What made Lata Mangeshkar the greatest?
- Atul Merchent ‘Jataayu’ | firstname.lastname@example.org
There was none before her and will be none after her (न भूतो न भविष्यति). All these qualities, that too at its best in one singer who lasted for five decades is an exceptionally rare divine phenomenon. To understand the achievement of the Mangeshkar sisters, one must understand that in practicality. The female singers have a different frequency range than the male singers. (Technically speaking, the average fundamental frequency for a male voice is 125Hz; for a female voice, it’s 200Hz. For a female to match male voice frequency, she’ll have to raise her average pitch to 250Hz, i.e., double the male average frequency of 125Hz).
In the male-dominated industry that Bollywood was Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle were compelled to sing in the male singers’ scales, which most of the time had D as the tonic or even higher. Lata invariably obliged the music directors by singing duets and tandems on the male scale. Of course, this was an injustice to the female singers, but no way the male singers could have managed to sing at the scale of female singers.
Timbre: The fundamental definition of music is ‘कर्णप्रियता’ – pleasant to listen to which begins with Timbre – the tone color or tone quality. Lata Mangeshkar had a divine timbre.
Pitch: If a man is a rational animal, music is the most rational activity ever done by human beings on a mass scale. The word ‘rational’ originates from the word ‘ratio’. The musical notes (a total of 12) are arranged and placed in an equidistant ratio. No other singer could match Lata Mangeshkar’s pitch perfection. Mohammad Rafi and Asha Bhosle were close, though not at par.
Range: Lata Mangeshkar’s ability to sing in 3 full octaves without altering the tone nor using falsetto, that too in perfect pitch, and with equal ठहराव was superhuman.
Clarity: Lataji had amazing clarity. Every word, regardless of the higher or lower pitch, was crystal clear, making the pronunciation of lyrics most intelligible, and the musical notes most discernible.
Movement (फ़िरत – Firat): Lataji had great flexibility in her voice to render quick movements (तान, मुर्की, खटका, हरकत) that too in perfect pitch, in pleasant timbre, and with amazing clarity.
Steady sustenance (ठहराव – Thaharāv): Unfortunately, there is no equivalent term for Thaharāv in western languages. We can explain this as a lack of vibrato, or the steady sustenance of the musical note. Lataji was one of the rarest singers who had both, the exceptional thaharāv and the first in her voice, that too with an exceptional range, clarity, and pitch-perfection.
Quick Grasping and efficiency of Execution: Lataji became so busy with her recordings that at times she would record 4 songs in a day. Therefore, getting her dates for rehearsals was too difficult. Many music directors would call her straight for recording and there and then would explain to her the composition of the song. Thousands of songs of Lataji have been recorded without rehearsals.
The saying in the studios was that though Lata was the most expensive singer, she made the recordings cheaper. Those were the days of simultaneously recording the singer and the live orchestra in sync. Lataji needed so few retakes that most of her recordings would be done and over within an hour or so.