Indian Carnatic Singer Bombay Jayashri Performs at Carnegie Hall Tonight
Indian carnatic singer Bombay Jayashri will make rare U.S. concert appearances -- the Oscar-nominated performer from Life of Pi will play Carnegie Hall tonight, October 20, 2013, and San Jose on October 26, 2013.
The unexpected lessons in life can sometimes be the lasting ones. When she was younger, Indian singer Bombay Jayashri studied with the legendary violinist Lalgudi Jayaraman. Arriving at his house in Chennai for a lesson one day she found the door open and walked in. She found her guru sitting focused on the television, watching a Michael Jackson video.
"I didn't know whether I should go in," says Jayashri. Her guru of Indian classical music was watching Michael Jackson. "I was shocked. But he'd seen me enter and he told me to watch the way Michael became one with the music and the dance. He pointed out that he was doing it with his soul."
In the conservative world of Indian classical music, it was a revelation that someone of Jayaraman's stature could be so open to other sounds. But he listened to everything, from Western classical virtuoso Yehudi Menuhin to Scottish folk. And that openness is something Jayashri has carried into her own career, whether singing the pure Carnatic music of South India that's deep in her heart, collaborating with a Finnish orchestra, or being nominated for an Academy Award for writing and performing "Pi's Lullaby" in the movieLife of Pi. That passion for music is what she'll bring to her appearance atNew York's Carnegie Hall on October 20 and the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts on October 26.
But music has always been a part of Bombay Jayashri. Four generations of her family have been musicians and both her parents sang. Growing up in Mumbai, her earliest memory is "waking up in the morning and hearing my father practicing."
She began her training when she was five years old. "My mother knew I'd be a musician from the time I was in the womb," Jayashri says. "Everything was oriented to music. My mother exposed me to so many sorts of music. Mumbai was full of cultural textures. She wanted me to learn whatever was beautiful."
One thing Jayashri found beautiful was Hindustani music, the classical music of northern India, and whose ragas and melodies were utterly different from her Carnatic experience. She studied it for seven years, following her heart, and the experience has given her a unique, complete perspective on Indian music, able to blend the two contrasting styles in concert with sublime ease.
Her mother was a huge influence on her learning, but it was when Jayashri met her guru that her life truly changed. She was already primarily a Carnatic classical singer, but exploring everything, part of a group of 22 young people who travelled all over India, singing light classical music. Then she attended a concert by the celebrated violinist Lalgudi Jayaraman.
"I'd never even heard any of his recordings before," she recalls. "But as soon as I heard him I wanted to put myself in his suitcase and go everywhere with him. Something told me if I could be in that space I could really learn, and that's all what I wanted."
She became his pupil, and even now Jayashri listens to his music for inspiration. Jayaraman's star student now shines brightly and has become an international star in her own right. She's appeared all over the globe, most recently spending time in China.
"We toured there earlier this year," Jayashri says. "They didn't know Indian music, but they wanted to absorb it. They clapped and they sang along wherever they could. And when it was all over they had questions and comments. They wanted to know the culture. We gave workshops and taught them about melodies and ragas."
She was bringing Carnatic music to a new audience and breaking down boundaries. But that's what she's done in so much of her music. She understands that the only barriers are in the mind. It's what led her to record with singers from Egypt and Senegal and to work with Finnish pianist and composer Eero Hämeenniemi. Since 2008, their collaborations have grown bolder, starting with her singing his musical settings of poems from Sangam(Tamil) literature to appearing with the full Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra on a creation based on ragas.