The singer Raveena, whose family immigrated to the U.S. from India after the 1984 Sikh genocide, has been listening to the late playback vocalist and composer Lata Mangeshkar her entire life. She grew up on Bollywood films and music, and Mangeshkar’s distinctive, piercing soprano is among the first voices she remembers hearing as a kid.
Mangeshkar died on Feb. 6 in Mumbai at the age of 92. Throughout Mangeshkar’s towering career, she recorded an estimated 25,000 songs, and her four-octave voice became an indelible part of Bollywood history. She worked as a teenage actress in the 1940s and eventually moved behind the scenes as a playback singer, growing into an icon lovingly called “the nightingale of Bollywood.” While she primarily performed in Hindi, she also sang in Tamil, Gujarati, Bengali, and more.
Raveena’s new album, Asha’s Awakening, is out on Feb. 11, and it draws influence from the way in which Western and South Asian sounds have been in conversation with one another throughout the decades. It’s also deeply rooted in the Bollywood songs that soundtracked her childhood. In an interview with “Rolling Stone,” she shared what Mangeshkar has meant to her and how she hopes people will remember the prolific artist.
Lata Mangeshkar was probably one of the first artists I’ve ever listened to in my life — she’s the most famous playback singer in all of India, so the first songs I was exposed to, probably since I was in the womb, were examples of Lata’s voice. I have really warm memories of my grandparents singing Bollywood songs from the 1950s and 1960s and hearing the sweetness of her voice. She’s so universally loved in India and it’s so beautiful. I feel like a lot of people from India can relate to how much I love Lata because her voice is like your childhood.
When I became a singer, I gained such an appreciation for how much control Lata had, how much power and softness she could display. She defined the very unique sound of Indian women singing— it’s such a particular style, and she influenced probably every Indian woman who became a singer. It’s interesting how many different actresses have lip-synced with Lata’s voice behind them; she’s been behind so many of our favorite soundtracks throughout Bollywood history. I think a beautiful part of Bollywood films is this sense of familiarity and growing up with the same voices. There’s another side to that, where it can be harder for new people to break in, though now they’re making more space for new voices. Yet within that, Lata is an icon, and she’s incredible. We’re so lucky to have grown up with her voice.
Her singing sounds like this feminine softness that is very present onscreen when [Bollywood] displays Indian women. It’s often these very soft, kind characters, and Lata’s voice just captures that innocence. It goes beautifully with that. But at the same time, it’s strong and full of power, and the runs she does are absolutely insane. The places she goes, how high she goes, it’s crazy — you don’t often hear that kind of soprano in the West.
Something really moving that I’ve found in Indian music and Indian culture is that there’s a lot of respect for people who have worked on their craft for hours and hours and hours. There’s also a lot of respect for older people, who have studied and put in the work. Coming from such a youth-obsessed culture, I think it’s wonderful to know this other side of music appreciation that honors our elders and the idea that we can learn from their craft. It’s also so interesting to hear Lata’s mature voice in a song like “Luka Chuppi,” to notice how it grew into a warm, grandmother-like tone that is also so strong and classic. It’s so beautiful to see someone’s art and voice change over many years and be so masterful, honed in, and well-crafted.