“I went to bed listening to music and it woke me up every morning. Being in Mumbai, my exposure to other kinds of music was immense. This is probably the reason I still have the influence of other types of music when I perform a Carnatic music concert.”
Music has always been a part of her life. When asked when her training started, Bombay Jayashri recollects growing up with music right from the age of 2. Born and brought up in a family of illustrious musicians she recalls “I went to bed listening to music and it woke me up every morning.” With an atmosphere at home that was reverberating with music and surrounded by seasoned artists, it was natural that she started singing before she even realized it.
“We all have music within us. Like how everybody is born with a heartbeat, I believe that everyone can sing.”
While she trained under Smt T R Balamani for a decade, her mother’s persistence for her to learn other forms of music encouraged her to foray into learning Hindustani, ghazals, and bhajans. “Being in Mumbai, my exposure to other kinds of music was immense. This is probably the reason I still have the influence of other types of music when I perform a Carnatic music concert.” Her guru, the violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman, further encouraged her by bringing an amalgam of music into her upbringing.
Her training in various forms of music reflects on how she uniquely perceives it. She puts it beautifully “We all have music within us. Like how everybody is born with a heartbeat, I believe that everyone can sing. The difference is that some are exposed to training, some are not. If I went to space and looked at the earth, I would see this beautiful mix of blue and green and other colors. What I cannot see would be the lines that divide countries. I feel the same way about music – there is no clear line between pop and Carnatic. It all originates from one source.” During the conversation, you can see how much she believes in this. Her happy recollection of singing for Silk Smitha and Purnima Jayaram’s raunchy numbers is a delight to hear.
Regardless of her welcoming all kinds of music into her performance, she acknowledges that the audience comes to her concert with certain expectations. It could vary based on the countries and cities she is visiting like singing a Kannada song in Bangalore or performing for children or an occasion like Ramnavami where she delights the audience with a celebration of Lord Rama through her music.
Besides being a legend in Carnatic music, Bombay Jayashri also founded the HITHAM Trust in 2014, with which she provides musical training to over 300 school children in Manjakudi’s Swami Dayananda Saraswati’s Educational Institutions in Thillaisthanam and Tiruvarur. She has worked closely with institutions in Bangalore and Chennai that deal in the realm of autism and associated learning and cognitive disabilities. When asked what motivated her to contribute to this cause, she recalls “It was right after a concert when I was talking to the audience members who were appreciating how well I’d performed that day. A 10-year-old little boy, holding his mother’s hand, walked up to me and furiously told me that I’d sang everything wrongly. I was quick to recover from my embarrassment by smiling politely and continued talking to others. The next day, the boy’s mother walked up to me apologetically and explained that the boy, who is a big fan of hers, has autism.” This remained in the singer’s mind when she went back and listened to the concert tape. “He was absolutely right. If not for the honesty of a small child, I would have never worked on those mistakes. That incident really drew me to the condition and brought me awareness.”
Her travel also helped her meet so many children with the condition. Considering this a message from the universe, she talked to her student Abhinaya Shenbagaraj about it. “I told her about a couple of schools where she can teach young children.” HITHAM started when Abhinaya and her students started teaching a few children and the idea grew. Children generally respond excellently to music, she says.
“Back in my learning days, I couldn’t record a session by my master. Forget recording, I was not even allowed to take notes during the class. My master would chide us saying music has to be heard and not written.”
One of the most noticeable things, when you talk to her, is her admiration for the younger generation. “This generation is so evolved and intelligent. Kids in their 20s can dish out ragas and swaras easily.” But what does it take for them to differentiate themselves and create an identity? She says it is very critical that one does that. “I have noticed that students now use their phones as a support tool. Back in my learning days, I couldn’t record a session by my master. Forget recording, I was not even allowed to take notes during the class. My master would chide us saying music has to be heard and not written. Once the class ends, I would run to a park bench and try to recollect the songs, how to sing, the sangatis, swaram, ragam and whatever we learnt that day. And, the lessons are so ingrained in me that even when I sing at a concert today the entire class flashes before my eyes.”
We also got to talk to her about the multiple ranges of talented musicians that she has worked with. Nostalgically, she talks about how blessed she is to work with a plethora of musicians from different countries and genres, dancers, and other performers. When asked if there’s someone she would like to sing with some time in the future, she laughs “Off the top of my head – Beyonce. I mean, why not?”
You can find her recent work and concert performances on her YouTube channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZU-kX-p3rsSeW-LASj7mEg. If you’d also like to follow her performance schedule and know when you can attend one, you can visit her website.