Mathai Rocks ‘The Voice’

Could an 18-year-old singer named Mathai be the next winner of NBC’s The Voice?

Billboard called Mathai’s performance on the show last week “awe-inspiring” and noted she was “one of the few [contestants] who understands nuance and power.”

I hope that as the season progresses we’ll get to see Mathai do more ballads. This 2010 talent show performance, in which a 16-year-old Mathai covers Adele’s version of To Make You Feel My Love, is incredible. (You can check out more of her songs at her official YouTube channel.)

Happy 70th Birthday, John Lennon!

Like many of you, I spent part of today blasting my favorite John Lennon songs in commemoration of what would have been his 70th birthday.

The official John Lennon YouTube channel has been collecting tributes from fans around the world for the past couple of days. Here’s one submitted by Bollywood playback singer Suraj Jagan. (He’s best known for the song Give Me Some Sunshine from the 3 Idiots soundtrack.):

And because I strongly believe that no South Asian-themed John Lennon tribute would be complete without a link to the Bollywood version of “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, here’s that as well:

What are your favorite John Lennon songs? And have you noticed any other South Asian tributes to the Beatles?

Liz Phair takes a trip to “Bollywood”

Oh, Liz Phair. Has it really come to this?

Seventeen years after the release of her debut Exile in Guyville- an album Blender considered the 35th best indie rock album of all time- Phair is back with a new album called Funstyle.

Bollywood, the album’s lead single, is downright bizarre. Phair raps about the injustice of the music industry over a tabla and sitar-driven track. Sample lyric: “Let me tell you how it’s done here in Hollywood/Maybe you were thinking you was in the Bollywood.” Ugh. Hopefully a video of Phair dancing around in a lengha isn’t inevitable.

You can listen to the song below. (Warning: it’s a bit painful.):

(Via Vanity Fair, EW)

The Real Freddie Mercury, Deconstructed

I cannot express just how jealous I am of everyone who is attending the EMP Pop Conference in Seattle this weekend. One of yesterday’s panels was a roundtable on the one and only Freddie Mercury.

From the abstract of “Freddie Mercury Deconstructed” (I’ve bolded my favorite parts):

As the lead singer and songwriter of rock group Queen – and famous for songs like “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Killer Queen”, “Somebody to Love”, “Don”t Stop Me Now”, “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, and “We Are the Champions” – Freddie Mercury is arguably the most gifted and flamboyant of 20th century rock stars. Often neglected in discussions of Mercury”s stardom, however, are his Asian heritage and African roots, his interest and work with black and Asian musicians, and his bisexuality. The multiple (open) closets in which he worked and his subversive musical and visual content should have long ago prompted a total re-examination of the assumed whiteness, Western-ness and straight-ness of the rock front “man” mythology. But the often fraught journeys of contemporary artists like Mika and Adam Lambert and Sam Sparro suggests how far and not so far we’ve come.

This panel proposes to deconstruct Freddie Mercury’s impact on popular music, with a special focus on these hidden aspects of his public image. Among topics for consideration: Freddie Mercury’s early Bollywood and Hendrix influences; Tanzanian pop culture of the 50s; the politics of flamboyancy (Liberace to Elton to Morrissey and Mika); postcolonial superstardom; Mercury’s impact on contemporary artists like Lady Gaga; his influence on glam rock and the ways that his transnational identifications complicate our notions of “white” male rock singing; Queen’s ”70s multitracked vocal excess; Mercury’s buried ”80s records with Michael Jackson; revisiting Queen’s critical reception by the rock press; Mick Rock’s classic photographs of Queen.

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The things you learn while browsing at Borders

While browsing at Borders earlier today, I came across this CD:

Not to be too stereotypical, but when I saw this album cover my first thought was “I bet that’s not the name her mama gave her.” (Second thought: “I wonder how she pronounces Lakshmi.”)

Through the magic of Google, I quickly found Jaya Lakshmi’s official website once I got home. According to her official bio:

Inspired by the deep devotional mood of Indian singing and music, Jaya Lakshmi began leading kirtan with harmonium and 12 string guitar and writing her own devotional songs in the early 1990’s on the island of Hawaii, shortly after receiving harinam initiation from Srila Govinda Maharaj, a great Vaisnava saint from West Bengal, India, who graciously bestowed on her the name “Jaya Lakshmi”, which means “victory to the goddess Lakshmi”, the Hindu goddess of fortune and spiritual wealth.

What a sentence! Here are some more fun facts about Lakshmi from this concert website. (Minnesota readers: she’s playing in Minneapolis on April 24th!):

[She] made a profound connection to her own Native American ancestry through traditional ceremony and the singing of their powerful medicine songs on the Big Island and Maui, where she moved in 1996. It was on Maui that she met up with Deva Priyo and Om and formed the band Lost at Last, which officially marked the beginning of her professional music career.

In short, Jaya Lakshmi is a Native American who now makes her living recording in Sanskrit. Very interesting. Listening to chanting has never been my cup of chai, but here are some tracks for your perusal.

(Researching this post also inspired me to watch old Apache Indian videos on YouTube. Turns out that he’s also recorded some Sanskrit tracks. Who knew?)

A rare look at the Beatles in India

It was 40 years ago today that Paul McCartney announced that the Beatles were breaking up.

In honor of the greatest band of all time, I thought we’d take a look back at the Beatles’ visit to Rishikesh in 1968. Unfortunately I don’t speak Italian, but here’s a news report about the Beatles arrival in India. (See if you can spot Mia Farrow and Donovan in the footage.):

Part two here. And be sure to visit The Beatles in India for some extraordinary color photographs of the band on their meditation retreat.

Salman Ahmad, the Bono of South Asia

The Washington Post recently interviewed Salman Ahmad, lead singer of the Pakistani rock band Junoon. (Ahmad is apparently also known as the Bono of South Asia). The resulting article is extremely over the top.

Ahmad tells Quinn the word Junoon means “obsessive passion” and goes on to explain in Bono-esque fashion:

“Even I don’t know what my junoon is,” Ahmad says. “It’s that whisper which comes from the heart. It might not have wings, but it has the power to fly. People see it as impulsive, but it’s more intuitive.”

The article’s kicker is equally entertaining:

As we finish lunch, he asks to say a prayer for me. He takes my hands in his, kisses them, bows his head and quietly recites the verse from the Koran: I seek refuge in the Lord of the Daybreak. Then he blows gently on my fingers and kisses my hands again.