Rob Adams looks forward to UK tour dates by violinist Jyotsna Srikanth:
Jyotsna Srikanth is a woman with many hats. In music alone, she’s regarded as Europe’s leading exponent of Indian violin as well as being a composer who can turn her hand to concertos and ragas and a player who is equally at home working with Scandinavian folk musicians, symphony orchestras and Indian percussionists. She’s also director of London Arts Festival and if push came to shove she could do a shift in the local pathology department, as she’s a trained pathologist.
For most of November, however, Srikanth is on the road with her Indo-jazz fusion group, Bangalore Dreams, a meeting of the tradition she trained in from the age of five with jazz piano, keyboards, drum kit and Indian vocables or what she calls Carnatic beatboxing.
“I first heard a violin when I was five at a concert my mother took me to in Bangalore,” she says. “I’d never heard a sound like it and although my mother, who is a very well-regarded singer in the Caranatic tradition, was determined that I should become a singer, too, I somehow managed to persuade her to buy me a violin on the understanding that I would practise.”
And did she? “Oh, yes. There was no escape. The Carnatic tradition requires you to really immerse yourself in music. I’d already begun singing studies with my mum – six hours a day – when I got the violin and she made sure that I kept to that regime, sometimes with bribes bought from the bakery next door, but I was eager to learn and get better.”
In her teens Srikanth added western classical studies to her Carnatic training. She went on to gain her grades from the Royal School of Music in London and along the way she heard another style of violin playing that intrigued her, the Parisian swing of Stephane Grappelli.
“I loved the way he created these beautifully developed phrases spontaneously,” she says. “Carnatic music has a lot of improvisation – we begin with the basic raga and see where we can take it – so I could relate to Stephane Grappelli’s way of playing, even if the context was new to me, and I loved the tone and expression he put into everything. It really opened me up to other forms of music and other jazz violinists like Stuff Smith and Jean-Luc Ponty.”
Training to become a pathologist didn’t hinder Srikanth’s progression as a musician. Having given her first concert at the age of nine, she was known around Bangalore and the wider Indian music scene and even if she felt she needed the financial security that “a proper job” would give her, her ability to play western as well as Indian styles of music kept her in demand, not least among Bollywood film producers – she’s played on some 250 soundtracks.
“Everybody in India works two jobs, so I was no different,” she says. “It was only when my husband, who works in IT, got offered a job in London, however, that I felt I could concentrate on music.”
Her work ethic keeps her busy. Every time you speak to her she seems to have a dozen or more projects at various stages of development and when she’s not jetting off to work with percussionist Dan Svensson and saxophonist Pär Moberg in the group Nordic Raga, she’s composing, planning a festival programme or setting up tours for Carnatic Nomad, her more traditional based group, or Bangalore Dreams.
“Working with keyboards and a standard drum kit is a completely different experience for me,” she says. “I even stand up to play, which is not what we’re used to in the Carnatic tradition. It’s great fun and the guys I have in the band, keyboardist-pianist Shadrach Solomon and drummer Manjunath NS, are seriously good players. They stretch me as a musician and take me into beatboxing. Well, we call it beatboxing, although rhythmical singing is quite an old established art form in India, but if it means what we do becomes fashionable or takes us in front of a new audience, that’s fine.”
06 – London International Arts Festival @ Rich Mix, London
09 – Latest Bar, Brighton
10 – Lichfield Festival
13 – Intercultural Society, London
14 – Jazz Exchange, Ilford Exchange Mall
18 – Rothes Halls, Glenrothes, Scotland
19 – Blue Lamp, Aberdeen, Scotland
20 – Performing Arts Centre, Kilbarchan, Scotland