Mandolin U Srinivas

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Note on spelling

We have employed the same spelling as on the maestro's albums: Srinivas. Others, however, sometimes use the North Indian Shrinivas.

Mandolin U. Srinivas/ The Times of India
Mandolin U. Srinivas/ The Times of India


Mandolin U Srinivas, a rebel who silenced his critics with music

Kamini Mathai,TNN | Sep 19, 2014 The Times of India

CHENNAI: Mandolin U Srinivas was a quiet rebel, say his contemporaries and gurus.

Srinivas was always courteous, soft-spoken, unassuming. But whenever he wanted to prove a point, he would simply let his mandolin do the talking.

"In the initial years of his career, Srinivas was criticized for choosing the mandolin. People would tell him that what he was playing was not Carnatic music. He challenged them all, not verbally, but through his art. He told me that he would prove it to his sceptics. He stuck with the instrument, until his name became synonymous with the mandolin in Carnatic circles," said guitarist Vasu Rao, who introduced seven-year-old Srinivas to western music in 1976.

Srinivas then took the instrument not just to stages across the state but across the country and globe.

On September 19, a saddened Rao took the first flight out of Hyderabad to come to Chennai to pay his last respects to his protege Srinivas, who died at the age of 45. "We have lost a great musician," Rao said.

"His father Sathyanarayana brought him to my father for his blessings," said Rao. "He used to play for bands in Andhra Pradesh. My father saw a spark in him and asked me to teach him," said Rao, adding that Srinivas - who came from a rather simple family - had only a broken mandolin to play on then.

Rao later made Srinivas "his first solid mandolin". "He called me up every week and visited me once in a month. He even called before he went to hospital and asked me to pray for him," said Rao.

Srinivas's first guru was Rudraraju Subbaraju, who started teaching him because he saw the potential in him. Since Subbaraju did not know how to play the mandolin, he would sing and Srinivas would play the tune on the mandolin.

It was in 1981 that 12-year-old Srinivas gave his first public concert in Chennai for the Indian Fine Arts Society (though his first ever public Carnatic concert performance was in 1978 during the Thyagaraja Aradhana festival in Andhra Pradesh).

"He used to come over to our house to play and one day my elder brother just asked him to play his mandolin for a concert that very evening," said V Sethuram, the current president of the society. While Srinivas was excited at the prospect, he got nervous when he spotted Veena maestro S Balachandar and vocalist TN Seshagopalan in the first row. "But he was brilliant and at the end Seshagopalan gave him a gold ring for his performance," said Sethuram.

Srinivas then went on to play for the Indian Fine Arty Society at every December festival for more than three decades.

He was also supposed to be a favourite of the late Tamil Nadu chief minister, MG Ramachandran, who had first heard him perform at a wedding. "When MGR entered, someone told Srinivas to stop playing. But MGR came to the stage and told Srinivas to continue. He then instructed his attendants to make sure Srinivas played at all AIADMK party functions," said Rao.

Apart from his Carnatic concerts, Srinivas also collaborated with western and Indian classical musicians for fusion music performances. He collaborated with Indian musicians such as Zakir Hussain, V Selvaganesh, and Shankar Mahadevan as well as international artistes like guitarist John McLaughlin.

"He also taught music, and a number of his students were taught free of cost," said Sethuram.

Srinivas was the recipient of the Padma Shri in 1998 for his contribution to the arts. According to Rao he was also nominated for the Padma Bhushan but "grumbled" to his friends that he was not at all interested in the award.

For all the flourish of his mandolin strings on stage, the various setbacks in his personal life are enough to tug at heart strings. Close friends said he was a devotee of Sathya Sai Baba and became very withdrawn and depressed after the death of his saint in 2011.

Srinivas also had a failed marriage, which came to a bitter end in 2012, when the Supreme Court approved his divorce with wife U Sree on the grounds that he was treated cruelly by her. She got the custody of their only son, Sai Krishna.

Srinivas died at a hospital in Chennai in Sept 2014 following a liver failure,

The mandolin

His strings brought smiles

Sivakumar B

The Times of India Sep 20 2014

Made Space For Mandolin In Closed Carnatic World

Like the violin and the harmonium, the mandolin is no longer considered foreign to the Carnatic music repertoire, but it was only in 1978 that a small boy with a large smile brought the instrument to the stage and created music that purists applauded.

