By: Barnie Choudhury
Health secretary, Sajid Javid and London mayor, Sadiq Khan, have led tributes to Lata Mangeshkar, who passed away on Sunday (6).
The Bollywood legend and playback singer died after a long illness caused by contracting Covid.
She was afforded the sobriquet of the “Nightingale of India”, and the popularity of Lata Didi (sister), as she was affectionately known, spanned the globe.
Javid, of Pakistani heritage, told Eastern Eye, “I grew up listening to Lata’s harmonic voice, and was so saddened to learn that she is no longer with us.
“I loved her earlier songs, but also more recent ones such as Tere Liye (For You). She will be sorely missed by millions.”
Khan, who like Javid is the son of a Pakistani bus driver said, “Lata Mangeshkar was a huge talent, transcending the world of Bollywood to reach audiences all over the globe.
“I have many happy memories of listening to her music with my family growing up and have shared my love of her music with my own children.
“I am deeply saddened by her death and send my thoughts and prayers to her family and friends.”
The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, ordered two days of national mourning, and flags flew at half-mast as the country mourned.
He took to social media to convey his thoughts.
“I am anguished beyond words,” he Tweeted.
“The kind and caring Lata Didi has left us.
“She leaves a void in our nation that cannot be filled.
“The coming generations will remember her as a stalwart of Indian culture, whose melodious voice had an unparalleled ability to mesmerise people.”
Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, also paid tribute on social media.
On Twitter, Khan wrote, “With the death of Lata Mangeshkar the subcontinent has lost one of the truly great singers the world has known.
“Listening to her songs has given so much pleasure to so many people all over the world.”
In the UK too celebrities paid homage to a singer whose career spanned more than 70-years and 30 thousand-plus songs.
“RIP #LataMangeshkar defined the sound of Bollywood #legend #playbacksinger,” Tweeted actor, Sanjeev Bhaskar.
Former BBC correspondent and presenter, Sangita Myska Tweeted, “I can’t seem to stop crying. Her voice is woven into our souls.”
For acting star, Nitin Ganatra, Lata Mangeshkar was the soundtrack of his childhood.
“There is a generation of playback singers like Kishore Kumar, Mohammed Rafi and Asha [Bhosle], composers like RD Burman,” he told this newspaper.
“They were just on another level. It’s almost like what they had was an independent planet in which these incredible singers and composers and musicians existed, and Lata Mangeshkar was always kind of the star on the Christmas tree.
“She was the one, the icing on the cake, and for all these little cliches I can think of, she was always the one thing that everybody had in common.”
In the 1970s and 1980s, his family would trek to Leicester from their Coventry home on Sundays in search of vinyl records which contained her music.
Ganatra revealed that he had recently lost his father, and so the singer’s passing resonated with him.
“I’ve been dealing with grief. My dad was 94, so because I’m in the process of dealing with grief and losing my dad, I wasn’t shocked, I wasn’t surprised, and I wasn’t saddened by her passing because there’s an inevitability.
“I was grateful that she’s got so many recordings, that her legacy absolutely is in her voice.
“That will transcend society as long as this planet is working.
“She’s got a voice for each generation that’s passed, and the present generation as well.
“They all know who it is. It was a great deal of gratitude that I had.”
Influence on UK musicians
Leading figures from the British Asian music industry added their tributes to the legendary singer.
Musician Apache Indian tweeted: “Lata Mangeshkar RIP has been the voice that connects me back to my Parents, Culture & childhood. Thank you for all the inspiration & evergreen songs.”
Music producer and DJ, Bally Sagoo, posted: “Rest in peace Nightingale of Bollywood Cinema Lata Mangeshkarji. Her legacy inspired millions and will continue to inspire generations to come. There will never be another like her. Thank you for the Magical Memories. Let your music play on forever”.
Music producer Rishi Rich said: “There will never be anyone like her. Her songs will forever remain iconic and we have truly lost one of the greatest ever. Thank you for the music and memories.”
Lata Mangeshkar was the singing voice of every female Bollywood star, from Madhubala in the 1940s to Kajol in the 1990s.
As well as duetting with India’s top male singers, including Mohammad Rafi and Kishore Kumar, she was also revered by every leading Bollywood filmmaker, from Raj Kapoor and Yash Chopra to Mani Ratnam and Karan Johar.
“You cannot make any comparison with a single western singer,” said BBC Radio Five Live’s Nihal Arthanayake, whose parents are Sri Lankan.
