LONG BIO: Born and raised in California, Roopa received major formative training in Carnatic vocal music under Asha Ramesh (DKJ tradition), and later, received a U.S. Fulbright Scholarship to India to train under Suguna Varadachari (Musiri tradition) in Chennai, India. She has performed extensively in India and the U.S., at all major sabhas during Chennai's December season, including The Music Academy, and at the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana, which awarded her the title “Kala Ratna." She has received praise from experts in the Carnatic music community, with reviews in the The Hindu, Times of India, New India Express, and more.
A trained Bharathanatyam dancer as well, Roopa is a sought-after vocalist for several leading Bharathanatyam and contemporary dancer/choreographers in the South Asian diaspora. In 2011, Roopa played a show-stealing acting-singing-dancing role in Bakwas Bumbug, a pioneering South Asian music theater production in NYC. Roopa was a soloist on the Grammy award-winning classical crossover album, Calling All Dawns, and has served as guest vocalist on numerous albums across genres, including Lovespeak, of Everyday People A Cappella and Bring Back the Nyte of Inphanyte Productions (featuring Jidenna). She was an inaugural fellow of IndianRaga (2013), and has performed on stages such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, UN (with A.R. Rahman), Jacob's Pillow, and the Hollywood Bowl. She participated in the 2018 Banff Resonant Bodies program for vocalists and has been selected to participate in the prestigious Hedgebrook Songwriter's Residency in 2019.
Roopa also has degrees in biology and cognitive science from Stanford University and has worked extensively in public health policy. Her work in art is undergirded by key inquiries in culture, philosophy, affect, and social change.
Asha Ramesh started her music education in Jamshedpur, but her principal gurus were the Chennai-based maestro Sangita Kalanidhi D.K.Jayaraman (the musician’s musician!!) and Nanganallur Ramanathan. Walking away from a promising career in medicine, Asha chose to follow her passion for music. While obtaining her Master’s Degree in music at the Madras University, she also developed a reputation as a sterling performer steeped in one of the most revered banis of Carnatic music – the D.K.Pattamal bani. She won numerous awards for her singing – both as a soloist as well as accompanist for dance – including Rajaji Memorial Tambura Award, Gana Kala Bhushani, and Gana Kala Rathnam from reputed organizations such as Tamil Isai Sangam and the Sankarabharanam Trust of Madras. In 1993, she moved to the U.S.A. to join her husband Ramesh Jayaram – an event that can be well characterized as “India’s loss, the U.S.A.’s gain”. In spite of a hyperactive performance schedule, she has found the time to teach Carnatic music at U.C. Berkeley, embark on a solo concert tour of Europe in 1995, as well as compose music for a 1997 documentary “The Visitor”. Every dance school in the Bay Area along with few others outside it has benefited from her mellifluous voice and composing skills. Her penchant for Hindustani bhajans and abhangs also mark her as a musician of versatility. Over the years, she has composed 10 thillanas and set the music for over 50 abhangs and bhajans. She founded Ragamalika in 1993, and has shepherded it through its first twenty years to where it has become known for its adherence to the best traditions of her gurus.
I am forever indebted to Asha (auntie) for giving me a voice. Open-throated singing, quality of tone, and adherence to sruti were her chief concerns and could never be sacrificed.. I have especially learned from her how to inhabit a stage, sing from a place of joy and humility, and imbue renditions - especially those for dance performances - with a kind of bhakti, soul, and surrender. Asha Auntie also always respected - not discounted - my "Americanness", allowing me to take ownership of my pursuit of Carnatic music without fear. So, my pursuit of this music was never at odds with other aspects of myself. Asha Auntie showed me that any musical experience - Carnatic or otherwise - is worth sharing simply for the power to heal myself and others.
For Suguna Mami, no raga is too boring, no krithi too repetitive.The joy she finds in teaching the same song for the 100th time or rendering the same raga in yet another concert inspires me to have patience and see beauty as a simple pursuit - even when a challenged attention span is pushing me (and our society) to seek elsewhere. The tools of creativity, technique, and modulation that Maami gave me will continue to be honed throughout my lifetime. What I love most is her ability to appreciate me, in all my quirky Americanness - not just as a student, but as a friend and family member - an openness I didn't expect but now relish in every encounter.
Suguna Varadachari is a leading senior carnatic vocalist from Chennai. She is a prime disciple of Musiri Subramanya Iyer and a torch bearer of the “Musiri Baani”. A student of a number of masters of the genre such as P K Rajagopala Iyer, Kalpakam Swaminathan, A S Panchapakesa Iyer, Musiri Subramania Iyer, Mudicondan Venkatrama Iyer, and T Brinda, Suguna Varadachari epitomises triumph in the face of adversity. She is considered to be an authority on any carnatic music related technical issues. She regularly presides over panel discussions conducted by Music academy and other important music organizations, to conduct informed discussions among experts and come to conclusions which are permanently relevant to the students and rasikas of Carnatic music. As a senior guru, many of her disciples are today prominent performing artists.