This month, Carnatic singer Jayashri Ramnath will perform two concerts in the US, one at the legendary Carnegie Hall in New York (on October 20) and the other at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts in California (on October 26). ...
This month, Carnatic singer Jayashri Ramnath will perform two concerts in the US, one at the legendary Carnegie Hall in New York (on October 20) and the other at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts in California (on October 26). In light of her upcoming US tour, Jayashri had a chat with NH7.in about her childhood, the loss of her guru and what’s she’s up to now.
Bombay Jayashri, as she is more popularly known – her prefix is a Chennai practice of identifying musicians – was raised in Chembur, Mumbai. As a child, Jayashri has said she wasn’t allowed to read books. According to her mother, they were a distraction and all of her efforts had to be dedicated to one vocation, singing. “I always loved to sing, [but] like any child I didn’t like the rigour and discipline that I was forced into.” And as time passed, the then-teenaged singer became one of 25 singers from all over Mumbai that comprised the band Seven Colours, who performed everything from Asha Bhosle to Mehdi Hassan. But Carnatic music, at this point, wasn’t Jayashri’s world. As with many great musicians, it was one live performance that changed her life; when she saw her future guru, violinist Lalgudi G Jayaraman play at Chembur Fine Arts, Jayashri knew she had found her calling.
Then 24, the vocalist had already been learning Carnatic music, but realised that a move to Chennai, where Jayaraman resided, was necessary. “My guru made me realise that it’s a passion, a lifetime’s vocation,” says Jayashri. “I need to adopt a style of living to be in it.” Practice and saadhna were never again drudgery. They, in fact, became an obsession, one that she’s still feeding. The singer is constantly looking for techniques and methods to hone her voice. For instance, a few years ago, Jayashri read Eckhart Tolle’s Stillness Speaks which emphasises the silence between sounds. The singer has incorporated the concept into her singing, puncturing the progression of notes of a raga with, yep, you guessed it, silence. The effect is not just a more stirring rendition of a kirti, but it allows listeners to understand the music better.
Jayashri also trained in Hindustani classical music for seven years. “I have trained with Ajay Pohankar and Mahavir Jaipurvale in the Jaipur and Kirana gharana styles of music,” she said. “I was not trained to become a Hindustani musician, but I wanted to be able to appreciate a different genre.”
Earlier this year, Lalgudi Jayaraman, 82, passed away, leaving a chasm within all his students. “Even if he’s not there physically watching over us, he has instilled a huge responsibility in us to further his dreams. I close my eyes and think deeply and I get all the answers,” says Jayashri. To this day, she follows the same routine and practice that her guru instilled in her all those years ago when she was in her early twenties –“six to eight hours of daily saadhna”.
Jayashri has spent a lifetime absorbing different cultures, whether it was an addiction to The Beatles, Abba, Boney M and Lata Mangeshkar in Mumbai, or being possessed by Carnatic music in Chennai. “Everything that I learned came together,” she says about the opportunity to work with the multi-nationality cast and crew (Taiwanese Ang Lee, Canadian Michael Dynna and Indian actors) of Life of Pi. “It’s truly proof of the fact that art has reached a point where we’re really seeing a melting point of different genres, artists, ideas and processes.” But the cherry on the icing here is that ‘Pi’s Lullaby’, the intro song to the film which was sung by Jayashri, was nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Song, the first ever Tamil song to get an Academy nod.
The award has put Jayashri amidst the gaze of the world. “People who have seen the movie are now turning up for Carnatic concerts, it’s a little shift from the regular concert-going audience.” But the vocalist maintains that despite its increasing popularity, Carnatic music can never be mainstream. “Classical music anywhere in the world is meant fo