Uppalapu Srinivas was a virtuoso Indian mandolin maestro and composer who belonged to the classical Carnatic musical tradition. Srinivas was one of the most globally beloved Indian musicians, who is regarded as the Mozart of classical Indian music. He toured across the world, and collaborated with western musicians like John McLaughlin, Michael Nyman, and Michael Brook. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1998 and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2009.
Srinivas was born 28 February 1969, in Palakollu, West Godavari district in the state of Andhra Pradesh, India. From early childhood, his father U. Satyanarayana, who had studied classical music, would take him to music concerts. At the age of five, he developed a passion for the mandolin. His father started to teach him. In 1976, when he was seven, Guitarist Vasu Rao, introduced him to western music. Later, Rudraraju Subbaraju, who had also taught Srinivas’ father and Vasu Rao, started teaching him.
Soon Srinivas started playing the mandolin in the rigorous and difficult Carnatic style, which had never been done earlier. Later his family moved to Chennai, which is considered the mecca of Carnatic music. His first solo performance made him to be compared with the world’s greatest prodigies.
In 1978, during the Thyagaraja Aradhana festival at Gudivada in Andhra Pradesh, Srinivas made his debut public Carnatic concert performance. In 1981, at the age of 11, he gave his first public concert in Chennai at the Indian Fine Arts Society during the December Music Season. He never looked back. Connoisseurs and patrons of music loved his music and wanted more of his music. A star was born, who was both revered and adored.
He had started with playing the acoustic mandolin, and later switched to the electric mandolin as he found it more convenient and appropriate for his music. He was the first Carnatic musician to use the electric mandolin. He modified it using five single strings instead of the traditional four doubled strings to suit the Carnatic music. After initial reluctance, he found wide acceptance and critical acclaim.
From 1982, he began performing regularly during the December season of the prestigious Madras Music Academy, and the date 23rd slot was reserved for him. Srinivas stormed the world music scene at the Berlin Jazz Festival, when he was just thirteen. He enthralled the audience and got a standing ovation.
In 1992, he played at the Olympic Arts Festival, Barcelona and in 1995 recorded a successful fusion album with Michael Brook.
In 1997, John McLaughlin revived his group and renamed it Remember Shakti. Srinivas joined the group and toured the world along with other celebrated Indian musicians like Zakir Hussain, Shankar Mahadevan, and V. Selvaganesh. He played in Australia, Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia, and extensively and frequently across the United States and Canada. He received thunderous applause and appreciation wherever he performed.
Soon, the mandolin became synonymous with Srinivas and he was being called Mandolin Srinivas. His gifted younger brother, U. Rajesh, is also an accomplished mandolin player, who has often accompanied him at concerts over the last twenty years.
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 musicians like John McLaughlin, Michael Brook, Trey Gunn etc. and Indian artists such as Hariprasad Chaurasia and Zakir Hussain.
Srinivas started a music school called the Srinivas Institute of World Music (SIOWM) in Chennai and hundreds of students worldwide.
Srinivas stands as a trailblazer and pioneer, who introduced and adapted an unlikely western instrument, the mandolin, for performing in the rigorous Carnatic style of music.
In 1994, Srinivas married U. Sree, a veena player. They had a son, Sai Krishna. Later in 2012, they were divorced, and his wife getting the custody of their son.
Srinivas was a non-smoker and vegetarian. He had undergone a liver transplant in 2014 and was recovering when there were complications. He died on 19 September 2014, due to liver failure at Apollo Hospital, Chennai.He was just 45 years old. He is survived by his parents, sisters, brother U. Rajesh, and son.
Awards and Achievements
Mandolin U. Srinivas received numerous awards, some of which are the following:
Padma Shri in 1998
Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2010
Sanatan Sangeet Puraskar from Sangeet Sanskriti
National Citizen’s Award by the President of India in 1991
Rajiv Gandhi National Integration Award
Madhya Pradesh Government Award by the Government of Madhya Pradesh in 2004
Lifetime Achievement Award 2014 by Mahindra Finance on January 17, 2015
Written By: Raj Kumar Hansdah