Tag Archives: Bombay Jayashri

Bombay Jayashri’s ‘Listening to Life: The Journey of Raga’


When I was a child, it did not take long for me to fall irreversibly in love with the beautiful, soul-stirring voice of Bombay Jayashri. Even to this day, she possesses an aura of a beautiful river during her kutcheries – humble, broad-minded and always in a state of flow. When I first heard about Bhoomija’s debut event ‘Listening to Life: A Journey of a Raga’, I felt it would be anything but a conventional Carnatic Kutcheri. Despite being aware of her numerous cross-cultural collaborations, I had to see for myself how Jayashri would perform music in its most global sense. I had also realized that conception and direction for the whole event was led by Jayashri herself.

I reached the Brigade MLR Convention Centre only to find myself dwarfed by an elite crowd moving thereabouts. I spotted Jnanpith awardee, writer-actor-director Girish Karnad and also Padmashri recipient and director-extraordinaire MS Sathyu who had also designed the stage and the lighting for the event. Even before the event started, it felt classy!

The event further proved its class by starting at 8:00 p.m. as it said in the poster. Right on the dot! The artistes made their entries professionally through a well co-ordinated routine; although I could sense that the venue, now completely packed, had their eyes fixed at the centre of the stage where eventually Jayashri took her seat. The audience waited with bated breath for the artistes to start as the electronic tamburas hummed to occupy the impatient silence. Then Sai Shravanam began with 7-4 or a Mishra Chapu beat on the tabla which was followed by the flute, grand piano, violin, mridangam and the chorus in raga Janasa Mohini which Jayashri followed up with a surreal rendition of ‘O Nanna Chethana’ by MahaKavi Dr. K V Puttapa, otherwise known as Kuvempu. The song, as Jayashri explained, urges the spirit to reach out beyond boundaries. The perfect song to start a journey through the beautiful, boundless and magical entity that is music!

Vidushi Bombay Jayashri spoke briefly about the existence of music in and around us – a mother’s lullaby and our heartbeats – before singing a beautiful alaap in Raga Natabhairavi (Aeolian mode is the closest analogy in Western Music) and being aptly complemented on the violin by the brilliant Embar Kannan. J Vaidyanathan on the mridangam joined in for the trio’s rendition of Papanasam Sivan’s ‘Sri Valli Devasenapathe’ in a completely Carnatic style. This was immediately followed by a short soothing alaap in ‘Darbaari’ by the excellent Navin Iyer on the Bansuri. There was a shade of reverb that made the Bansuri sound very ambient and distant. Jayashri followed it up with ‘Jhanak Jhanak Paayal Baaje’ in a Hindustani style accompanied by the tabla, the bansuri and Navneeth Sundar, previously on the grand piano, now on the harmonium. Jayashri demonstrated perfect enunciation and great versatility to sing in both styles of music and with such dexterity that, at the time it was almost impossible to tell which school of music she really belonged to!

Succeeding this was a rendition of Mahakavi Bharathiyar’s ‘Maalai Pozhudhu’ a composition about love wherein Embar Kannan and Navneeth Sundar on the violin and the grand piano respectively, accentuated the beauty of the minor scale. It was one of the softer songs of the event, the chorus adding a neat western flavour to the song. Once the song ended, the piano seemed to hover around the scale for a while with the flute adding a few silky touches. Then once the chorus and the tabla came along, the crowd were struck by a surprise performance of the romantic ‘Aapki Nazaron Ne Samjha’ with Bombay Jayashri showing no traces of a ‘south-Indian accent’, having been born and bred in Mumbai. The song was the first time the crowd witnessed a few shades of the major scale. This was followed by an instrumental medley by Embar on the violin with Navneeth providing an almost reggae-style rhythm on the piano and Sai, the percussion on the tabla before another medley this time led by flautist Navin Iyer. This section was concluded with Jayashri mentioning the nostalgia associated with film music.

The next section was dedicated to pentatonic scales, a world music style characteristic of South-east Asian music, African A Capella, European Music and also the Western Blues. The alaapanas and piano fillers that followed in Hindolam, Durga, Suddha Dhanyasi and Mohanam gave me goosebumps; it was remarkable how they blended one raga into the other! Then came the central piece of the whole concert. After Jayashri’s multi-raga alaapana which came back to Hindolam, Sai introduced a pentatonic melody using differently tuned ‘dahinas’ which had an oriental zing to it. The chorus stepped in with swaras in Hindolam before Jayashri started off with the verse section of Saint Thyagaraja’s ‘Samaja Vara Gamana’. As the song reached the verse again, two of the chorus artistes took turns to sing brilliant variations or Neravals of the verse melody. Jayashri led the troupe into the final paragraph of the song, where the two chorus artistes joined her in almost a kalpana swara duel. The energy of the whole performance was extraordinary and was well complemented by J Vaidyanathan. The song faded off seamlessly into a Durga introduction by Navin and Navneeth which was followed by the rendition of Kaatyayani in Mishra Chapu Tala by the chorus vocalists. At this moment, I couldn’t help but think that any applause would break the continuity that the artistes would likely have planned.

