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We need to include music in schools: Bombay Jayashri

Published : Dec 27, 2017, 6:26 am IST
Updated : Dec 27, 2017, 6:28 am IST

Bombay Jayashri is performing in Kolkata at the Behala Festival on January 6, 2018.

Bombay Jayashri
 Bombay Jayashri

Bombay Jayashri is performing in Kolkata at the Behala Festival on January 6, 2018.

Like all great musicians, who have a one pointed focus, talking about themselves is never of interest. Bombay Jaishri is no different from other great musicians who prefer not to talk much about themselves and their achievements.
It is a difficult task to get her to reveal what makes her the artiste she is — one who has the ability to transport even an ignorant audience into a state of other worldliness.
Her golden voice, no doubt, helps but what influences more are her compassionate sensitivity towards people and her surroundings which give her music its unique quality of “asar” (feeling).
The fact that she is a fifth generation musician has probably pre-conditioned her to absorb the nuances of music in its totality. Here, she speaks on a variety of subjects close to her heart:

As a performer, how important is the audience?

An artiste definitely needs a responsive audience. Creating music is one half of a circle, with the audience the other half. One needs a receptive audience as they need to know what is going on. In Colombo, Sri Lanka, and in war-battered Jaffna, I have been singing regularly for the past 15 years plus at their annual classical music concert.
I remember the first time I peeped into the auditorium an hour before the show started. It was jam-packed yet there was pin-drop silence. The vibrations from that thousand strong crowd seeped in culture was incomparable. They knew exactly what you are doing on stage.  
Everyone in Colombo has learnt music and has knowledge about every art form. It is in the very core of their being; they embody art. The audience is a dream for an artiste. Every face has a certain “lakhshanam”.

Are audience expectations a burden? How do you connect with the audience to get their feedback?

I don’t think of audience expectations as a burden at all. I know once I  start to sing, the music will take over. I’m not creating anything new; the music flows through me. On some days, it is better than the others. I personally don’t need to make eye contact to get feedback from my audience. When I start singing, it just happens.

As a performer, do you feel the world of music has changed?

Not just the world of music, the world as a whole has changed. I remember going with my Guru to his old house, in the village of Lalgudi, and hearing about his musical regime — waking up at 4 am, studying the bare basics at home and devoting the entire day to music.
Those days, there were no distractions — no phones, no TVs or no internet. That is something that has not been possible in my generation.
It’s lesser in the next generation.
The next generation certainly has access to much more music, and that too of different types. I am not sure how much of it is being internalised.
It would be wonderful to include music or any form of art in schools; just a few hours a week maybe. Music is one of the most important treasures we have in India.
We should have protected it earlier. Even now it’s not too late. I am not suggesting we dilute or simplify our music for youngsters.
Children are able to tune in and zone out other distractions for short periods. They need to hear the right music in the right way.
One would not give a child a thodi (a complex raga) initially, obviously one would move from something simple to absorb to something more evolved.

Please talk about the format of a Carnatic concert...

In the last 100-150 years, the format of the concert presentation has changed along the way.
In Carnatic music, one internalises the ragam very deeply. There are many layers and the deeper one goes into the music, the more absorbing it is and one literally drowns in the swaras. The search is so deep that one gets lost.
So a Carnatic presentation tries to encompass as many nuances of the raga with exploration by the main artiste, and separately by the accompanying violinist, through the format of alapana, kalpana swara, composition and exchange.

You change the format of your concerts a lot. Does it depend on where you are performing? Also, who has impacted your music along the way?

Since one performs to so many different audiences, one needs to modify the presentation.
When I perform in remote areas, where they are accustomed to the concerts of the 1930s, I revel in a strictly traditional format.
At a Bhakti Utsav, I probably would sing differently. Another factor is that I would not want to force my own musical interpretations on my accompanying artistes. Exposure to other forms of music, which I have had, sensitises me towards how best I can draw out my accompanying musicians and how they can derive the best from me.
I never heard Ustad Vilayat Khan live but what I have heard in recordings, cannot fail to move me. When he plays Kalyani, (Raga Aiman/ Yaman) in the first couple of minutes, he doesn’t even touch the “ma” but the whole raga opens up.
How much khoj (musical introspection) must have gone into the raga to get that — for that not to impact me is difficult. Somewhere, it gets reflected in my singing.
I yearn to achieve that beauty through my music. I have a little of all the doyens I have heard, be it M.L.  Vasantakumari or G.N. Balasubramanium. It is not just my guru from whom I formally learnt. I feel audiences in the north do need to hear traditional Carnatic music too, not just ragams common to both systems like Hansadhwani and Bhimpalas.

How true is that learning Carnatic music depends heavily on compositions?

Composition is the fulcrum. My guruji used to say that if you know one composition, you will know one aspect of a raga and if you know six, you will know that much more. There is no concept of a lakshan composition in our music to bring out the main facets of the raga.  

Do you agree that the “trappings” of a musician are important as well?

I think the “trappings”, as you put it, are important in conveying a certain image. I remember being told of the GNB (G.N. Balasubramanium)
concerts that his fans would go early and would wait in eager anticipation for his arrival on stage. They were awed by his presence and charisma. I believe he took long strides as he was tall. His diamonds would flash and when he threw his
angvastram over his shoulder one would get a whiff of the ittar he used. This experience was as much a part of the concert as his presence. I heard it was the same with Ustad Vilayat Khan where the visual impact of his presence was as dramatic as
the music.

I hear you teach a lot; that is not usual in an active concert performer like yourself. Please comment. It is unusual for active concert performers like you to teach. How do you manage?

I teach because I continue to learn. I get to learn while I teach. An intelligent student questions what he is being taught, why is this composition structured in this way or what aspect of the raga comes out here…

After having sung for more than 30 years and achieved so much, where do you now want to go with your music?

When I look at the music, I want to shut everything out, do more sadhana, more introspection. I would like to be able to sing a ragam like thodi for maybe four hours; another 300 things should come to me. I know I can do that. I can unearth a lot more but I should be able to present it at its best with great feeling.
My guru, Lalgudi G Jayaraman, was able to connect with an uninitiated listener as much as to a connoisseur with his music and he too tried many new things. Everyone felt that magic. I would strive for that now. As he would say, so far so good, from now every inch of the way will be more difficult. The climb gets tougher. I would like to be able to translate what I have learnt, better.

The writer is writes on music, musicians and music matters

Tags: bombay jaishri, behala festival