Uppalapu Srinivas (28 February 1969 – 19 September 2014) was a virtuoso Indian mandolin maestro and composer belonging to the classical Carnatic musical tradition. Srinivas was one of the most globally beloved South Indian musicians and is regarded as the Mozart of classical Indian music.
Over his career, he toured across the world, and collaborated with John McLaughlin, Michael Nyman, and Michael Brook. At a very young age he was internationally viewed as the successor to Pandit Ravi Shankar. He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1998 by Government of India, and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2009. He was an ardent devotee of the Paramacharya of Kanchi. He was also a follower and devotee of Sri Sathya Sai Baba and had performed before him on several occasions.
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 moved to Chennai, the mecca of Carnatic music, where most Carnatic musicians live. When Srinivas gave his first performance it led to him 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.
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.
Srinivas started out on the acoustic mandolin, but neither the size nor plucking required of the acoustic mandolin was suited for long, sustained notes. He then switched to the electric mandolin, which was better suited for sustained notes and musical ornamentations.
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).
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