Bombay Jayashri talks about her musical journey and search for newer interpretations of classical compositions

Musical compositions, it should be remembered, do not inhabit certain countries, certain museums, like paintings and statues.

Henri Rabaud, French conductor and composer

The quote seems to be in sync with Bombay Jayashri's musical journey as she talks elatedly about singing Carnatic compositions to captivated audiences in outlying islands and nondescript nooks across the globe. And how, at each such concert, she experiences ancient Indian tunes slickly scaling barriers of time, space, words and structure and pitching themselves into hearts. So it was at the Lousto festival in Lapland, the Zulu carnival in Africa, the 100-year-old cathedral in Santaigo de Compostela in Spain, on the lawns of the museum at Cordoba in Southern Spain, the festival of sacred voices in Lausanne and under Huvilla, the giant opera-house-style tent in Helsinki.

Jayashri is a musical adventurer, who seeks out performance settings unconventional and eclectic, but at the root of this striving her approach to Carnatic music remains untwisted and discoloured.

One of her early crossover works was the duet she recorded with Egyptian pop singer Hisham Abbas, who listened to one of Jayashri's albums and came over to Chennai to ask if she could sing with him. Though most portions she sang had a classical flavour, Jayashri also rendered a few lines in Arabic.

“It's amazing to see how music creates a universe of its own that has more bridges than boundaries, where you can have a dialogue with artistes of all tonal hues,” says the renowned vocalist, sitting in her spacious apartment that is surrounded by pleasing landscaped patches. The exhaustive photo-shoot does not quell her energy to talk about her many musical sojourns. But, in a reflective vein, she adds: “reaching out is impossible without delving deep within; without undergoing the rigours of serious training and dedicated practice”.

And, it's hard not to follow her string of thoughts when you see the many tamburas in her house — three in the drawing room, three in the living and four in her small sadhagam space. She fondly lifts a lovely little one: “this is my new baby and has come from Miraj (Maharashtra). It is also the lightest of the lot. I have a major fascination for tamburas, and buy whenever I see a good one. Sometimes, I even get them made. A part of my fairly large collection is with my students,” she smiles. With tamburas all around, obviously she is tuned in, twenty-four hours.

If Jayashri is not performing, she is teaching or thinking about presenting a composition differently, or travelling. “It's hard to focus on anything else, for instance, provisions or the laundry. Leisure, which is rare, means listening to music or spending time with the family. Soon after marriage, my mother-in-law sent a well-trained maid to help me out with the household chores. Besides, my husband understands my work pressure and passion for the art. Family support is what has brought me this far.”

Besides gaining recognition as a classical vocalist, Jayashri has made successful forays into film music. “Working with maestros such as M.S. Viswanathan, Ilaiyaraaja and Rahman were opportunities I didn't want to miss out on. It's feels nice when your voice adapts to different kinds of music. But I would definitely not give up Carnatic for anything,” she stresses.

A matter of choice

As she showed a flair for singing at an early age, her parents (both music teachers) put her through a thorough training (T.R. Balamani for Carnatic and Mahavir Jaipurvale and Ajay Pohankar for Hindustani). “Initially, I didn't have a choice but when I began to understand the finer aspects of the art, I didn't want a choice. I would hardly miss any music competition in school and college. I have attended college for just 30 to 40 days each year through my graduation. Sometimes a lecturer would tell me to render a song before granting permission to leave the class for practice. It was great fun,” she recalls.

Jayashri has always savoured music in all its forms…be it jingles (Bournvita, Rexona, Ponds Dreamflower and more), wedding songs, dandiya songs or classical compositions. “Even if you enjoy a particular type of music, it is fulfilling to move beyond it and explore other genres. It helps you boost listeners' musical appetite, heighten their concert hall experience, and help them appreciate something new even about the most familiar pieces,” she explains.

Jayashri moved to Chennai in 1987, but wasn't sure if she wanted to be a performer. It was only when she went under the tutelage of the legendary violinist Lalgudi G. Jayaraman did that dilemma end. “The moment he held my hand and said my future lay in music, there was rhythm in my life,” says Jayashri adjusting her elegant muted green silk sari, matched suitably with minimalist accessories.

Fast forward

The third edition of the popular six-day Svanubhava festival that T.M. Krishna and Jayashri have been organising will be held this year from August 2 to 7 at various city schools and colleges and auditoriums. It's an effort to draw youngsters into the classical fold and also facilitate interaction between acclaimed artistes and young aspirants.

The thematic concert “Bhaire Baanvari” in which Jayashri leads a team of talented young musicians (narration by Gowri Ramnarayan) to pay a melodic tribute saint-poet Mira. It tells the story of Mira's life through her own compositions that are replete with bhava of the soul and bhakti.

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