Asha Puthli is an Indian-born singer-songwriter, producer and actress.

Best recognized for her daredevil vocals on the "Science Fiction" album by jazz iconoclast Ornette Coleman, Asha Puthli has recorded ten solo albums for labels like EMI, CBS/Sony, and RCA. She is a 'world music' pioneer and an intrepid cosmopolite.[1]

Her recordings, which span styles like blues, pop, rock, soul, funk, disco, and techno, have been produced by the likes of Del Newman (who has produced Elton John and Cat Stevens), and Teo Macero (who has produced Miles Davis and Vernon Reid) .[2]

The early years

Born and raised in Bombay, Asha began training at an early age in Indian classical and European opera. With a dream to synthesize Indian music, Asha gravitated to western popular music emanating from her home radio. From Voice of America she consumed jazz masters like Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole, and she became acculturated to British and American pop singers like Dusty Springfield and Cliff Richard through Sri Lanka's Radio Ceylon.[3]

She won a competition at thirteen singing "Malaguena," which gave her the encouragement some years later to begin improvising with a jazz band at local tea dances. This nascent scene was chronicled in Ved Mehta's chapter "Jazz in Bombay" from his classic book Portrait of India. Asha's sultry, four-octave soprano that has been described by scholar Niranjan Jhaveri in the following manner: "The ability to manipulate her voice and to introduce certain glissando effects embellishments and textures descend directly from Asha's training in the Indian classical idiom. Her improvisations are the envy of the best instrumental technicians in jazz".[4] Music journalist Ann Powers, writing for The New York Times, called her a "fusion pioneer".[5]

The New York Years

Asha made her way to New York under the auspices of a dance scholarship from Martha Graham. As luck would have it, Columbia Records impresario John H. Hammond, who had forged a career discovering acts like Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, became intrigued by Ved Mehta's portrait of Asha in Jazz in Bombay.[3] After hearing a rough demo, Hammond championed her as a genius and vigorously recruited her for CBS Records. Unable to find a place for the jazz singer at his increasingly rock-oriented label, Hammond nonetheless used his connections to get her top-flight session work. She sang lead vocals on the Peter Ivers Blues Band's cover of "Ain't That Peculiar" which made a critical splash in magazines like Cashbox, Rolling Stone, and Billboard - sadly, the band's full album featuring her, Take It Out On Me was shelved for nearly four decades before finally seeing the light of day in 2009. The sensuality of the music and seeing Ivers stripped to his underwear in the next booth prompted Puthli to undress and sing the session nearly naked. Photographers soon followed, but interrupted nothing as they snapped away.[6]

Hammond fortuitously sent her to audition for avant-garde jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman, who'd been searching to no avail for a unique singer for his Science Fiction project (1971).[7] A quick study, Asha learned and recorded two of Coleman's songs, "What Reason Could I Give" and "All My Life," in mere hours. Historian Robert Palmer gushed about Asha's sound in the following manner: "A sound like Raga meeting Aretha Franklin, Miss Puthli's singing is equally extraordinary. There is just enough Indian training left in her style to give it an indescribable fluid quality. Her alternation of timbre from the breathiest of sighs to gospel derived moans is unique. She improvises off an impressive range and generally walks through the album with the assurance of a master performer."[New York Times - Pop Life by Robert Palmer "Mardi Gras Indians-And a Sound Like Raga Meeting Aretha Franklin", July 30, 1976] For her work on Science Fiction, Asha shared the Downbeat Critics' Poll award for "best female jazz vocalist," alongside Ella Fitzgerald and Dee Dee Bridgewater. Despite the shower of accolades, avant-garde jazz is not a genre known for vocalists, and recording opportunities did not materialize for Asha in the United States.[3]

European Solo Albums

Asha's commercial promise was better understood in Europe,[8] where she was signed to a record deal by CBS. Mostly unreleased in the US, Asha's series of inventive solo albums, in which she also delves into writing and producing, reflect the young singer's burgeoning interest in pop, rock, soul, funk and disco. Asha gravitated to glam, a scene populated by fashion-conscious provocateurs like Elton John and T. Rex. Her self-titled debut was produced by Del Newman, famous for his glitter rock treatment of Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and it featured languorous pop soul covers of tunes by JJ Cale, Bill Withers, and others. She also recruited Pierre LaRoche, David Bowie and Freddie Mercury's makeup artist, and glam photographer Mick Rock to shoot the cover.[9] Notable tracks included an early disco anthem rendition of Neil Sedaka's rock song "I Am a Song" (1972).[10]

The follow-up She Loves to Hear the Music continued in the vein of her debut; and her third solo album, The Devil is Loose, was hailed as an instant classic by the New York Times. Thom Jurek of AllMusic praises the psychedelic glam record as "a masterpiece of snakey, spaced-out soul and pre-mainstream disco".[11] Asha's sensual, Eastern-influenced cooing over bass-driven grooves on original songs like "Flying Fish" and "Space Talk" provided the blueprint for spacey disco hits like "I Feel Love" and "Love to Love You Baby" by Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder,[12] and they provided the sonic template for future disco, electronica and femme pop hits by Blondie, Ofra Haza, Kylie Minogue and others. Her disco album, L'Indiana, produced dance-floor hits like "I"m Gonna Dance". Recognized in critical circles as a fusion pioneer [Ann Powers], Asha's distinctive, unusual recordings predate fusion of east and west celebrated today in styles like hip-hop, worldbeat, bhangra, and electronica by almost twenty years.