Uppalapu Shrinivas, whose name became synonymous with his instrument as Mandolin U Shrinivas, adapted the instrument to suit the nuances of Carnatic music by reducing the number of strings from eight to five and bringing in an electronic sound. The instrument Shrinivas played was smaller than the original, more compact and suited to the pace at which he played.

Though the mandolin was used in film and Hindustani music, it was Shrinivas who turned it to Carnatic music after taking basic lessons from his father Satyanarayana, also a mandolin player.

A mandolin has four pairs of strings (eight strings), but to produce the gamakas (prolonged notes) that are crucial and unique to Carnatic music, he replaced them with four single strings and started practising Carnatic music. On his father's advice, he added a fifth string for the base (mandra sthayi) note.

“The modification of the instrument suited his style and speed of playing. Apart from changing the number of strings, he also made the instrument an electronic one to shore up the sound,“ said pianist Anil Shrinivasan, who considers Shrinivas his role model.

The smaller mandolin allowed him flexibility , and his efforts and experimentation are what made audiences accept the mandolin though it is not suited to Carnatic music in its original form. “Shrinivas worked very hard to adapt and modify the instrument,“ Anil said.

Though the instrument was new to Carnatic music, the raga, bhava and gamakas were flawless. He managed to stretch and bend notes on the strings. “He could do anything with the instrument. His adaptation of the mandolin to Carnatic music was complete. There were no mistakes in the raga, bhava and gama kas. Despite the speed at which he played, there was never a slip in the sruthi (pitch) and he was in absolute control of the instrument,“ said musicologist La litha Ramakrishna.

In a message on Facebook, guitarist Prasanna, who plays both Carnatic and jazz on the electrical guitar said, “He is the reason for me to play Carnatic music on the guitar.He is the biggest inspiration for me to take this legacy of Carnatic music on western instruments forward to the young children I teach now.“

Sabha organisers said that it was Shrinivas' efforts and talent that drew rasikas to the “new“ instrument. “After the clarinet and saxophone, mandolin was a western instrument that audiences came to love.Since childhood, he could play rare ragas easily,“ said Krishna Gana Sabha general secretary Y Prabhu.


The Hindu, February 25, 2015

› He was a Child Prodigy.

› Started playing music at the age of 6.

› Made his first public performance at the age of 8 in 1978

› Became the first South India Carnatic music artist to perform at the Cenvantino Festival in Mexico in 1987

› He was the recipient of Padma Shri (1998), Mysore T. Chowdiah Memorial National Award (1992), Sangeet Natak Akademi award (2010) and Kalaimamani Award (1991)

› Was titled the Asthana Vidwan of Govt. of Tamil Nadu in 1984.

› The master musician had performed with various western artists as well as with Hindustani music artists.

Fusion with electronic

`Fused electronic with Carnatic'

TM Krishna

Sep 20 2014 : The Times of India

Shrinivas's emergence in the world of music was startling. His mandolin (actually a mini-electric guitar) was the first major electronic sound in Carnatic music.

But even more important than his introduction of the mandolin to Carnatic music was the way he used it to demonstrate his respect for the art. His instrument was for the music, his music was not a companion for the instrument. I have heard him play at some exquisite concerts where the instrument became, in fact, incidental in his music. He adhered very consciously and with clear success to the tenets of Carnatic aesthetics. He didn't manipulate the tic aesthetics. He didn't manipulate the music to push the agenda of his instru ment--that was the integrity of his art. He used to, for instance, talk of listening to geniuses like Rajarat nam Pillai and wanting to play todi like them.

He made his musical choices and he stood by them at all times.

He never tried to explain them, you could take them or leave them and I admired that. He straddled so many musical worlds and with such ease. He would play for Shakti with John McLaughlin one day and perform at the Music Academy the next and there would be no sign of conflict at ei ther place.

Shrinivas was one of the nicest of human beings you could meet. There are few musi cians who genuinely appreciate the work of another musician but Shrinivas had no qualms about talking about another artiste's work.

When you experiment with a new instrument in a musical genre you have to create a language in a musical genre you have to create a language for it. And he created a language for the mandolin when he was all of nine! I don't believe in divinity but there are moments when I have wondered how this was possible.

Even when he was playing the most mathematically complex piece of music he would be smiling. He played the most exquisite music with ease, none of that `look at me I am playing something so complex'. He smiled and the music came, with such grace.

