Loving Bombay (Jayashri)
JUST BEFORE MONDAY
Q & A
Bombay Jayashri Ramnath’s music is both mellifluous and meditative. With an eclectic repertoire of jingles, Bollywood numbers and Hindustani classical music to her credit, she has now surrendered to her true love—Carnatic music. The Oscar-nominated vocalist performed in Mumbai at the Dakshinayan concert organised by Banyan Tree on Friday.
How special is performing in Bombay for Bombay Jayashri?
(Laughs) It is very, very special. After all the city has given me so much that shaped me as an artiste.
How did the name of the city come to be part of your name?
When I travelled to the South to perform, a critic called Subbudu had done a be
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You were exposed to both Carnatic, Hindustani and light music and even learnt Bharatanatyam from guru Kalyanasundaram. How has that eclecticism helped in your journey?
I m very fortunate to have recieved such eclectic training and exposure. My Carnatic music teacher parents were great fans of all kinds of music. I trained in Hindustani under Mahavir Jaipurvale for about six years.Very early on, I was encouraged to follow different styles. That helped hone my musicality as an artiste. As I now pursue Carnatic music, all this comes together in a special amalgam. For example, even as I sing, I can see the sahitya as a dancer. As a person and artiste what more can one ask for?
You ve been the voice of jingles in many languages for many top brands. Any that have stayed with you?
It was not only about music, technique and the joy of the art, but about being able to sell something in 20 seconds. And I learnt so much about projection and voice modulation from greats like Kersi Lord, Louiz Banks, Leslie Lewis and others who I sang for. I ended up learning many languages too. I can remember practically every jingle I sang, even now. Many still recollect the Bournvita and Rexona ones. I remember having sung the Ponds Dream Flower jingle in eight languages.
Singer-songwriter Shankar Mahadevan was a fellow-disciple...
Yes we trained under Balamani around the same time and have always shared a great rapport. I remember how we’d have to count every penny in those days. When I walked from Balamani maami s class near Matunga station to the 8 Ltd bus stop to head home, one of us spent a princely 25 paise to buy sev puri which we d share. I ve never been able to find that taste of sev puri again. It still lingers.
Can you recount your training under violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman?
By the mid 80s, I d begun singing lots of jingles. I was also part of a group which sang filmy numbers at Ganpati pandals, Navratri gatherings and Dandiya nights singing in Hindi, Marathi and Gujarati.
I would ve probably continued but a concert by my guru Lalgudi Jayaraman changed my life. I was listening to him live for the first time. His violin drew me to it instinctively. I knew deep within that I should pursue his musical path. I just had to be a part of his world, even if it meant being a tiny speck, a tiny dot. I m lucky he agreed to teach me.
And you shifted to Chennai...
I just stopped singing jingles to leave for the Lalgudi household in Chennai in 1989. That home was spritual in every sense—whether it was Guruji, who was music personified, Guruji’s mother praying, or the vibes of so many great visiting maestros. I realised how little I knew and applied myself completely to learning under him.
Was he strict?
Yes he was strict about getting the best out of me. He changed my approach to music as a mere performing art to a way of life itself. He gave me insights into aesthetic classicism that I didn t know existed. Having said that, he was not at all close-minded about his art and was a huge Mehdi Hassan and Michael Jackson fan. I remember watching videos of Jackson with him. “See how he becomes one with his music. When your personality becomes one with the note, music is born. And in that oneness you create a world for your listeners too,” he had told me.
You ve sung for theme-based albums, concerts and have even given playback for films. What do you find most
I don t think of them as removed from each other. I just relate to the musical note. And there is so much to learn. If I sing a song for Ilaiyaraaja Sir, it is like a year of college education. That is often more important than the opportunity itself. For me, music is music. It is one beautiful continnum. Having said that, I ve now devoted myself primarily to Carnatic music. I can sense what some call a spiritual/divine calling to carry on my journey on this path.
You perform without moving your arms or head like most singers. Is this a conscious decision?
Hemant Kumar’s nephew, Gautam Mukherjee lived in the same colony as us in Chembur. My mother took me to him to learn. My first meeting with him left a mark. He was 22 and I was only 14. He asked me to sing and then asked, “Have you ever seen yourself in the mirror? You shake your head, twitch your nose and make faces like a monkey. Why such complicated gestures though you aren t singing anything complicated?” I broke down and I told my mother I didn t want to go back but Amma would have none of it. Now I feel so grateful to him for teaching me stage presence and the visual aesthetics of a performance.
We know you re a great fan of Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle. Any current singers whose work you like in Bollywood?
Every once in a while, in the car en route, I get to hear snatches of some great singing. I really like singers like Shreya Ghoshal, Sunidhi Chauhan, Rekha Bhardwaj, Sonu Nigam and Arijit Singh.
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