BENGALURU:The brilliant U Shrinivas adapted the mandolin, an instrument from Italy, to play south Indian classical music. His disciple Aravind Bhargav is among those excelling at this pioneering tradition.
The 25-year-old Aravind, who lives in Chennai, is visiting Bengaluru for concerts on Saturday and Sunday. City Express spoke to him ahead of his trip.
What made you choose the mandolin? Was it the instrument, the style, or U Shrinivas?
I was six years old when I began learning. I had no idea about it, actually. My mother Gnana Prasuna, a vocalist and disciple of Balamurali Krishna, took me to Shrinivas anna. She believed the mandolin had a future, and wanted me to learn Carnatic music on it. My maternal grandmother N M Lakshmi was a self-taught veena artiste. She was also a composer. She had set to music Annamacharya kritis and recorded them for Saregama and Sangeetha. I am a third generation musician, learning under Shrinivas for 17 years.
What was his teaching method?
Classes were always fun. He would become one among us and never command us. He was playful but he made sure we didn’t go beyond the grammar of the raga. He would give us the sahityam, make us listen to the vocal, and then proceed to teach us the notes. By God’s grace, I have come to a level where I can learn from his recordings. And my mother has been a big force.
Shrinivas was a fountain of knowledge. To understand and grasp his knowledge was difficult, but my mother would sit in class. After we went home, she would tell me what anna was trying to teach.
Do you adapt your presentations and choose your compositions depending on your audience?
When I go a specific region, I try to find the pulse of the audience. In Andhra Pradesh, I add Annamayya and Ramdas compositions. In Karnataka, in addition to the regular stuff, I play Purandaradasa and Kanakadasa. People relate to them.
I am playing a concert in Bengaluru on Saturday, at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, in honour of the great Pallavi Chandrappa, and there I will play ragam-tanam-pallavi, since the audience is going to be erudite. At Mandolin Prasad’s academy, I am doing a lec-dem. I believe I will play to a mixed audience there.
Given the mandolin’s structure and design, oriented to another kind of music, how difficult has it been to adapt it to your music?
The original eight-string mandolin doesn’t give you manoeuvreability to play the complex gamakas of the Carnatic system. Shrinivas made an electric version, removing three strings, and creating enough space to play tough gamakas. He has already created the instrument. My task is only to go on that path and see how best I can contribute to his cause of making the Carnatic mandolin an instrument accepted worldwide.
Who are the musicians you take inspiration from? And how do you respond to the music around you?
At the top is my guruji. Bombay Jayashri, Ranjani-Gayatri, Chitravina Ravikiran take the same ragas and present them differently. I also like Abhishek Raghuram and Unnikrishnan.
I also take inspiration from other generations of instrumentalists, such as Chowdaiah and Chitti Babu.
What do you do when you are not playing music?
I did a diploma in sound engineering, but when I am not playing, I am listening. I try to do some notation work. It is important to have sahityam in my memory, since I must capture as much of the composer’s emotions as possible. Music is as demanding — if not more — as professions like medicine or engineering.
Could you tell us about your Bengaluru connection?
I visit the city frequently. I recently came in touch with Mandolin Prasad. You can’t pin down his music. He keeps encouraging me all the time. He told me about the theory of dasha gamakam (the 10 musical graces).
In Bengaluru, everyone has deep love and regard for classical music. They also have knowledge.
If you could play just one raga to 5,000 people which would you chose?
I would go with Keervani.
And if you had just five in the audience, all vidwans?
Todi. Or perhaps Kalyani, Kambodhi or Shankarabharanam. I might even choose a vivadi raga like Nasikabhushani.