Embar embarked on a composition in Suddha Dhanyasi with J Vaidyanathan on the mridangam and one of the chorus vocalists with a ghungroo beat in a 5-4 or Khanda Chapu tala, before the solo faded off into an Oriental-style Dizi solo in the Major Pentatonic scale by Navin accompanied by Navneeth on the piano, who like a mischevious kid introduced a few stray notes that added to the flavour. When Sai joined in, Navin shifted to Mohanam – the Carnatic equivalent of Major Pentatonic – and also from the Dizi to the flute. The shift seemed like taking a walk from South-east Asia into the Indian sub-continent, as Navin and Sai enjoyed a fabulous jugalbandi. Another nifty transition and we’re into a Abhang-style tabla beat as MD Pallavi joined in the act with an energetic alaap followed by ‘Bhaktha Jana Vatsale’ in Brindavana Saranga.

That Jayashri had taken a back-seat during the last few songs was felt only when she introduced the next song, Saint Thyagaraja’s ‘Mokshamu Galada’. Embar played a beautiful Carnatic-style solo before Navin played an equally beautiful one on the flute followed again by Embar with another solo this time in a very western style with trills, vibratos, legatos and the works and finally concluded by Navneeth’s solo on the piano. The whole song was sung by the chorus vocalists while there was one notable variation when mischievous Navneeth went chromatic in one drop. The mood changed to a Yaman Kalyan raga and Bombay Jayashri took up vocal duties again and also brought enough longing in her voice to render the evergreen ghazal ‘Ranjhish Hi Sahi’.

The music moved into Kannada Sugama Sangeeta territory as the violin led a rendition of ‘Nanna Jeeva Neenu‘ before MD Pallavi joined in with her beautiful voice for the verse section and then for ‘Deepavu Ninnade’. Sindhu Bhairavi with a few shades of Chandrakauns and Malkauns was in order when Jayashri and chorus performed Saint Vadiraja’s ‘Ondu Baari Smarane Salade’ with finally a beautiful thillana in Sindhu Bhairavi rounded off in a magnificent climax. After Jayashri gave credit to all the artistes including sound engineer Kamakshy Sundaram and lighting engineer Vijay Saravannan, the artistes bowed to a standing ovation before making their way out in almost the same way they made their way in!

By the end of the event, people on both sides of the stage, fell further in love with music. What I thought was remarkable about the event was that no one artiste dominated the stage, there was no single standout performer. They were, as Jayashri mentioned, ‘lovers’ of music and not ‘performers’ of music on the day. It was incredible to see all the artistes, especially Jayashri, in flow and relishing every note of their performance. The performances were not technique-driven; instead the crowd was treated to a beautiful platter of ragas and styles and was shown how different styles emerge from a common entity. Another fact worth mentioning was that Bhoomija, the organizers for this event showed fantastic professionalism and efficiency throughout the event, which is an amazing feat considering this was their very first event. With them entering the scene, one can expect more enthralling events around Indian classical and folk music in the future!

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Ganesh Viswanathan

Ganesh Viswanathan is a musician, a designer and sometimes both at the same time. Caffeine is known to derive its energising properties from him. Nobody knows the exact moment when he dismantles an idle mobile phone or steals food from another plate.


Listening to Life feat. Bombay Jayashri at MLR Convention Center, Bangalore

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Prateek Mukunda

Prateek Mukunda is a photographer from Bangalore who oves shooting people,streets and empty spaces. He also enjoys films, theatre, coffee, biking and long walks on busy Bangalore streets.


Yamini – From Dusk to Dawn


While a huge chunk of the junta was relieved to see a midweek holiday on the occasion of Republic Day, Spicmacay occupied themselves by organizing their annual event, the dusk-to-dawn musical event heading into the early hours of 26th Jan. They call this event Yamini and the previous editions were graced by stalwarts like the Late Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia, Bombay Jayashri, Pt. Ronu Majumdar, Kadri Gopalnath and Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt.