TM Krishna is a leading Carnatic music vocalist (As told to Malini Nair)

Across genres

The Times of India

Worked across genres from jazz to Hindustani

Shrinivas, who first shot to fame as a child prodigy, underwent a liver transplant a week before his untimely death . Doctors said he was recovering well but his condition deteriorated six days later. “His kidneys failed and he developed pneumonia due to a secondary bacterial infection. He died around 9am,“ a doctor who treated Shrinivas told TOI.

Shrinivas's guru Vasu Rao flew down from Hyderabad and sat by the body of his favourite student, as did Shankar Mahadevan and percussionist Sivamani. Among those who paid tribute were PM Modi, tabla maestro Zakir Hussain and English guitarist John McLaughlin. Shrinivas was the first to bring the mandolin into the world of Carnatic music, inventing a distinct sound and reshaping the instrument. Shrinivas remained a restless and keen innovator all his life, working with musicians across genres including jazz, western classical and Hindustani.

He went on to tour the world extensively and performed alongside Zakir Hussain, Vikku Vinayakram, McLaughlin, Michael Nyman, and Michael Brook. In a recent interview to TOI, he recalled that one of his “fa vourite venues was the Carnegie Hall in the US“; he loved its atmosphere and acoustics.

Uppalapu Shrinivas was born in Palakol, Andhra Pradesh. His father U Satyanarayana was an instrumentalist who taught guitar and mandolin. Shrinivas, who trained under Rudraraju Subbaraju and later Rao, gave his first public performance in 1978 at the age of nine.

Though the mandolin was considered a `recent addition' to the southern classical music scene, Shrinivas won accolades for his artistry and understanding of the Carnatic style. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1998 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 2001.He also built a reputation as a committed teacher and guide to scores of students from around the world. His personal life turned turbulent after a failed marriage to a veena player. Early this month, Shrinivas went to Apollo Hospitals with complaints of general weakness and loss of appetite. “He said he was traveling on a concert and maybe because of eating out, he felt unwell,“ said the doctor. “A detailed diagnosis revealed multiple problems: pneumonia, failing kidneys and acute liver failure. The problems were long-existing, but somehow he didn't realize it till it was too late.“

Through dialysis and antibiotics, doctors stabilized the lungs and kidneys and did a liver transplant. He appeared to be on his way to recovery when another bout of infection led to multiple organ failure.

Shrinivas's house at Vadapalani in south Chennai began filling up with musicians, students and artists by Friday afternoon. One of the first to reach was percussionist V Selvaganesh, who performed with Shrinivas for more than a decade at concerts. By late evening, singer Shankar Mahadevan and Sivamani too had arrived. “He was like a brother, we spent hours writing, composing music on flights, at airport lounges, in green rooms -we were part of the melodic team in Shakti,“ said Shankar.


Shrinivas was the spirit of Shakti, who can replace him?

Malini Nair

The Times of India Sep 21 2014

Legendary jazz guitarist John McLaughlin revived his 1970s' cult fusion band Shakti in 1997 as Remembering Shakti.

Among the fresh faces that came in was mandolin prodigy U Shrinivas who was already a star by then. For the 17 years they played together, McLaughlin tells Malini Nair, they were like a musical match made in heaven

Selvaganesh, Zakir (Husain), Shankar (Mahadevan), McLaughlin are all part of a Shakti chat group and they were falling apart. Selva kept saying: he isn't ever going to write or read us again here.

Shankar Mahadevan says that Remembering Shakti will become a memory with Shrinivas gone.

That it is over, McLaughlin agrees. ‘I don't know what to think any more. We've been touring for 14 years as a family with him. I don't know how Shakti can be without him. To start looking for a replacement, who can replace him? He was the spirit of Shakti. I know there are marvellous young musicians in India but where will I find a spirit like him?’

Vikku Vinayakram had sent McLaughlin a tape of Shrinivas playing at Berlin Jazz Day when he was 14.This young, beautiful boy playing the most fantastic Carnatic music on an electronic instrument that was neither Carnatic nor Hindustani. He was a prodigy , his music was elegant, eloquent and mature at 14 years of age! Normally you have to be 50 to get that soul experience in your music. His electric mandolin and my electric guitar seemed the perfect combination. McLaughlin had to play with him but it was not until violinist L Shankar left and Hariji (Hari Prasad Chaurasia) became very busy that McLaughlin got to meet him. McLaughlin waited 12 years to play with him. But when they met it was like they had always played together. He had this unbelievable intuition about music so they were like a made-in-heaven match.

