Sangeetayana, H.M. Mahesh’s journey in the audio industry will be released tomorrow

Before the digital technology enveloped us in India for recorded music, it was gramophone records and cassettes that dominated the audio world gradually making way for the CD and MP3 formats of recording to take over. One of the longest serving and well-known personally in the audio industry is H.M. Mahesh of Sangeetha Cassettes, the man who started the company in 1979 as a 35-year-old.

Tracing the 1944 Kasargod-born Mahesh’s life is essential as this ‘man with a vision’ not just found his way to flag-off the cassette world, but was responsible in sieving the best musical talents of Karnataka to showcase them to a wider audience. Born in Gadinaadu of Kasargod, Mahesh, after his B. Sc. from St. Aloysius College in Mangalore, headed straight to Madras in 1968 to acclimatize himself with the world of recorded music, as “passion to gain knowledge in this art had always been bugging me,” says the die-hard music connoisseur.

Those were the days when all South-Indian films were done in Madras. The Karnataka stars behind the film world too as Rajkumar, lyricist Udayashankar, R.N.Jayagopal, Vijay Narasimha had a stronghold there for their shootings and recordings. “As my father H.M. Narayana Bhat was a journalist in Karnataka, my writing for him regarding the Kannada stars in Madras, proved a win-win situation for both of us. I got to meet all of them and observe not just the making of films but closely absorbed the nuances of the line-of-work required in pre-recorded music too, especially with respect to gramophone records popular in those days ,” says Mahesh.

It was Udayashankar who first introduced Mahesh to Saraswati Stores in Madras, owned by AVM Meiyappa Chettiar, for undertaking labelling work on Kannada records which needed a Kannadiga for getting them perfected. Saraswati Stores (or the Columbia Recording Company) was the leading distributor for the South for the Gramaphone Recording Company in Calcutta who dealt with gramophone records of all kinds.

Mahesh was subsequently offered a job there and his work was extended to improving the collection. He was heart-broken when he discovered the dismal share of recordings available from the Kannada film, light and classical world, barring a few of MLV’s Dasarapada and Kalinga Rao’s recordings. Improving the Kannada collection became one of Mahesh’s passionate occupations, even as he toured Bangalore, Mangalore, Mysore, Hassan, Chitradurga, Shimoga, Hubli-Belgaum-Dharwad and Bellary to find out more from the dealers.

In the early 1970s, he brought out P.B.Srinivas and S.Janaki’s recording with ‘Gajamukhane Ganapathiye,’ that proved an instant hit. Many more first timers gave Karnataka a boost, but what indeed made history in Kannada film song gramophone record sales was Rajkumar’s ‘Sampathige Sawaal’ and his number ‘Yaare Koogadali’ totally recovering the Kannada collection of the Columbia Recording Company. Mahesh says, “Udayashankar again helped me get Rajkumar for a private recording with ‘Mantralayakke Hogona’ in 1972 followed by his LP in Kannada with Raghavendra Swamiji’s ‘Guruvara Bantamma’ which is treasured even today!”

Mahesh’s recordings of Kannada devotional songs from Bhadragiri Keshavadas had the singer advise him to “take up cassette recordings as done in foreign countries” and in 1979, Mahesh started ‘Sangeetha Cassettes’, and he became the first licensed pre-recorded cassette manufacturer in India. “Nothing would have been possible for me without Parvathamma and Rajkumar, for their first contribution for Sangeetha Cassettes was annavaru’s songs on Anjaneya and Raghavendra Swami. After importing machines from Japan for cassette recordings ‘our own Rajanna’ was there for several more of his own hits, followed by recordings of Balamurali Krishna, R.K. Srikantan, R.S. Ramakanth, B.V. Karanth, C. Ashwath’s with Rathnamala Prakash, Ananthaswamy’s ‘Bhava Sangama’ and a whole lot of other classical artistes from Karnataka.

‘Sangeetha Cassettes’ went on to record artistes of repute from all over India, Mandolin Srinivas being one of its earliest one. Mahesh was also the first to approach Congress Member Rajiv Gandhi to have the Excise Duty on Cassettes reduced to 15 per cent from the shocking 25 percent slapped on a cassette costing Rs. 45! “It was Rajkumar and Parvathamma who helped me again and got the excise duty removed totally later,” says an emotional Mahesh, recollecting the innumerable help Rajkumar has rendered to the people of Karnataka. Sangeetha Studios now runs as Vijaya Studios in Chennai, while all Sangeetha’s cassette recordings can be downloaded at sangeethamusic.com.