ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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A Second Coming

In the masterly hands of U Shrinivas, the mandolin, a musical instrument once alien to India, touched the core of jazz music – improvisation and camaraderie.

Within one minute of seeing and hearing his marvellous music, I knew I had to work and play with this person. It took some years. Finally, in 1997, he was persuaded to join the group Shakti, and the fun began. His electric mandolin and my electric guitar were made for each other.” These words come from legendary jazz guitarist John McLaughlin, reminiscing about the Berlin Jazz Festival of 1983. The subject of his grief was mandolin prodigy U Shrinivas, who passed away, aged 45, on 19 September 2014 in Chennai.

An encore performance by Miles Davis’ All Stars Band had almost brought the curtains down on the Berlin festival. But the organisers had also arranged for an Indian act on each day. Sandwiched between ragtime giants and swing virtuosos were tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, Carnatic saxophonist Kadri Gopalnath and santoor virtuoso Shiv Kumar Sharma. Davis’ band, though, was to be followed by a musician unknown to the West – indeed to many of the Indians in the crowd as well. The 4,000-odd audience – many of whom had bought tickets from scalpers – were bemused to see a young boy wielding what seemed to be a toy guitar. For about 45 minutes, Shrinivas played Raag Hamsadhwani. By the end, the wizardry of his fingers had enthralled the audience into demanding an encore. Shrinivas went on to play for another hour.

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