Friday, 8 February 2013

When Worlds Collude - 2 (Nightingale Natalie Di Luccio)

I said in my last blog entry that examples of Western influence on the rest of the world are hardly news. They are the norm. And so the hordes of Chinese kids learning to play the piano or Kashmiri girls forming rock bands are only to be expected. Of course, the non-Western cultures in question add their own unique twist to these phenomena, whether it is through aggressive "Tiger Mom" style regimentation or fatwas condemning the cultural invasion.

And so, while it's no big deal when non-Westerners learn Western music, it's something else when Westerners learn non-Western music. In my childhood, much was made of the Carnatic musician "Higgins Bhaagavatar", who was actually an American called Jon Higgins. He earned the respectful title of "Bhaagavatar" (maestro) after impressing the South Indian cognoscenti with his skill, - no mean feat considering the sourpusses many of them can be. (Alas, Higgins's musical career was tragically cut short when he was killed in a road accident in 1984.)

A modern-day example is Natalie Di Luccio, who has become famous among Indians for her masterful renditions of popular Bollywood songs. What makes her songs special is that she brings a throaty Western abandon to these familiar numbers, and the listener is treated to a distinct and very enjoyable variant.

Initially, she seemed to struggle with the variety of Hindi consonants, but her later songs show that she's finally mastered their pronunciation.

[Hindi has both "hard" and "soft" consonants. Think of the way the letter 't' is pronounced in the English word to and in the French word tous. The former is 'hard', the latter 'soft'. The common joke is that if you mispronounce the Hindi "Main aata hoon, bataata hoon" ("I'm coming, I'll explain") by using the hard form of 't' instead of the soft, then you'll be making the rather weird admission "I'm flour, I'm a potato". To complicate things even further, Hindi has aspirated and non-aspirated variants of both hard and soft consonants! An aspirated consonant is pronounced with an explosive 'h' sound, like in "phat".]

Natalie's first song (Tu Jaane Na) went mildly viral, for very good reason. She has an amazing voice, and it didn't hurt at all that she's very easy on the eye herself. The song and the movie it appeared in (Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani) are themselves good examples of globalisation, even if the Italian-Canadian Natalie hadn't uttered a single honeyed note. The original version of Tu Jaane Na was sung by the very photogenic Atif Aslam, one of many Pakistani artistes whose careers have been helped by the Indian film industry. The female lead in Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani was played by Katrina Kaif, who owes her striking good looks to her own hybrid genealogy. She has a Kashmiri Indian father and an English mother. Good looks are global too, it would seem.

So here's Natalie's divine first hit, Tu Jaane Na, marred only slightly by her failure to grasp soft consonants in Hindi:

Natalie Di Luccio's Tu Jaane Na - I'm flour, I'm a potato, but I look nice and have a lovely voice

Her later songs are equally mellifluous, and she's learned to use the right consonants too. Here's Kahin To Hogi Woh from the movie Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na (for some reason, I find that movie title very hard to remember).

Kahin To Hoga Woh - I'm no longer flour or a potato, but I still look nice and have a lovely voice

Here's an oldie, the song Pehla Nasha (literally, "first intoxication") from Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar:

[Thanks to Ganesh Subramanian for the correction. I'd always thought it was from QSQT (Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak). I don't watch too many Bollywood movies and just listen to the songs passively when someone else plays them...]

Pehla Nasha - truly intoxicating

I hope Natalie sings more and more Bollywood numbers in future. They sound refreshingly different in her voice.

Update May 2015: Natalie Di Luccio seems to have made a niche for herself not only in Bollywood, but also in Indian regional language films. She provides the female vocals to the Tamil song 'Aila Aila' in the hit movie "I". Incidentally, the movie also features a British female lead, Amy Jackson.

Pay attention to the innovative "ads" in this clip

While her Tamil pronunciation isn't ideal, she does give the lyrics character, and the operatic quality of her vocalisation is admirably well done.

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