Clad in a mundu and black T-shirt, a pleasant blend of traditional and contemporary styles, mandolin virtuoso U. Rajesh looks more like a model than a musician. The photoshoot, prior to his first ramp walk for the Kerala Fashion League, is on at the studio in Kochi. Rajesh, holding his mandolin, emotes well and pauses just when the camera flashes. It is difficult to believe that the mandolin man from Andhra Pradesh is new to fashion.
Once the shoot is over, as we begin our chat, he says excitedly, “It is the first time that I am attempting something like this. I was a little sceptical first, but Abhil (the main organiser) assured me that I could do well. Now, I am enjoying working with this creative and wonderful team a lot.”
On the big day, Rajesh will be seen in a different get-up on the ramp and he will perform on stage too in sync with the fashion show. Ask him how music is linked to fashion and pat comes the reply, “Without music, there is no fashion. Every ramp show is accompanied by some sort of music.”
Rajesh is very happy that this kind of attempt is taking place in Kerala, one of his favourite places. He loves the state and its language. “Since childhood, I have been to this place for music shows. Kerala, which is a traditionally and culturally strong place, is like a home to me. Also, Keralites have a good knowledge in music. The language itself is quite musical. That is why I have learnt it,” he says in pure Malayalam.
Noting that it is one place where live shows are in vogue, he says Keralites love mandolin too. “It was my brother and guru U. Srinivas who introduced and popularised mandolin in India. Now, it is popular everywhere including Kerala. In our school in Chennai, we have many students from Kerala,” he adds.
Memories of his brother make him emotional and he says that his efforts are aimed at spreading the music of his brother. “It is painful that he is no more. He was a vibrant personality who always had a smiling face. It was his vision to give free education to all students in our school, because he had to struggle a lot to learn it. And, I believe that his music should be celebrated all over the world. Whatever a musician should do, he did all that. So, now I am taking his music to different platforms. This fashion show is one example. Also, we are planning to expand our activities. A music college is on the anvil,” says Rajesh, adding that a mandolin school will soon start functioning in Kerala too.
According to Rajesh, it is dedication and continuous practice that make a good artiste. All his compositions, especially the Grammy-nominated one Floating Point, have been lauded by music lovers and Rajesh says he will always cherish the moments of working with John McLaughlin, the acclaimed English guitarist, for it. “Working with each artiste is an experience. But, it was very special working with John. I was very excited when he invited me to work for this after listening to my albums. That was a dream come true for me,” he says.
Asked about his friendship with his ex-girlfriend Meera Jasmine, he replies with a smile, “We were good friends. Now, she is married and I wish her a happy married life. We are still good friends, though not regularly in touch. She is talented artiste and we respect each other.” What made them part? “If something is not working, why should we hold onto it? But, that doesn’t mean that we were fighting,” he sums up.