And then music flows

veena exponent

And then music flows

Just back from a beautiful morning.  Jayanthi Kumaresh on the Saraswathi veena with Anil Srinivasan on the piano. Jayanthi’s soothing, soulful music takes you deeply inward, while Anil creates a magical effect. A musical conversation where even the pauses make you a part of a divine experience.

The list of veena exponent Jayanthi Kumaresh’s achievements and awards is long.  She has collaborated with musical legends such as Bombay Jayashri, Aruna Sairam, Zakir Hussain, Ronu Majumdar and many more. She has composed music, enjoys teaching, has produced albums, and is an A-grade artiste of AIR. She has also travelled the world with her performances and workshops.

Jayanthi comes from a family which has been practicing Carnatic music for six generations, and is the niece of the late violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman. Her guru was her aunt, Padmavathy Ananthagopalan. Jayanthi reveals, “She is a wonderful teacher, though strict. Whatever I am today, I owe it to her. Even now I discuss music with her, which is a great blessing. She made sure I was educated enough, so I wouldn’t lose out on anything that women did, making me confident enough to face the world. I was also fortunate to have learnt under S Balachander.”

For the love of strings

But why veena specifically? Jayanthi reveals she was attracted to Saraswathi veena as a child. “It’s ancient, from the time of Sama Veda. We can’t neglect it. In my time, playing the guitar or drums would have been ‘cool’. I was completely surrounded by musicians, but I wanted to do something different. I thought, why not veena? Initially, I played with my guru. Then with Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi and Sikkil Mala. We were in our teens and were the famous trio (Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswathi) in 1985 and 1986,” she explains. Then she went solo.

Jayanthi’s innovative ideas have led to many unusual experimentations and creativity. “There are no limits,” she told me earlier. “This whole world is my space. I have the freedom to explore. As an artiste, my journey continues, full of surprises, ever-changing. With every change in life, the expression changes, growing and evolving. I may not be the Jayanthi I was a few years ago. An artiste’s work reflects his personality.”

Talking about her performances abroad, Jayanthi says, “I visited Norway thrice, collaborating with a storyteller. We worked with children and gave around 30 performances. The veena was introduced in a story form, which we enacted. For the children, everything was new. They weren’t familiar with Indians. My clothes, appearance, and even the bindi, generated interest. It was very interactive.”

Jayanthi recently performed at the Royal Festival Hall with the British Philharmonic along with Neeladri, Rakesh Chaurasia and Karthik. Talking about it, she says, “We rehearsed for hours. While Indian classical music focuses on melody, one raga at a time, and improvisations, Western classical music gives importance to harmony and layering. Integrating them was a challenge. Their musicians came here, spent time with different musicians for months to understand ragas. Finally, they chose charukeshi raga to harmonise with our instruments. BBC broadcasted the performance.”

At the Commonwealth Games, Jayanthi noticed that the Indian music programme was mainly influenced by Bollywood music. “We have a rich heritage, and so much to give. This idea gave birth to an Indian national orchestra. We brought together well-known artistes from all over the country under one banner to showcase classical music. The first time we played, there were 21 artistes. We thought of the Himalayas, the Ganges, dancing peacock, our national bird, Kashmir to Kanyakumari….and created music uniting the country,” she explains.

Jayanthi’s performances are always influenced by some thought or another. For instance, we speak to different people in different ways on the phone, which gave her the idea to create an album of symphonic compositions, ‘Mysterious Duality’. “An effect was created of six veenas played together. It was recorded in layers,” she states. Her band, Indian Spice, brings together musicians playing Carnatic and contemporary genres of music while ‘Strings attached’ is a collaboration with violinist Kumaresh, her husband. “The youngsters in colleges like IIT wanted something different. So, ‘Strings attached’ was created keeping them in mind.”

Classical music reigns

Jayanthi’s dream is to develop a centre of excellence for Indian classical music, in the likes of IIT or IIM, with libraries and archives, where veena and other instruments can be created. “I want to do to veena what Ravi Shankar did to sitar. After all, veena is the grandmother of sitar,” she beams.

So, how does she feel while performing at such big platforms? “Initially, the mind is aware of everything around you. After a while, you are no longer conscious of your surroundings. Then music happens,” she avers. A firm believer in the fact that there are no limitations in the creative space, Jayanthi says, “Imagination is key. No artiste sees things as they really are. If they do, they’re not artistes. We must constantly create. It is a huge responsibility because what we do today can become a trend tomorrow. Even after one’s time, one should feel that something substantial has been left behind.”

“I’ve still not achieved what I want to,” Jayanthi says thoughtfully. “More and more people should listen to veena. Even scientifically, playing the veena is beneficial as it activates the pressure points on our fingers. It can even awaken the kundalini.”

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