Remembering the man who reinvented an ancient Indian musical style

The World
"Mandolin" Srinivas performs a live show in Pune, India, in 2009. The musician introduced his electric mandolin into India's ancient Carnatic music.

Earlier this month, the great Indian percussionist Zakir Hussein issued a sudden heartbroken message on Twitter.

Uppalapu "Mandolin" Srinivas, one of India's most beloved musicians, died on September 19 following a liver transplant. He was in his mid 40s. 

Srinivas will be remembered as an artist who mastered South India’s ancient classical music while introducing an unlikely Western instrument into its culture: the electric mandolin.

He grew up in the South India’s "Carnatic" system of music, based around improvised solos and centuries-old compositions. But instead of adopting a traditional instrument, he played an adapted version of the electric mandolin, a Western instrument which had never before been used for Carnatic performances.

Over the course of his brief career, he brought the mandolin into the genre's mainstream and inspired a generation of Indian musicians to adopt it as part of their culture.

Srinivas' choice of instrument was controversial at first. "It was pretty tough," says singer Abhishek Raghuram, one the young stars of Carnatic music. "Initially people found it tough to accept that this music was being played on that instrument, a foreign one. But I think destiny chose the best person to do it. He was destined to do it."

Raghuram recently dedicated a concert to Srinivas' memory. And like Zakir Hussein, he's still coming to terms with Srinivas' death. "It’s a huge shock to everyone,” he says. “He was not that old, and it’s left a huge void in the Carnatic community. And we don’t know who can fill that. There was something spiritual inside him that made him play like that."

Abhishek fondly remembers how Srinivas used to encourage younger musicians, saying that Srinivas would send him text messages of encouragement after a concerts.

“It was a very special feeling," he says. "It was as if the best musician on the planet had just wished you [well]. His music is going to live on for centuries. It's as eternal as the long lasting compositions of Carnatic music."

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