Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Musical Anecdotes --35 Uppalapu Srinivas (1969 –2014)


   Musical Anecdotes --35

                                                   35. Uppalapu Srinivas (1969 –2014)



Uppalapu Srinivas  was a virtuoso  mandolin maestro, prodigy, trailblazer and composer. Srinivas is regarded as the Mozart of classical Indian music. He was a pioneer who introduced the mandolin, a western instrument, to classical Carnatic music, because he fell in love with it as a five-year old. 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.


                             For over  four decades, Srinivas toured across the world, and collaborated with John McLaughlin, Michael Nyman, and Michael Brook. After Pandit Ravi Shankar, he was the only classical Indian musician who attained global reach and captured worldwide audience.


                               Srinivas was born 28 February 1969, in Palakollu in Andhra Pradesh. At the age of five, he picked up the mandolin of his father U. Satyanarayana, after he heard it being played by him. Upon realizing the talent of his son, the 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,      (a 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  Srinivas, all of six, would play them on the mandolin, thus developing a phenomenal style of playing entirely his own, Soon, the family shifted to Chennai, the Citadel  of Carnatic music, where most Carnatic musicians live.


                                               Srinivas made his debut public  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. At age eleven, a star was born --at once  revered and adored. He started off playing the acoustic mandolin, but 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.  From  1982, he performed regularly during the December season of the prestigious Madras Music Academy, every year except in 2002 - December 23 of each year was a reserved slot for  Srinivas - the highest accolade. Srinivas's renditions of the Pancharatna Kritis, five distinctive works of the great 18th century composer Thyagaraja  was his  speciality. Srinivas would often begin his concerts with one of them, breaking with tradition.



                                  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. When the guitarist John McLaughlin revived his old ensemble " Shakti " under the name "Remember Shakti ", in 1997, Srinivas  joined the group  and toured the world , along with other celebrated Indian musicians Zakir Hussain, Shankar Mahadevan, and V. Selvaganesh. He performed  in Australia, Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia, and extensively and frequently across the United States and Canada. 


                                 His gifted younger brother, U. Rajesh studied with Srinivas for some twenty-seven years and 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.



                                    Over the years, Srinivas recorded over 137 albums, in diverse genres from Carnatic music solos to jugalbandis with Hindustani musicians, and world music. He played with Hindustani music artists such as Hariprasad Chaurasia and Zakir Hussain, besides Carnatic artists like Vikku Vinayakram and V. Selvaganesh.  Srinivas started a music school called the Srinivas Institute of World Music (SIOWM) in Chennai, where he taught a number of students gratis. Srinivas has trained almost a hundred students worldwide, many of whom have studied with him .  Rajesh continues teaching the students at the SIOWM.


                                  Srinivas married U. Sree, daughter of a vigilance officer from Andhra Pradesh, in 1994. The couple have a son, Sai Krishna, and were divorced in 2012.


                                        Srinivas has amassed several awards—a few are  the Padma Shri ,the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award , Sanatan Sangeet Puraskar , Chowdiah Memorial National Award ,Sangeetha Bala Bhaskara by Sangeetha Kalanidhi M.S. Subbulakshmi, Special TTK Award and Best Artist Award by the Madras Music Academy . He was the youngest Asthana Vidwan-- of  Tamil Nadu at 15.


                                      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 and he died on 19 September 2014, due to liver failure.