A year ago, on September 19th, we lost a Carnatic music legend and prodigy in Mandolin U. Srinivas. I had written his obituary for a magazine in Coimbatore at that time. On his first death anniversary, I am sharing this with all of you.
Mandolin Uppalapu Srinivas, the musical genius From Palakol, Andhra Pradesh died on the 19th of September, 2014. He was 45. The instrument he chose to express his talent, the mandolin, became eponymous with his name in the annals of Indian classical music. Mandolin Srinivas, as he was called, took a western plucked string instrument and weaved joyful notes in Kalyani and Atana and Mohanam and Kadhana Kuthoohalam.
U.Srinivas started young. He started playing the mandolin at the age of 6 at the encouragement of his father, U.Satyanarayana, a musician himself. With guidance from him father and his guru, Rudraraju Subbaraju, Srinivas started making dramatic strides in his mastery of the instrument. After his first public concert in 1978, he was thrust into the limelight as a true prodigy, a once in a lifetime talent. Srinivas, ever the humble and smiling performer focused on expanding his understanding of the instrument and convincing people that it could play all the complex nuances of Carnatic music.
Over the years, Srinivas collaborated with various artists across the world. He took the message of Carnatic music and spread it across the musical community. Some of the artists he collaborated with include Grammy Award winner Michael Brook, Grammy Award winner and Shakti alumni John McLaughlin, Michael Nyman, Hariprasad Chaurasia and Zakir Hussain. His work with the fusion group Remember Shakti came in for great praise. He explored the finer elements of classical music with his jugalbandis and international collaboration projects and this reflected in his global sensibilities with a local attitude towards music.
Mandolin Srinivas was well respected in the musical community. Upon his death, eulogies poured across the world and artists and fans mourned for the big loss to music. Oscar Award winning composer, A.R.Rahman remarked that he was “Emotionally shaken.” Frequent collaborator Zakir Hussain lamented, ““Today mother India cries, today a part of Indian music died and we are orphaned, RIP my dear brother Mandolin Srinivas.” Another Shakti collaborator and friend Shankar Mahadevan tweeted,”“A big part of my musical journey ended today with U Srinivas .. Devastated.”
Within the Carnatic music community, eulogies poured on the news of the sudden demise of Srinivas. Singer T.M.Krishna noted,”A little boy broke down imaginary and real barriers without uttering one word — his discourse was music and remained that right through his life.” Chitravina Ravikiran who was scheduled to perform with Srinivas in October across the world wrote in his eulogy, “Every superlative offered to him seemed redundant in almost no time — such was his mastery over the art. From the time he stormed into the Carnatic field around age 10, his innate musicality, razor-sharp mind, his command over speed and range, the effortlessness of expression and freshness of musical and mathematical patterns challenged minds, while his charismatic presence on-stage and cartoon-loving simplicity off it stole hearts.”
Over the years, Srinivas won every award available to an artist of his ilk. He was awarded the Padma Shri at the tender age of 19. He also won the Rajiv Gandhi National Integration Award, Chowdiah National Memorial Award, Sangeeth Natak Academy Award, and much more. At different points of time in his sparkling career, he was the Asthana Vidwan for the Government of Tamil Nadu and the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetham.
To the fan of Carnatic music, what remains etched in memory is the smiling child who exploded onto the scene in the early eighties and demonstrated a complete mastery of the instrument and the medium. His humble smile and reverence to elders and the medium made him a darling of the critics and the audience. He leaves behind a rich legacy of remarkable achievements and glorious music that we will continue to cherish for years to come. Mandolin U.Srinivas left us too soon. But his music will live on.
Here are a couple of classic Mandolin concert snippets worth listening to, on this day.
An old 1989 private concert featuring a young Srinivas. The Viribhoni is brilliant.
And here is a very recent concert held in the memory of the late Sri. Lalgudi Jayaraman.