Friday, February 24, 2012

The Divas of the Top 100

Rita Abatzi
12" x 10"
oil on wood, 2012
Lata Mangeshkar
12" x 9"
oil on wood, 2012

As a form of national pride most countries have their unique musical style. And almost without exception these national styles have a leading female star, a singer so popular that she is considered a national treasure. Even in those countries where women are typically not public figures, Oum Kalthoum of Egypt and Fairuz of Lebanon to name a few, are larger than life.  are larger than life. Portugal has her Fado queen Amália Rodrigues, Edith Piaf is the face of the French chanson, South African Jive has Miriam Makeba, America has several national styles, jazz, blues, and country (to be politically correct one could argue that rap is a fourth—with Beyoncé the term diva gets yet a broader significance) with their respective stars Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, and Patsy Cline. Browse to the various guides of world music that are out there to read the chapter on the biggest female star of that country's national music. I typically stay away from listening to the stars but for the national divas I make an exception. Their voices are without exception soulful to say the least, their lives often tragic. Several divas make it in my Top 100 again this year, just last week I payed respect to Maria Callas and next week you can expect some words about, and a painting of Asakawa Maki. Today though, hence this lengthy paragraph as introduction, the paintings and brief stories of Lata Mangeshkar, who with her sister Asha Bhosle, are the biggest starts in the history of Bollywood music, and early Rebetica diva Rita Abatzi. 

Rita Abatzi (sometimes spelled Abadzi) was a huge star in Greece in the 1930's. Still early in the history of sound recording she made a great number of recordings. When I painted her several years ago the text that I wrote along side of it compared my painting to that of Robert Crumb's (in the CD booklet Hot Women: Women Singers from the Torrid Regions of the World, that features female singers from Crumb's 78 collection). The only image of Rita Abatzi that was available then is the one that we both used for our paintings, it's the same one I used again. A Rita Abatzi image search now shows a second photograph of her. I wish I had used that one instead as I again compare my new painting to that of Robert Crumb (The first time I won, but I think Robert Crumb vs. myself is a tie right now). I have quite a few of Abadzi's recordings including the one from Crumb's collection but the song in the Top 100 this year was new to me: Apopse ta Mesanyhta from the album Climodi ka Paradosiaka Tragoudia, 1930-48. It was brought to my attention through the blog Bodega Pop.

I've been a fan of Lata Mangeshkar since the early 90s. You would think I have a lot of her records, but I don't. Her records are hard to come by even as she "had recorded approximately 25,000 solo, duet, and chorus-backed songs in 20 Indian languages between 1948 to 1974"(quote: Wikipedia). In fact she was featured in the Guiness book of records for having made the most recordings of anyone. Most of these songs are from over a thousand Hindi films she recorded for, good luck trying to find any of these. I've tried, I even looked during a few weeks stay in Calcutta. In the twenty some years she's been on my radar, I managed to find one full length tape and a handful compilations she's on, so I was very excited to find one recently. Unlike all other recordings I have and heard, this one is not from films but are live concert recordings. They were recorded not  in India but in Britain.
The song in the Top 100 is Aaega Aane Wala, performed by Lata Mangeshkar live at the Royal Albert Hall in 1974. She first recorded the song for the film Mahal in 1949.

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