“I’ve scrabbling around to try to find a justifiable comparison with a woman whose career spanned seven decades and recorded upwards of 30,000 songs.
“It’s incomparable. You can reel out Aretha Franklin, various artists, but they’re not going to do the legacy of Lata Mangeshkar any justice.
“My initial thought was this is terrible.”
Infamously, the hip-hop producer Dr Dre, used the song Thoda Resham Lagta Hai, sung by the late playback singer, throughout the hit single Addictive by artist Truth Hurts.
It led to composer, Bappi Lahiri, suing for copyright infringement.
Despite the controversy, Arthanayake said this expanded Lata Mangeshkar’s influence in western music.
“Suddenly this galvanised a sense of cultural belonging in one of the greatest, biggest hip hop producers of all time,” he explained to Eastern Eye.
“Dr Dre had chosen to sample something which was an absolute game changer.
“I spoke to the music producer, Naughty Boy about this, and he said this was what made him think that he could be a producer.
“Naughty Boy, of course went on to work with Emily Sandé and Beyonce.
“It made him think, okay, my culture, my Asian culture, and my western culture can sit very comfortably alongside each other.”
It is not just Naughty Boy who was influenced by the playback legend.
Anoushka Shankar, daughter of the late Pandit Ravi Shankar, acknowledged Lata Mangeshkar’s inspiration on her musical career.
“Like millions of others, I grew up with Lata-ji seeping into my consciousness and it would be impossible to define her influence on me,” she said.
“I have loved, danced to, and wept to so many songs from across her staggeringly prolific career and across the various phases of my life.”
Her late father worked with India’s Nightingale.
“They had a special relationship, filled with mutual love and admiration.
“Seeing them together, which I had the privilege to do a few times, was priceless, and hearing them speak about each was so moving,” Shankar told Eastern Eye.
“They saw in each other a pinnacle of artistry and my father only ever spoke of Lata-ji with deep lovingness and respect.”
Five Live’s Nihal Arthanayake, discovered Lata Mangeshkar later in life.
“It’s interesting that because being of Sri Lankan heritage, not Indian heritage, we didn’t sit around and watch Bollywood movies.
“I grew up listening to largely western music, so the real nature of how Indian film music is sung was quite alien to me.
“I would have been going to the bazaars in Mumbai where you can find all these classic Bollywood, vinyl from the 70s.
“Going and digging in the crates, and then coming back and playing them and going, Oh, listen to this. Listen to this. Listen to the beats. Listen to the funk. Listen to the vibe of it.”
In interviews, Lata Mangeshkar said that her family was imbued by classical music, and she was a trained classicist before making the move to Bollywood film music.
This training, said Viram Jasani, sitar and tabla composer and musician, while important, did not suit her.
“She knew lots of classical musicians, she picked up ideas, and so she had a phenomenal technique for singing classical music,” he said.
“But her voice was not suited for classical. It was suited for Bollywood music as a genre, and her versatility was amazing because she could see across all of these genres.
“Her ability to sing classical music, and all the techniques that she had, were phenomenal.
“That kept the younger people trying to emulate her.”
Jasani not only played tabla on Led Zepplin’s debut album, but he founded the Asian Music Circuit which would book Asian musicians to come to tour the UK.
He recalled how close he was to signing her 20 years ago.
“I was trying to actually persuade both the sisters to do a joint concert,” he recalled.
“With a twinkle in her eyes, Asha [Bhosle] said that ‘While I’m happy to go ahead with you, you’ve got to persuade Lata to do it.
“I almost did it. I got to the point of actually booking and cancelling the Madejski Stadium in Reading, which was a large 30,000 capacity stadium ready for this concert.
“Unfortunately, Lata declined and wasn’t able to do but that’s the nearest I got.”
For Arthanayake, her passing is a “big deal” for south Asians.
“It’s difficult to overestimate her contribution really, and what is happening here.
“What does it mean to a younger generation? Well, it means every classic song that you’ve grown up with your grandmother, your grandfather, your parents, and now you have had this extraordinary voice in your life.”
Star musician, Anoushka Shankar, said it would be impossible to sum up what Lata Mangeshkar meant to billions of people across the world.
“How can anyone quantify in words a legacy that encompasses what she did in her life?
“She went beyond lists of accolades and became the indelible voice in the ears and hearts of millions.”