On May 30, the Jaffna Municipal Grounds attracted many people from various parts of the country and the world. Music, although too loud, filled the air and was accompanied by the cool breeze. The music was the focus of the event, as the Jaffna Music Festival promised the audience folk, traditional and folk fusion music.
The Jaffna Music Festival was initiated by Sri Lanka-Norway Music Coorperation and is implemented by Sevalanka Foundation in partnership with Concerts Norway and artistic direction from Aru Sri Art Theater. The Festival is funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy.
The program for the evening included a number of local performers who proved that Sri Lankan music cannot be easily defined. In fact, the Festival was able to bring together communities and also remove certain stereotypes held by people. For instance, many believe that Muslims as a community are not people who appreciate music or perform. Yet, when the audience was treated to Sufi music which was performed by the Islamic Social Heritage Association, it was dramatically brought home how Muslims too see the value and beauty of music.
Other local performances included Yaal Kirimeeya Sangamam, Banku Raban, Sabaragamu Bali, Thappu and Udappu. The various items portrayed how music is still beautiful regardless of the types of instruments and language used.
One may think festivals of this nature target foreigners more than locals. However, it is only at music festivals that one realizes that Sri Lankans themselves are not aware of the many types and genres that belong to the larger category of
Sri Lankan music
A fusion of Sri Lankan music was seen in the performance by undergraduates of Peradeniya, Batticaloa and Jaffna Universities. The act, titled ‘youth voices – unity in diversity’ did indeed bring together music of different ethnic communities to treat the audience to an interesting performance.
One may think festivals of this nature target foreigners more than locals. However, it is only at music festivals that one realizes that Sri Lankans themselves are not aware of the many types and genres that belong to the larger category of Sri Lankan music.
The best example for this is the Puli Kooththu performance. Puli Kooththu was described as a ‘performing art tradition of the indigenous people of the Eastern province’ in a leaflet distributed at the Music Festival. While all other items were performed on the stage erected at the Jaffna Municipal Grounds, Puli Kooththu was performed where the audience was and thus there was interaction between the performers and the audience, especially the children.
The performance included dancers dressed as leopards and hunters. Branches were set up as props to give the audience an idea of where the dance is set. Puli kooththu performances consist as well as an entertainment value, an educational value depicting certain aspects of hunting, the hardship in collecting honey in the forest and also the ethics of hunting.
Looking at the various performances at the Jaffna Music Festival, the wide range of instruments used was also noticeable. The fusion of bali dancing to the double bass was an interesting combination and made one realize that instruments cannot define the music of a country. Further, the lineup of performances, for instance listening to an electric guitar played right after a performance that involved Thappu drums, proved that the appreciation of music need not be limited to a particular genre or instrument.
Three foreign bands also performed at the Jaffna Music Festival. Agnee is a rock band from India and their performance treated the audience to amazing rock songs that were different to the previous performances which mostly consisted of traditional and folk music. Band Lalon also performed at the Festival and the artistes were given the opportunity to bring the Festival to an end.
Band Lalon is from Bangladesh and, like Agnee, were able to engage the audience in their performance. While the local performances were in languages Sri Lankans are familiar with to at least a certain extent, Agnee and Lalon performed in languages that are not spoken in Sri Lanka. However, this didn’t mean their performances were not enjoyed or appreciated. In fact, it was interesting to note how their music was enjoyed despite rock being considered by some as a genre too heavy for music festivals that aren’t limited to specific genres.
Prior to the main festival, those who had gathered at the venue were treated to a performance by students from different parts of the island and the orchestra played a number of different songs. There was also a display of photographs of the previous music festivals held in Jaffna and Galle. A workshop for children was also held prior to the main festival.