Uppalapu Srinivas (28 February 1969 - 19 September 2014) was a virtuoso Indian mandolin maestro, prodigy, trailblazer and composer belonging to the classical Carnatic musical tradition of Southern India. Recognized worldwide as a colossus and the rarest of musical geniuses, Srinivas is regarded as the Mozart of classical Indian music. Srinivas pioneered the introduction of the mandolin, a western instrument, into classical Carnatic music, because he fell in love with it as a five-year-old, in the same manner as three much older musicians, Varahappa Iyer, Baluswami Dikshitar, and Vadivelu, had introduced the violin into Carnatic music, two hundred years ago. There is a major difference in their contributions: cognoscenti and leading musicians accepted Srinivas's mandolin when he was about nine, owing to his astounding virtuosity and sheer genius, whereas it took about a hundred years for the violin to be thus accepted. A prodigy, he made his debut in 1978, at the age of nine, and since he was the first musician to adapt and play the mandolin in the Carnatic music style, he came to be popularly known as Mandolin Srinivas. "Eddie van Halen, eat your heart out," Beatle George Harrison reportedly said in 2001, having stumbled upon one of Srinivas's albums. "George Harrison's favourite piece of Indian music was Mandolin Ecstasy, an album recorded by a child prodigy from Madras called U Srinivas at the age of 13. It was, like, my dad's favourite album of all time," says (Dhani) Harrison. "U Srinivas is 27 now and still making music. He plays an electric five-string mandolin, he's fantastic...." Over the next four decades, he toured across the world, and collaborated with John McLaughlin, Michael Nyman, and Michael Brook. After Pandit Ravi Shankar, no classical Indian musician enjoyed the kind of global reach and worldwide audience that U. Srinivas has: at a very young age he was internationally viewed as the successor to Pandit Ravi Shankar. Srinivas's gift was so prodigious and baffling from the very moment he gave his first performance that it inevitably led to his being compared to the world's greatest prodigies: "Some of you have heard or read about exceptionally gifted children, our own Mandolin Srinivas, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Beethoven, Sir Isaac Newton, Picasso, Madam Curie, the list is endless." (The Hindu, Sunday, May 3, 1992)
He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1998 by Government of India, and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2009. He was a follower and devotee of Sri Sathya Sai Baba and had performed before him on several occasions.
Early life and background:
Srinivas was born 28 February 1969, in Palakollu in Andhra Pradesh. At the age of five, he picked up his father U. Satyanarayana's mandolin, after he heard it being played at a concert he attended with his father. Upon realizing the talent of his son, his father, who had studied classical music, bought him a new mandolin, and started teaching him. Guitarist Vasu Rao, introduced seven-year-old Srinivas to western music in 1976. Soon, Satyanarayana's guru, Rudraraju Subbaraju, (disciple of Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar) who had also taught Srinivas' father and Vasu Rao, recognized the astounding potential in the child Srinivas and started teaching him. Since Rudraraju Subbaraju did not know how to play the mandolin, he would just sing pieces from the Carnatic classical repertoire, and U. Srinivas, all of six, would play them on the mandolin, thus developing a phenomenal style of playing entirely his own, and astonishingly, on an instrument that had never been played in the rigorous and difficult Carnatic style before. Soon, the family shifted to Chennai, the mecca of Carnatic music, where most Carnatic musicians live.
He made his debut public Carnatic concert performance in 1978 during the Thyagaraja Aradhana festival at Gudivada in Andhra Pradesh. Thereafter, at age eleven, in 1981, he gave his first public concert in Chennai at the Indian Fine Arts Society during the December Music Season, and never looked back. The skeptics were convinced and soon mesmerized, connoisseurs fell in love with him, and patrons of the arts could not have enough of him. At age eleven, a star was born, who was both revered and adored. He started off playing the acoustic mandolin, but he later switched to the electric mandolin as he felt it allowed the playing of lengthy, sustained notes - the quintessential component in classical Indian music - in addition to making them clearly audible.
He was the first musician to use the electric mandolin in Carnatic music: he modified the electric western instrument, using five single strings instead of the traditional four doubled strings to suit the Carnatic pitch, raga system, and especially gamakas, or nuanced oscillations. After initial reluctance, he found wide acceptance and critical acclaim in the following decades. Starting in 1982, he performed regularly during the December season of the prestigious Madras Music Academy, performing there every year except in 2002 - December 23 of each year was a reserved slot for U. Srinivas - the highest accolade. He played at the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1983 and at the Olympic Arts Festival, Barcelona in 1992. In 1995, he recorded a successful fusion album with Michael Brook. Srinivas stormed the world music scene at age thirteen at the Berlin Jazz Festival. Initially booked to play a half hour concert after Miles Davis, Srinivas so enthralled the audience in Berlin that he won a standing ovation, and had to play for another hour. "He's got it in him. He's fantastic," raved the legendary Don Cherry at the time. Guitarist John McLaughlin first heard a tape of this concert by the thirteen-year-old prodigy, and was left very impressed. It took McLaughlin fourteen years to get Srinivas to play with him. When he revived his group Shakti, and renamed it Remember Shakti, in 1997, he asked Srinivas to join the group and tour the world with it, along with other celebrated Indian musicians Zakir Hussain, Shankar Mahadevan, and V. Selvaganesh. Srinivas, of course, was the undisputed superstar of the group. Srinivas toured extensively across the world, in his own right, as a prodigy and leading star from the classical Indian music firmament, receiving thunderous applause and appreciation wherever he performed - he played in Australia, Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia, and extensively and frequently across the United States and Canada. Soon, the mandolin became synonymous with Srinivas and he started being called Mandolin Srinivas. Thus, Srinivas stands as a trailblazer and pioneer, who introduced and adapted an unlikely western instrument,the mandolin, at age six, and made it suitable for performing in the rigorous Carnatic style of music, in the same manner that the violin had been introduced into Carnatic classical music some two hundred years before.
