Violin maestro Dr. Jyotsna Srikanth explains that though she has a British passport, her heart and home are still in Bangalore
Be it classical, western, jazz, hip hop, pop, funk or rock. You name it – she can play it. For violinist Dr. Jyotsna Srikanth, the violin is an extension of her heart and she wields the bow with ease playing any tune or style effortlessly. Here in the city recently for a concert at BFlat, the globetrotting fiddler reminisces her happy days in Bangalore.
The accomplished musician, who originally hails from Andhra was born and brought up at Rajajinagar in Bangalore. Recalling her childhood, Jyotsna says: “I started learning traditional Carnatic classical music when I was three. My mother, Rathna, was a vocalist and my first musical guru. She took me to a lot of live music concerts but I was allowed to listen only to classical music since we were very traditional.” Her most memorable concert was a violin recital by the legendary Kunakudi Vaidiyanathan at the age of five. “Seeing him play like that was mind-blowing. So I went home, took two broomsticks and imitated the violin. Mum felt I was serious about this and sent me to train under the late maestro R. R. Keshavamurthy, who used to play on the seven-string violin. He was very strict but he was one of the best tutors I’ve ever had.”
Jyotsna says her first concert was when she was nine. Vaidiyanathan was also scheduled to perform but was delayed. “I was very excited to play on the same stage as him. I was told to continue playing till he came. What was supposed to be just 6 to 7 p.m. went on till almost 10 p.m. when he finally arrived and insisted he listen to me and only then play.”
Jyotsna explains that before becoming a soloist in Carnatic violin, the instrumentalist needs to accompany a vocalist which helps gain experience. So from the age of 12, she got the opportunity to accompany the virtuosic, multi-faceted Balamurlikrishna in hundreds of concerts. “When I was 14, I met Ilaiyaraaja’s violinist V. S. Narasimhan who explained to me the nuances of playing the violin in different pitches. My mother, realising my passion, sent me to the Bangalore School of Music in Frazer Town where I completed all my eight grades and performed in several orchestras. I also went for higher training with Narasimhan where I was introduced to Ilaiyaraaja.” By then, Jyotsna got her Licentiate from the Royal Schools of Music in London and had mastered both Indian and Western styles.
Her biggest breakthrough came When Narasimhan experienced some health problems and she was invited to play for Ilaiyaraaja. Jyotsna went on to play in all his Kannada movies as well as most Tamil movies starting from Thalapathi.
“Surprisingly, When all this was happening, my academics never suffered. I was a seventh rank holder in II PU and took up medicine. I have an adventurous career,” she shares. With a doctorate in MBBS and with seven gold medals, Jyostna went on to do an MD in pathology after her marriage. She also dabbled in computer education becoming the first doctor in the country to be sun certified by Java. “I owe it all to proper time management. I still handle my daily routine in a timetabled approach.” She worked as an IT health care consultant for a few years until her husband Srikanth got posted to the UK and she took leave to join him but never returned.
“It was in London where I realised if I needed international recognition I needed to stay there for a while. In 2007, I took a leap of faith to play music fulltime. By then, I was already playing background scores for BBC documentaries and plenty of films, so it was easy to form my own fusion group called Fusion Dreams. Since then, there has been no looking back.”
The maestro says there’s a big demand for classical music abroad. “In 2004, I established Dhruv Arts as a South Asian arts organisation in London seeing the need for Indian music in the UK. What started on a small note to promote Indian music has now grown to such heights that we now produce the London International Arts Festival.” The annual festival, which Jyotsna is the director of, recently concluded in November with over 70 artistes from six countries.
Her yearly goal is to promote something new. “Last year, we had a Polish band and Greek folk musicians and made their music available for appreciation from the common man. Likewise there are many good artistes in India who are not popular. I want to project that kind of talent in the UK.”
Jyotsna recently renamed her group as Bangalore Dreams. “Generally people have a misconception about the term fusion. It’s actually not about the instrument. It’s about the way you play it. In my music I have Irish folk, Italian folk, hip hop violin, rock violin, Carnatic and Hindustani. I trace all these styles to an Indian raga since my roots are Indian. Though I have a British passport, my heart is all in Bangalore, Mysore and Hyderabad.”
Jyotsna has seen a plethora of collaborations in the past. Apart from her Indian alliances, her happiest ones fondest works have been with Portuguese Fado flautist Rão Kyao, Spanish Flamenco guitarist Eduardo Niebla and UK violinist Robert Atchison, who is principal violinist of Disney’s Lion King Musical in London. Jyotsna and Robert are bringing together for the first time Indian Classical and Western Classical in a “union of cultures” project called Raga Garage which they will tour this year.
The fiddler says she has her hands full with various projects. “There are world music festivals and the London Fiddle Convention and various other projects this year. I am also working on symphonies with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
The 40-year-old violinist juggles between her musical career and raising two kids, aged 11 and six. “I like to say am happily settled in East London though I visit Bangalore and Hyderabad often. My husband who is a project manager in Visa Europe took three years off from his career to build mine. He became my manager. His sacrifice and support has helped me be where I am today.”
Jyotsna loves encouraging young talent and trains students in workshops and music schools. “In India, children are not pushed into instrumental music. Everyone wants to get into the vocalists market, especially with so many TV reality shows, and that is very stupid. We all came up organically which is not there now. Especially with those who want to pick up the violin need to learn patience.”
Her message to upcoming musicians is simple: “Struggle hard and do what your heart feels. Hard work really pays off. Make sure you listen more.” For more on Jyotsna visit www.indianviolin.eu or www.youtube.com/jyotsnastrings.