Shrinivas was criticized by Carnatic purists for playing fusion music with Shakti...

And McLaughlin was criticized by jazz purists for playing fusion! And Ravi Shankar was criticized for playing with Yehudi Menuhin. McLaughlin adds, ‘Purists talk rubbish. Shrinivas was the purest musician you could find. Ravi Shankar used to say that music is about the meeting of cultures and minds and we don't have to compromise our own music for that. Shrinivas had a mind that was wide open but his music had purity and integrity . I grew from my experience of playing with him….

‘Bus or plane, he could sit with his instrument and write. We had a tiny 10cm amp so we would just sit anyplace and go through the phrasings. How do you do this gamaka? I would ask him simply to hear him explain. `It is vairy eeeasy.Just do this...' And then he would ask me for ideas and say , `Okay-ji, okay-ji. It is easy-ji, don't worry

‘He was a giant of a musician since he was 7 but he would always be this ordinary chap, he played that role very well! He was a wonderful human being and you could see this in his eyes, they were transparent, open books. I don't think he had a single negative thought in his life.’

On Shrinivas’ many personal setbacks:

McLaughlin says, ‘He was clear about who he was. He knew the prowess of his music but he was completely unpretentious. He knew the more you know, the less you realize you know. He was showered with honours but he was very shy and retiring. He didn't seek glory. When we asked him to step up for a press conference he would say: `No-ji, you go, I play , I play.' We would tease him: `But you are the star.' He just wanted you to sit there and listen to him play his instrument.’ On their last concert together:

McLaughlin: ‘We had a concert in Monte Carlo [in 2013]. He was particularly fond of spaghetti aglio e olio and I cooked it for him many times. He was a simple soul and we spent a lot of time laughing, talking.’

Selective discography

Where MUS was the main artiste

Mandolin U. Srinivas

Tracks include: Ninnukori; Sri Vatapi; Vasudevayani; Kanaga Sapapathikku; Seethamma Sapapthikku; Kana Kankodi; Radha Smetha Krishna; Dikku Theriyatha Katil

Mandolin U. Srinivas, Vol. 2

Tracks include: Innum En Manam; Vinayaka; Guruvaayoorappane; Ksheerasagara; Nidhi Chaala; Idadhu Padam; Ksheerabdi Kannike; Vilaiyada Idhu Neerama

Mandolin Duo

Tracks include: Maha Ganapathim; Nee Paadame; Yaaro Ivar Yaaro; Ranjani Niranjani; Bhavanutha; Krishna Nee Begane; Kuzhaloodhi;

1991: Double Mandolin

CD Universe cites Ken Hunt: ‘Double-tracked mandolin by U. Srinivas, arguably the forerunner of much of his later exploration of other settings for the mandolin.’

1991: Modern Mandolin Maestro

Recorded in July 1990 in London. Accompaniments: violin, ghatam and mridangam

1995: Dream

East-West fusion and counterpoint.

1996: Dawn Raga

1996: Marvels On Mandolin

Tracks include: Vathapi; Samajavaragamana; Siva Siva; Yochana; Intakannananda; Raghuvamsa Sudha; Javali

2001: Mandolin Magic

Accompanists: A. Kanyakumari (violin); T.H. Vikku Vinayakram Ghatam (percussion).

2003: Gamanashrama: Ragam Tanam Pallavi

Live recording. Accompanists: Delhi P Sunder Rajan (violin); Vellore G Ramabhadran (mradangam); E.M. Subramaniam (ghatam).

2005: Mandolin Melodies: South Indian Classical Music

Tracks include: Ninnuvina; Thatvmariya Tarama; Kruipajoo Chutaka; Ananda Nadamaaduvaar; Suki Evvaro; Theeratha; Thanthanana; Thillana; Western Note;

2008: Samjanitha

Audio remastered by Sven Hoffman. Recorded in: Chennai (2006); Paris, France (2006)...

Accompanists: U. Srinivas (mandolin); E.M. Subramaniam (ghatam); Guruvayur Dorai (mradangam).

2012: Rama Sreerama

Tracks include: Gajavadhana; Maryaadakadaya; Saranambhava Karuna; Rama Sreerama; Ganamurthy; Kaliyugavaradana;

Albums that include music by MUS

Eat Pray Love

Motion picture soundtrack

Way We Do It

With the Colonial Cousins.

2012: Bliss

2013: Carnatic Classical On Various Instruments

2014: Rough Guide To Indian Classical Music

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