Carnatic vocalist Bombay Jayashri who has been nominated for an Oscar along with Mychael Danna in the Original Song” category for “Pi’s Lullaby” — in the film “Life of Pi” — tells K.T. Jagannathan that she hopes this will make more people listen to Carnatic music. Excerpts.
Describe the journey leading up to the Oscar nomination. Who were those involved in it?
We recorded the song in Bombay with Tanay Gajjar, the revered sound expert in AVA-Studio. Tanay is an artiste himself. The song was recorded in December 2011. A lot of the mixing was done in Los Angeles. Since Mychael Danna and Ang Lee had worked closely with Tanay in earlier projects, they wanted to record the whole thing in his studio in Mumbai. And, they wanted to do it in December (in 2011). I was praying that it wouldn’t clash with my December season concerts in Chennai. Luckily, the recording happened between December 4 and December 10, 2011.
We all stayed close to his studio for the whole week. We worked from 9.45 in the morning till very late in the night. We exchanged constantly with them in New York. Tanay’s studio was our home for the week, and we worked like a family. A lot of discussion had gone into each and every word and syllable of the song. It was a lot of hard work.
What does this Oscar nomination mean to you? Where do you take-off from here?
It means so much to me, Indian music and musicians. I feel I have been chosen to represent them all. I really don’t know where I go from here. But I am just grateful for the moment. That’s all I can think of at the moment.
The descendants of the Malayalam poet Irayimman Thampi have alleged that you have lifted the lines from his lullaby “Omanathinkal Kidavo….” What do you say?
The words and expressions in “Pi’s Lullaby” are that of love and affection expressed commonly by a mother to a child, such as Kuil, Mayil, Chanda, Sooraj, etc.The directors of the film wanted a song as I would sing for my own little one, as a mother would sing for a child. Kanne, kanmaniye and the like are the universal ways a mother would call her child. Some of these find expressions in Sangam Tamil literature, Azhwar pasurams, especially Periazhwar’s, Andal pasurams ...We are influenced by the things we are called and referred to by our parents in our childhood. And if they call us Kanne, Mayile, we would refer to our kids as Kanne, Mayile.
How could the Oscar nomination impact the Carnatic musician in you?
The Oscar nomination reaffirms my belief in the immense power and the reach of our music.
What fallout will your nomination have on Carnatic music?
I hope it means more people will listen to this beautiful music.
What kind of responsibility does this cast on you?
Definitely, it adds responsibility. It will make me to continue to keep working hard. I feel it is the duty of every artiste to increase the visibility of Carnatic music. We have to do it — draw the audience closer to us — without diluting the format.
Can this bring about a change in the audience profile to your concerts?
May be it could result in a change. In fact, I have been getting a lot of mails from university students from Beijing who have listened to this song. They are keen to know about my work, and about Carnatic music. They even want me to recommend what they should listen to in YouTube.