Lata Mangeshkar | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Lata Mangeshkar 

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India's film industry is three times as large as America's, and for many years, particularly during the 50s and 60s, it served as the primary vehicle for disseminating popular music: lacking record players, most citizens flocked to theaters to hear the latest tunes. While the films they saw may have featured a wide array of actors, the music lip-synched by those pretty faces was sung by a small pool of chameleonic "playback singers." Lata Mangeshkar, who has an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for recording more than 30,000 songs in some 2,000 movies, is indisputably the greatest of these. With her sweet, plaintive voice she's set the standard for female playback singers: according to Cassette Culture, Peter Manuel's fascinating study of India's cassette-dominated music industry, it's difficult for Indian moviegoers to imagine a female voice that's not Mangeshkar's. Indian film music itself is a mighty bizarre genre, fusing native styles, from classical strains to ghazals, with bastardized bits of Western music--anything from surf rock to Dixieland to psychedelia to disco to reggae. The overtly dramatic, violin-heavy result offers a smorgasbord of contradictions and tensions. It's hard to predict how it'll come off in a live setting, but I'm eager to find out. India's greatest living male film singer, S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, also performs. Saturday, 8 PM, pavilion, University of Illinois at Chicago, 1150 W. Harrison; 413-5740 or 559-1212.

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