Bombay Jayashri Ramnath was born in Kolkata, West Bengal with music writ into her family tree. Granddaughter to R Vishwanathan–known as Vicha Bhagavatar of Calicut–and daughter to Seethalakshmy and NN Subramaniam, both performers and teachers of Carnatic music, her passion and proclivity for the art form was inevitable. Her parents were her first teachers and upon moving to Mumbai, she continued her artistic studies. She learned Carnatic music from Smt. T.R. Balamani, Hindustani music from Pandit Mahavir Jaipurwale and Pandit Ajay Pohankar, and bharatnatyam dance from Guru Mahalingam Pillai and Guru Kalyanasundaram Pillai of Sri Rajarajeshwari Bharata Natya Kala Mandir. In 1989, she moved to Chennai to pursue advanced training in Carnatic music under the mentorship of violin maestro Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman. During this time, she also studied the veena under G.N. Dandapani Iyer.
Today, Jayashri is among the finest and most well-known voices in the Carnatic realm with a career spanning over thirty years. Her performances cross the breadth of India and close to twenty other countries. Prominent venues include Rashtrapathi Bhavan, the National Centre for Performing Arts, the Sydney Opera House, and Carnegie Hall, where she historically became the second ever Carnatic musician to perform after MS Subbulakshmi.
Jayashri is one of those rare musicians of today who exhibit the ability to honour the deep-rooted traditions of the Carnatic style and yet, innovate with it through peerless mastery. She lifts Carnatic music to soaring new heights through a vast and varied range of productions, frequently collaborating with other artists and breaking boundaries of style, language, artistic form, and even culture. She has performed alongside her Carnatic peers, done Jugalbandhis with Hindustani musicians, even collaborated with well-known dancers. She has brought traditional Indian music to an international audience through partnerships with world artists like Hisham Abbas and Eero Hämeenniem i. In 2008, she featured in the first ever Carnatic music film ‘Margazhi Ragam’, which received high acclaim. Jayashri is also a composer, having written for musicals, films, stage productions, and her own albums. The most well-known among them, perhaps, is ‘Pi’s Lullaby’, written and performed for Ang Lee’s movie ‘Life of Pi’. The song proceeded to garner a nomination in the Best Original Song category at the 2012 Academy Awards (The Oscars).
Jayashri is a modern day stalwart in the realm of traditional Indian music, but she is more than her performances and artistic creations.
She is a teacher, having conducted classes and workshops in schools and universities across the nation, serving on the executive board of the Sangeet Natak Academy and as a Nana Shirgaokar Visiting Research Professor for traditional music at Goa University. She co-conceptualized and co-founded ‘Svanubhava’, an annual week-long music festival in Chennai aimed at students of music with the view that classical music should reach a wider cross-section of individuals who seek to learn it. Many of her students are going on to pursue careers in music, carrying on the traditions of Carnatic music into the next generation.
She co-wrote two books, both tributes to eminent specialists and masters in the realm of Carnatic music: Professor Sambamoorthy: The Visionary Musicologist.
She founded the HITHAM Trust in 2014, with which she provides musical training to over 300 school children in Manjakudi’s Swami Dayananda Saraswati’s Educational Institutions in Thillaisthanam and Tiruvarur. She has worked closely with institutions in Bangalore and Chennai that deal in the realm of autism and associated learning and cognitive disabilities. Many of her concerts are fundraisers for a vast range of social causes, from cancer care to multiple sclerosis to the rehabilitation of homeless and poverty-stricken women.
Bombay Jayashri Ramnath occupies a graceful middle ground between the traditions of the past and the protean realm of today, where styles advance at the blink of an eye and heritage runs the risk of being forgotten. Upon that ground she stands, she creates, and she sustains her age-old art form, bending and shaping it without ever losing its identity. Her legacy is a monumental thing, and upon it she continues to build.