A singer’s voice lends fruition to the tune and lyrics and makes the song come alive for the listeners. It is the voice of the song that remains in memory of listeners. The world of singers has always been overwhelmingly male dominated, but female voices have made their mark and proved themselves equal to the task. From Parul Ghosh to Lata Mangeshkar and beyond has been an enriching evolution.
The present generation remembers Shamshad Begum for her hit swan song "Kajra mohabat wala" composed by O P Nayyar for Kismat (1968). Music lovers took to her full-bodied voice when all nine songs of Khazanchi (1941), composed by Ghulam Haider, were a resounding success, and turned Shamshad into a celebrity crooner.
Suraiya was neither a classic beauty nor endowed with training in classical music, but with her honey-rich voice in songs like "Woh pass rahen ya door rahen, "Tere naino ne chori kiya, Yeh na thhi hamari kismat" etc, she created history and hysteria.
Mubarak Begum had an appealing voice, vastly different from other singers of her time. Despite singing just a few hundred songs she has managed to etch a deep impression in the hearts of the music buffs.
Geeta Roy, nee Dutt had only a rudimentary training in classical music but her emotive capacity rather than technical excellence made her an extraordinary singer. In her songs "Mera sundar sapna beet gaya", "Ghungat ke pat khol re "Ae dil mujhey bata de, tu kis pe aa gaya hai", she conveyed every emotional note with inimitable conviction in her rich mellifluous voice.
Noorjehan spun eternal classics like "Bulblo mat ro yahan," Aawaz de kahan hai, "Aaja aaja, meri barbad mohabat ke saharey" and dethroned Khursheed and rendered obsolete the nautch-girl singing style of Zohrabai Ambalewali. She migrated to Pakistan, leaving behind a legacy of hits and monumental talent — Lata Mangeshkar — who made Noorjehan her initial role model.
Lata Mangeshkar’s high-pitched singing pioneered a genre of music that was totally different from what the music lovers had been used to. It is her ability to imbibe the lyrics, capture the mood, skilfully balance changing cadences that makes each song —from "Aayega aanewala" to "Mere daatta mere maula (from Jail) — a milestone.
With her husky, sultry, sensual, breezy, and romantic voice, Asha Bhonsley has established her as a versatile diva. Her dazzling range as she moves with equal ease from the sizzling qawwali "Nighahen milane ko jee chahta hai" to folk song "Ab ke baras bhej bhaiyya ko babul" is noteworthy. From disco numbers like "Dum maro dum" to ghazals "Yeh kya jagah hai dosto, "Justjoo jis ki thhi, usko to na paya humney", she conveys every emotional note with conviction in her rich voice.
During her prime years, Suman Kalyanpur sounded like Lata. The composers would send for her not because she was good but only if Lata was not available, or ill, or out of the country. Suman did sing some very good numbers and even charged much less than Lata, but still, she is always remembered as her clone.
Another melodious singer Sharda sang "Duniya ke sair kar lo" "Chale jana," "Titli udi", "Dekho mera dil machal gaya" etc for Shankar but Jaikishan never used her voice. She became a bone of contention between Shankar and Jaikishan.
Anuradha Paudwal is the iron lady, who made it her lifetime mission to demolish the Mangeshkar monopoly. She remains a key factor in the emergence of the post-Lata-Asha – generation of female singers. Her formidable talent was groomed by the talented composer Jaidev. With her songs like "Zindagi, zindagi mere ghar aana, "Tu meri zindagi hai, "Nazar ke samne, "Dhak dhak karne laga" etc. she went from strength to strength.
Alka Yagnik is the only singer today, who can match up to Lata’s flexibility and vocal allure. She admits an early Lata influence on her singing. But her similarities to Lata’s voice were brought up by her composers more than by Alka herself. With her songs in films like Khalnayak, Taal, Raja Hindustani, Lagaan, Swades, Kaho Na Pyaar Hai, Dil Chahta Hai etc, Alka has emerged as a top-notch singer.
Kavita Krishnamurthy/ Subramaniun broke the mould that a South Indian could not sing with perfection in Hindi and Urdu language. She has moved from a low-profile singer, who started off as a dubbing artiste for Lata-Asha, to be among the leading singers of the day. With an array of hits in Mr India, 1942-A Love Story, Bombay, Bhairvi and Saaz and chartbusters like "Hawa Hawaii, "Tu cheez badi hai mast mast, "Mera piya ghar aaya", "Nimbuda nimbuda", etc she has proved her versatility.
The Gen Next singers
Sunidhi Chauhan, Shreya Ghosal, Rekha Bhardwaj, Kavita Seth etc. are
carrying forward this musical legacy. They have that rare quality that
inspires music directors to expand their compositional vision.