His gifted younger brother, U. Rajesh, has studied with Srinivas for some twenty-seven years, and is also an accomplished mandolin player, who has often accompanied him at concerts over the last twenty years. He also plays jazz and western music, and played the mandolin in the John Mclaughlin album 'Floating Point' which received a Grammy nomination in the Best Contemporary Jazz Album Category in 2008. Srinivas and Rajesh have together composed music as well, and, besides Carnatic music, they have extensively worked on the fusion of Carnatic and western music. They also played with the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, with French electric bass player Dominique Di Piazza and Stephen Devassy, a pianist from Kerala. In 2008, they collaborated again with John Mclaughlin for the album, "Samjanitha", which also featured Zakir Hussain, Sivamani, and George Brook. Srinivas compared Carnatic music to the Sanskrit language, "It's the basis, from which spring so many other languages. Carnatic music is here to stay with us and all other music that we play is based on that."
Over the years, Srinivas recorded over 137 albums, in diverse genres from Carnatic music solos to jugalbandis with Hindustani musicians, and world music. He performed with Western artists such as John McLaughlin, Michael Brook, Trey Gunn, Nigel Kennedy, Nana Vasconcelos, and Michael Nyman, as well as with Hindustani music artists such as Hariprasad Chaurasia and Zakir Hussain, besides Carnatic artists like Vikku Vinayakram and V. Selvaganesh. U. Srinivas started a music school called the Srinivas Institute of World Music (SIOWM) in Chennai, where, since he was barely eighteen, he taught a number of students gratis. Srinivas has trained almost a hundred students worldwide, many of whom have studied with him and U. Rajesh for as long as ten years. U. Rajesh continues teaching their students at the SIOWM.
Srinivas' first mandolin belonged to his father, a clarinetist. That instrument was a 'standard' Western mandolin; however, he made modifications to suit his playing style over the course of his musical career. Unlike a typical mandolin's eight strings, tuned to GG-DD-AA-EE, Srinivas generally used only five strings tuned to CGCGC. Copies of this style of mandolin are available in India, and several other Indian mandolin players have used instruments just like it (including Suresh Kumar, Raghavendra, and Srinivas' own brother, U Rajesh).
Srinivas married U. Sree, daughter of a vigilance officer from Andhra Pradesh, in 1994. The couple had a son, Sai Krishna, and were divorced in 2012.
Illness and death:
A teetotaller, non-smoker and vegetarian all his life, Srinivas had undergone a liver transplant on 11 September 2014 and was recovering when complications arose on the evening of 18 September. He died at 9.30AM on 19 September 2014, due to liver failure at Apollo Hospital, Chennai. He is survived by his parents, brother Mandolin U. Rajesh and sisters.
Awards and Achievements:
Some of the awards that Mandolin U. Srinivas received:
Padma Shri in 1998, given by Government of India,
Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2010, given by Sangeet Natak Akademi,
Sanatan Sangeet Puraskar from Sangeet Sanskriti,
Titled Asthana Vidwan (at age 15), of the state of Tamil Nadu in July 1984, Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam on 1 October 1990, at Sringeri, at Kalahasti Temple, at Mantralaya Raghavendra Mutt in 2006, Pillayarpatti Temple on 27 August 1995,
Raja-Lakshmi Award for 1985 from Sri Raja-Lakshmi Foundation, Chennai,
Mysore T. Chowdiah Memorial National Award in 1992,
Sangeetha Bala Bhaskara by Sangeetha Kalanidhi M.S. Subbulakshmi in 1995,
Sangeetha Choodamani Award in 1985,
National Citizen's Award, 1991 by The President of India,
Special TTK Award and Best Artist Award by the Madras Music Academy in 1983 and 1993 respectively,
Rajiv Gandhi National Integration Award,
Madhya Pradesh Government Award in 2004 by the Government of Madhya Pradesh,
Maharajapuram Santhanam Award in 2010,
Lifetime Achievement Award 2014 by Mahindra Finance on January 17, 2015
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license