IIM Bangalore’s open air theatre was the venue for the stellar set of events lined up on the evening of the 25th. The stage setting was above average; the refreshing smell of wet grass had some obnoxious patches of heavily burning wood. Mattresses with blankets were spread in front of the stage anticipating a cold Bangalore night. People who preferred the conventional plastic chair medium for resting their tashreef were thrown further out in the back. The event didn’t start on time, but the delay was forgivable; people did not turn up in large numbers for it to start on time either. The first of the five events – a Hindustani vocal performance by Vidushi Padma Talwalkar, who was trained in the Gwalior, the Kirana and the Jaipur gharanas – started promptly after the routine lighting of the lamp and the intros. And then it began…

… with a bandish rendered in Raga Yaman, the words faintly recognizable as “Ke sakhi kaise kariye. The vilambit (slower portion of the song) started off slowly, which was probably the intention, the raga chosen also seemed perfect to welcome the audience and wean them into the mehfil. However, the burning wood at the back, which was part of the stage setting blew onto the stage and annoyed the artiste. The MC responded by running out to avert the crisis! Back to the music, and it was still to alter pace almost sounding like a traditional slow Indian wedding song.

Accompanied by Vishwanath Nakor on the tabla, Vyasmurthy Katti on the harmonium and her protégé as a vocal accompaniment (who managed to enunciate better), the artiste then went on to the drut(faster tempo) where she was able to demonstrate her accuracy with the notes; there was one grudge however, the taal wasn’t mentioned so sections of the audience were bewildered where the verse of the drut actually began. She continued onto another raga, Durga wherein she followed the same pattern viz. alaap-vilambit-drut. The third song was rendered in a raga that resembled a cross between Khamaj and Maand, however it was disappointing that the artiste did not mention the names, despite her mastery over the swaras. She seemed at ease throughout the show (too easy perhaps), maybe she was making the whole performance look effortless, but the music lacked lustre for sure. The accompaniments did not steal the show either. A fourth song in an unknown raga concluded the show, but it was clear that the variation among the ragas was missing.

Summing up, this Hindustani vocal performance was a joy at times when the accuracy in the notes was seen. Variations in the melody were far and few, the clarity in lyrics was overlooked and the troupe on stage looked disjointed. One thing that might have changed the monotony was trying out a raga from a radically different thaat (raga family). It was not as if the samay (time) was a factor against performing certain ragas; Durga is a late night raga. The performance overall, was good, but it wasn’t spectacular in any way.

In the first instrumental and carnatic gig of the evening, the violin duo Ganesh and Kumaresh maybe didn’t openly recognize that Yamini needed a lift, but they did take the pain of carefully announcing what was in store, something that the previous artiste only briefly took interest in.

The gig started off with a raga pravesham (non-lyrical composition) in Raga Mayamalavagowla which was expertly performed and would have done justice to any gig as the opening song. The whole unit on the stage seemed to be telepathically connected, maybe it was well-planned or spontaneous, but it was a joy to behold as they went on to perform two more raga praveshams in the ragas Reethi Gowlai and Nalina Kanthi.

The distinguishing feature of the duo was that they were collaborative, competitive and that they complemented each other. While Ganesh would play the higher notes, thereby creating the portion of music that floated above all the other parts, Kumaresh was adept at providing the appropriate vehicle with very well-thought of bass notes. They also continued each other’s pieces, like two close friends knowing what is exactly on the other’s mind. They soloed at will, each solo better than the previous, the audience looked on with awe at each violinist, as if they were in an extremely slow tennis match. The tones of the violins differed slightly; by the middle of the first song a person could close his eyes and tell which one is playing. Moreover, this wasn’t completely a Carnatic concert per se. The artistes ventured outside their niche, creating a new one of their own and incorporated western techniques into their music. Traditional Carnatic listeners were stunned as Ganesh threw a dive-bomb in agamaka, Kumaresh rounded off another mini-crescendo to which the audience applauded thinking that the song was over; later Ganesh tapped notes in a non-Carnatic style while Kumaresh responded with a harmonic equivalent. The note progressions were visibly similar to western compositions.

A ragam-tanam-pallavi in the raga Dharamavati followed, and this was the focal point of the entire concert. The artistes formed pairs with one percussionist each and then exchanged players in the middle of the song providing a different experience with the sound each time. It was fascinating to see the main artistes take a back seat as the percussionists demonstrated their skill with a superb jugalbandi. The artistes rounded up the spectacular show with two more pieces, the first one in Kapi raga which featured Ganesh doing the vocals and the final piece, a fast-paced thillana in Bahudaari.

