down even in tunes that may sound too frivolous and undeserving of her.

Smriti Ananth

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