Global Hit – U. Shrinivas

The World

The mandolin is not usually an instrument associated with traditional Indian music. In the past, Indian musicians thought the instrument was best restricted to popular fare — like Bollywood soundtracks. But one musician has given the mandolin a new life in India. The World’s April Peavey has today’s Global Hit.

U Shrinivas was born Upalappu Shrinivas in 1969. He was 6 years old when he first picked up the mandolin.

SHRINIVAS: A lot of people told me to just change the instrument. I had to really face a lot of criticism and everything. But once I started playing traditional and very difficult ragas then all the great musicians started accepting me.

Now — in his late thirties — U Shrinivas plays the electric mandolin. And guess what? He’s one of the most respected musicians in India.

GHANDI: I’m sure if an adult, a 25 yr. old person, starting playing mandolin, he would have found it more difficult being accepted by the traditionalists.

That’s music producer Yusuf Ghandi. He was NOT an early critic of U Shrinivas’ mandolin playing. Ghandi fully understood the potential this young prodigy had. and Ghandi acccepted the idea that the mandolin could by played in Indian classical music.

In fact, Yusuf Ghandi so believed in U Shrinivas that he brought him to the west and put him on the same bill as Miles Davis.

That was back in the 1980’s. Again, Yusuf Ghandi.
GHANDI: If you met Shrinivas at the age of 11 or 12 he was a regular kid. He didn’t think he was doing anything great. He was having a great time. For him it didn’t matter. That’s why when he was told that okay, ‘you’re going to be playing after Miles Davis’ he said okay. He was just playing. He wasn’t influence by people. So it’s the same thing with anyone else. If you don’t get influenced by what others say and if you feel that you can do it and continue at it you’re going to do it. That’s how barriers are broken.

The young U Shrinivas got the attention of several musicians — from both East and West. The late George Harrison was an early fan. U Shrinivas got to meet the former Beatle at a London venue back in 1990.

SHRINIVAS: I didn’t even believe that he was going to be there for the concert. And in the intermission time he came backstage and he was asking me how I tuned the strings. And he was looking at my instrument suitcase where I kept all my deities; he said “oh, you are getting inspiration from those deities.”

For almost four decades, those deities have been good to U Shrinivas. But he hasn’t let his fame go to his head. He modestly rejects any comparisons to the likes of Ravi Shankar — or George Harrison.

SHRINIVAS: I’m very small. They’re all gods of music.

Still, it’s safe to say that U Shrinivas has earned himself � and the mandolin — a place in the pantheon of Indian music.

For The World, I’m April Peavey.

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