P. Unnikrishnan was next to set the stage alight; he started off with a traditional varnam in the raga Saveri preceded by a raga alaapana.The varnam was beautifully paced with a lot of emphasis on the lyrics of the song, something which the previous vocalist of the evening failed to highlight. In each subsequent number, you could see the two percussionists – Ghatam Giridhar Udupa and Arjun Kumar on the mridangam – engage in mini-jugalbandis, like two kids up to a lot of mischief. On the violin, HK Venkataraman showed his dexterity with well-timed notes to add weight to the vocalist’s fine voice. The varnam was followed by a piece, ‘Shambo Mahadeva in raga Panthuvarali, in tribute to the popular composer Thyagaraja Swamigal, who had entered samadhi at this time of the year, about 200 years ago. This was followed by another Thyagaraja composition, Nadaloludai’  in the raga Kalyana Vasantham. Both were brilliantly rendered, especially the former wherein the artiste incorporated aneraval (verse improv) and a kalpana swaram (note scat-jam).

The gig progressed onto Unni performing his central piece, ‘Koluva Maragatha’ in the raga Hanumatodi. The raga is known to be very difficult to perform, the very reason why it is chosen by master artistes to  be performed in kutcheries. Unnikrishnan was able to bring out the very flavour of the raga in the alaapana; the violinist followed that up with a virtuoso piece himself. Unni then started off unconventionally with the anupallavi (verse) rather than the pallavi (chorus). A neraval and akalpana swaram (in which the artiste made superb use of the divisions) in two tempos was the artiste’s finishing touch to the song before the instruments took centre stage. Ghatam Udupa and Arjun Kumar engaged in an epic jugalbandi that blew the audience away. Mesmerizing stuff!

After ‘Koluva Maragatha’, Unni picked himself to perform his much-loved rendition of ‘Pibare Ramarasamin the raga Ahirr Bhairavi followed by a Senjuruti krithi, ‘Rara Chinnanna Rarori Balakrishna, in which he caressed the audience to a dreamy state. A few more krithis and the aristes bowed on stage to be greeted by a standing ovation from the crowd. At times Unni, ‘reluctant’ to open his mouth to sing seemed conservative, but effortless. There was no doubting the fact that the artiste was in a state of flow throughout the performance. The accompaniments were superb and it must have taken some thought to putting this troupe together because their styles blended in perfectly. Overall, this was a spectacular show; despite Unni barely hitting second gear.

A kuchipudi performance provided a brief respite to those who had come there only for the music. The organisers did take the gamble of losing numbers in the crowd by scheduling the popular Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan performance at 3 a.m. The numbers were there however; everyone felt proud and enthusiastic at turning up at that time for the gig. Not a single soul on the chairs at the back; everyone found their places on the mattress.

The Ustad carries the legacy of being another product of a family that has produced some of India’s greatest Sitar players in history including the likes of Ustad Sahabdad Khan, Ustad Imdad Khan (his great grandfather), Ustad Wahid Khan (his grandfather) and Ustad Vilayat Khan. So it was natural that the crowd was very anxious when the Ustad coolly took the stage and took his time setting up his instrument. He wore a relaxed expression on his face as he meticulously tuned his elaborate sitar. No one in the audience dared indulge in useless banter even when the Ustad prepared his sitar, for the fear of missing out on the start of the performance.

The artiste who belonged to Etawah Gharana, then promptly announced what was in store, with a smile. He appropriately chose Miyaan ki Todi as his first raga and then took the audience on a journey through the stars with a superb alaap. Some of the audience felt it necessary to recline and observe the fast moving clouds in the dark orange sky while the Ustad went on to a faster version of the alaap viz. the jod. Witnessing nature itself altering its pace to keep up with the music was a heavenly experience.

The vilambit was rendered in teen taal and the Ustad’s mastery over the notes and the raga improvisations were simply superb. The audience surrendered themselves at such a powerful manifestation of music and when they were still lolling their heads, the Ustad went onto the madhayama and the drut. There was a deafening applause from even the reclining audience as the Sultan rounded off the piece.

The composition ‘Babul Mora Naihar Chhuto hi Jaayein raga Bhairavi which was similar in structure to the previous song was extraordinarily performed. The tabla player provided superb support and exchanged appreciations with the Ustad after each of them finished off mindblowing parts. It was fitting that the sky began to lighten up as the artistes looked to round up their performance. If there was any Indian classical instrument that had to welcome the morning sun, the Ustad advocated the case of the Sitar very well.

On the whole, the event was fabulous and a lovely experience. Kudos to Spicmacay!

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Ganesh Viswanathan

Ganesh Viswanathan is a musician, a designer and sometimes both at the same time. Caffeine is known to derive its energising properties from him. Nobody knows the exact moment when he dismantles an idle mobile phone or steals food from another plate.