Films, Fashion and Beyond

During the 1970s, Asha also branched out into films, starring in lead roles in Merchant Ivory's Savages (completely naked) and Bruno Corbucci's The Gang That Sold America (Italian title:Squadra Antigangsters).[9]

Her cosmopolitan sense of glamour rocketed her to visibility as a fashion icon: a headliner at Studio 54, she was dressed by A-list designers from Michaele Vollbracht to Manolo Blahnik, and photographed by iconic lensers from Richard Avedon to Andy Warhol.

The new millennium saw Asha re-emerge as an in-demand guest artist on the electronica circuit, appearing on funk experimentalist Bill Laswell's Asana Vol. 3, Hey Diwani, Hey Diwani with techno-fusion group Dum Dum Project, and a variety of rare groove and yoga music collections.

In 2005 Asha hit the UK charts once again singing lead vocals on and co-writing Stratus' Looking Glass from their album Fear of Magnetism.

Recently, her underground 1970s classic "Space Talk" − a popular tune with David Mancuso's The Loft crowd − has become a popular hip-hop break record, sampled by the likes of P.Diddy, The Notorious B.I.G., Dilated Peoples, Governor featuring 50 Cent, and Redman; and her cover of George Harrison's "I Dig Love" was sampled in 2005 for the chart-topping track "Reload It" by UK Mobo award winner Kano. She has co-writer credits with Jay-Z, P.Diddy, The Neptunes, Jermaine Dupri, SWV and The Notorious B.I.G. on the track "The World is Filled" from the multi-platinum album, Life After Death.[9]

In August 2006, she headlined Central Park Summerstage in New York City on an eclectic bill with DJ Spooky, Talvin Singh, Outernational and Prefuse 73 and special guests Dewey Redman and Dres (rapper) of the hip-hop group Black Sheep.[13]

Asha Puthli's album "Lost" was released in summer 2008 on European label Kyrone.

Partial discography


  • Asha Puthli (CBS) 1973
  • She Loves to Hear the Music (CBS) 1974
  • The Devil is Loose (CBS) 1976
  • Asha L'Indiana (TK Records) 1979
  • 1001 Nights of Love (Polygram) 1980
  • I'm Going to Kill It Tonight (Autobahn) 1981
  • Only the Headaches Remain (Polygram) 1982
  • Asha: The New Beat of Nostalgia (Top of the World Records) 1998

Appears on

  • Science Fiction - Ornette Coleman (Columbia) 1971
  • Mirror - Charlie Mariano (Atlantic) 1972
  • Squadra Antigangsters (Cinevox) 1979 - soundtrack
  • Easily Slip Into Another World - Henry Threadgill (Novus) 1989
  • Loft Classics XII - Various Artists (Loft Classics) 1995
  • Groovy Vol 1: A Collection of Rare Jazzy Club Tracks - Various Artists (Irma) 1996 - compilation
  • Groovy Vol 2: A Collection of Rare Jazzy Club Tracks - Various Artists (Irma) 1997 - compilation
  • Export Quality - Dum Dum Project (Times Square / Groovy) 2001
  • Walking on Music - Various Artists (Corona) 2001 - compilation
  • Psychedelic Jazz and Soul from the Atlantic and Warner Vaults - Various Artists (Warner UK) 2001 - compilation
  • Mpath - Wanderer - Gardner Cole (Triloka) 2003
  • Accerezzami - Fausto Papetti (n/a) 2003
  • Chillout in Ibiza, Vol. 5 - Various Artists (Smart) 2003 - compilation
  • The Karma Collection (Ministry of Sound) - Various Artists 2003 - compilation
  • Asana Vol 3: Peaceful Heart - Bill Laswell (Meta) 2003
  • The Trip - Tom Middleton, Various Artists (Family Recordings) 2004 - compilation
  • Fear of Magnetism - Stratus (Klein) 2005
  • Asana OHM Shanti - Bill Laswell (Meta) 2006
  • Cosmic Dancer - Voyage Three - Various Artists (Cosmic Dancer) 2006 - compilation


  1. Pareles, Jon, “Asha Puthli, an Indian Singer Who Embraces Countless Cultures”, The New York Times, August 12, 2006,
  2. Mandel, Howard, ‘Reclaiming Singularity: Asha Puthli’, Down Beat Magazine, February 2007, Vol. 74, Issue 2; page 26
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Marmorstein, Gary. The Label: The Story of Columbia Records. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press; 2007. ISBN 1-56025-707-5
  4. Jhaveri, Niranjan, "Features" in Jazz Forum: The Magazine of the European Jazz Federation, No.17 (3/72), June 1972, page 69.
  5. Powers, Ann, "Critic's Notebook; From India, Many Sounds, All Pulling Inward," New York Times, April 30, 2001,
  6. Frank, Josh, and Charlie Buckholtz. In Heaven Everything Is Fine: The Unsolved Life of Peter Ivers and the Lost History of New Wave Theatre. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2008, p. 80.
  7. Huey, Steve. Science Fiction: Review. Allmusic. Retrieved on 2010-04-15.
  8. Bush, John. Asha Puthli: Biography. Allmusic. Retrieved on 2010-04-15.
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Pareles, Jon, “Asha Puthli, an Indian Singer Who Embraces Countless Cultures”, The New York Times, August 12, 2006,
  10. Asha Puthli - Review. AllMusic. Retrieved on 22 May 2012.
  11. Jurek, Thom. The Devil is Loose: Review. Allmusic. Retrieved on 2010-04-15.
  12. Asha Puthli at Allmusic. Retrieved 2011-06-06.
  13. Sisario, Ben, "Listings: Asha Puthli, Prefuse 73, Talvin Singh (Sunday)" in The New York Times, August 11, 2006,

External links

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