Classic Nightingale

Bombay JayashriRamnath is an Indian Carnatic music vocalist. She has also recorded songs as a playback singer in South Indian films. Jayashri began her concert career in 1982. She has a vast performing experience presenting concerts all over India and in over twenty different countries around the globe. She has the rare privilege of being the first Carnatic vocal performer in the Royal Opera House, Durban and the Russian Opera House at Helsinki, Finland. She was also the sole representative of the Carnatic Music tradition at Lausanne, Switzerland; Porto, Portugal and Santiago, Spain, and is the only artiste who has been featured twice at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London.

Jayashri has been the recipient of several awards and accolades from many prestigious institutions, including the Kalaimamani award from the Government of Tamil Nadu and she has been conferred a Doctorate by the Mother Theresa Women’s University. She has also co-authored a book ‘Voices Within’ which describes the work and life of seven eminent musicians.

Bombay JayashriRamnath shares with Marie Banu how music can unite people.

You have been performing for charity concerts since 2001, not for one but for several issues. Which of the social issues are you passionate about?
I don’t know if I can particularly say that something is closer, or something is not as good. I like to reach out in a way that musicians can do, even if it is a like a drop in the ocean and if it could make a change in their lives. I go once in a way to sing at the Ramana Kendra blind school. I don’t know if they are happy or not, but at the end of the day I feel that I have done my little bit—going beyond just my areas of performing. Visually impaired children are extra intuitive towards sound, and sometimes they sing with me, which is nice. If we can help them by raising funds through an event, it is special. Any cause that is worthy is special. I cannot point out and say that it could be for the autistic children or for the visually impaired that I have sung for.

Music has a wonderful therapeutic effect and hence used as a tool for treating the mentally challenged. Can you share your experience while performing for this audience?
The very first time I sang for them was when I was at school. I studied in a convent, and we had a subject that we could choose—Guide or Social service. To be a guide one required a lot of funds from time to time and I came from a family that could not allow this. Only seven of us in my class took up social service. As months rolled, I realized what an advantage it was.
We would go twice or thrice a month to institutions, or spend two or three days in a hospital. I remember Sr. Marie Theresa who was particularly interested in music. She was fond of me because I could sing. She once said, ‘Let’s change the kind of social service we are doing, and go to orphanages and sing.’ I was studying in seventh standard then and still remember those experiences that touched a deep chord within me. The experience when I sang for such children and the love that I got made me feel important. It was a pure unaffected agenda, which I never got while singing for a school competition or singing for an audience. I must thank my teacher for this.

What according to you are the essential qualities for an artist to be a success?
First of all, you should be blessed to grow up in a musical atmosphere. Today, the stress is on education and academics. Both my parents were music teachers. I woke up at 4 A.M. for my father’s practice, and when I returned from school my mother would be teaching. Many a times, I remember going to sleep when my father was teaching. These are my early lessons in life.
You need parents who believe that their child should come up in music, offer them training, and make them practice. You require regular consistent practice for three to four hours a day.
I was fortunate to have very great teachers. I moved to Chennai only to learn music, and not because I wanted a career. I had one of the greatest masters like Sri. LalgudiJayaraman, who consented to take me as his student. One does not need anything more in life, but be blessed with the right teacher.
When you are a singer or dancer, you must have the art of performing which you have to hone over the years. For this, you need a nice guide who will instill the confidence and give you the knowledge. After that, I feel that the most important aspect is appreciation—to get more audiences who love your music and love you for whatever you are. I am really fortunate and believe that God has created me for this purpose.

Do you think music should be shifted from being an extra-curricular activity into being part of the school curriculum?
Yes, it should. Time and again we have been complaining about this issue in public forums and have sought private attentions. As I grew up in a convent we had piano classes on every Wednesday, and during weekends had the option to go to the church and sing along with the choir. Signing in school creates a deep impact on you. You have access to music which a child is denied today. This is very unfortunate!
It is not that we need every child to become a musician, but instead we need to create that interest. The whole world is looking at India with awe and wonder at its rich culture, but here we do not bother to encourage it. In Europe, every school has arts and music as compulsory subjects until the eighth standard after which it is optional. I think we are all to be blamed for not striving hard enough to see that children of today have arts as part of their curriculum.

Would you advocate for this along with your fellow musicians?
I would. But, we always wait for someone to take the lead, for which we are to be blamed for. If one takes the lead, I am ready to follow.

As a winner in all music competitions during your school and college days, what is your advice for aspiring musicians?
Media as it is today is a full time occupation. It is a full time commercial business in itself. There are always talent in every field—science, arts, music, or sports. But today, even in your own house, you would have a television camera before you, and the press writing about you. This is the order of the day. One has to be very careful not to get bogged down on this before you start singing or become a musician. Because, before you achieve the world would know you, and that would make you complacent.
There is nothing like knowledge. My teacher is 81 years old. Even today, he calls himself a student and lives the life of a student. He still reads about music and composes. He says: ‘Every day I learn a new note and compose a new note within the range.’ The student in him is more alive than himself. So we have to take a leaf from the lives of such great people.
I always tell youngsters not to be happy just because they have a small write up somewhere, or have their face appear on television. It is just an exposure for something which is hardly ever started to be made. So don’t stop learning or stop practicing. We are here only to learn the art and gain knowledge.

How can music be used as a tool to unite people irrespective of their caste, religion, or culture?
I was part of a production called MTV Co Production— an internet brand of music that was also aired on television. Different genres from different parts of India, singing different languages, in praise of different religions were all under one roof. We had Leslie, a Christian composer; Rashid Khan, a Muslim; folk singers, and Sufi singers besides me. We were actually eating from each other’s plates and at the end of the shoot we did not want to go back to our homes. I realized how music can actually bring people together. They are actually singing one religion—which is music!
I think we can take a leaf out of this experience. I believe that music is a powerful tool that is filled with love and compassion and unifies people.