With any luck, we’ll be having a post a week or so covering international music. Here’s the first installment featuring Indian virtuoso, U. Srinivas, the first musician to play mandolin in Indian classical music.
Srinivas plays five string electric mandolin in Carnatic style–generally, the two major distinctions made in Indian classical music are between the North and South; the North producing the Hindustani style and the South, Carnatic. This composition is entitled Gananayakam and was written by the composer Muthuswami Dikshitar.
U. Srinivas has recorded a great deal of music over the course of his career, but I don’t recall ever seeing a performance as lucid as this one. Srinivas’ mandolin is amplified in such a fashion that the timbre has just the right amount of bite to it; not too much, but enough for average western ears to be able to make the connection to a guitar played above the twelfth fret (although few Western guitarist have ever managed to coax such expressiveness from their instruments) and the quickness of his fingers can fool the inattentive lister into thinking that the mandolin is running through a delay pedal. The tambura and the percussion provide the foundation for Srinivas to explore the composition, while violinist Delhi P. Sunderarajan provides only occasional input. This is clearly Srinivas’ show.
By the time this recording was made, the west had long ago been introduced to Indian music via Ravi Shankar and George Harrison. In fact Srinivas, who was born in 1969, missed the heyday of Indian influence on British and American psychedelic rock, a period ripe for cross pollination of cultural products (or cultural imperialism, depending on your perspective). Taking the Beatles as the sole example, George Harrison adopted the sitar and took lessons from Ravi Shankar, while Bollywood composer Mohd. Rafi did an arrangement of the Beatles “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” for song and dance. After the 60s and early 70s, efforts at fusion continued with occasionally stunning results, but often fell victim to embarrassing failure. This video, recorded in the 80s, takes all the efforts of rock musicians to make their western instruments sound more Indian and very humbly, politely, and perhaps not even consciously hands them their collective ass. Not even John McLaughlin at the height of Shakti’s prowess had anything on this guy.
If anybody is interested in seeing more recordings from this sessions, there are also longer recordings of the compositions Venkataramana and Tiruvadi Saranam available on Youtube, both of which are equally revelatory.