His rich and powerful voice, which comes from deep within, says it all. As he comes up on stage, the tremendous cheering and applauding begins, in an ecstatic frenzy. One could say that he’s an amazing person, straightforward and open minded, who wouldn’t hesitate to call ‘A spade a spade’. Straightforward, yet friendly and easy going, Chitral is one of a kind, solely dedicated to his work. For him, “music is in his blood”. And sure enough, with his amazing talent, every song he sings and composes turns into a work of art.
Trevor Rabin has done an amazing number of films and used to be the guitar player for English rock band, YES. So I would say that rock music itself has a good character
Born to a famous singing duo, the late P.L.A and Chitra Somapala, he showed the signs of having a promising music career, as early as age 10 when he learnt the guitar. This was considered a huge achievement. Later, he switched to Hard Rock and Heavy metal. It was his everlasting and Iconic melody ‘Nadee Ganga Tharanaye’, released in 1998, a landmark in the Sri Lankan history, which captured the Sri Lankan hearts. It was sung with Sinhala lyrics with a hard rock/Metal accompanied by a Bluesy touch. The song is based on Jimmy Cliff’s ‘Many Rivers to cross’.
As an International Rock sensation, he has worked with many bands such as Power Quest, Fire wind, Avalon, Faro, Domain and also as the front man of his own bands such as Civilization One, Red Circuit and now, Sonic Fury. He has conquered the Cinema as well, having exhibited his excellent skills in music in Chandran Rutnam’s film, Me wage Adarayak (‘A love like this’). He has also made contributions to several other films, which are yet to be released. Expressing his views on his music career, his Cinematic journey, and the Cinema and music Industry in general, Chitral joined us to have a chat, amidst his busy schedule.
Following are excerpts of the interview.
Q. What inspired you to become a musician?
A. I always admired handmade, great music, so that’s how I got into music, like rock music and all that. You express yourself with that type of music.
Q. Your parents were a famous musical duo, reputed for their classical music. Why did you choose a different genre, such as western music?
A. My parents, who were of course a reputed duo, were engaged in making different music. I wondered why I should go the same way. I’m a person of my own and I wanted to do my own stuff. I was very attached to western music what I heard in radio at that time, even at that time, my generation listened to that type of music a lot. So that’s how I got myself into western music.
Q. Most people identify you as a rock icon. But now people are getting to know you as a music director as well. Tell us a bit about your Cinema music career too.
A. I wouldn’t reckon myself a rock icon. But I would say I’m an all-round musician, who plays guitar, bass and keyboard. But most of all I’ve been listening to lots of good music and I’ve been influenced by great musicians. For me, rock is a kind of a genre. But I listen to everything. I’m a very open minded person when it comes to music and I also don’t call myself a music director. This is the kind of thing taken from the Indian Cinema. No, I’m a composer. In the kind of films I do, I always say, ‘music composed and arranged and performed by Chitral Somapala’ or ‘music by Chitral Somapala’.
About my cinematic career… Well, I’m kind of new to this. I used to watch a lot of movies. I felt we have a lot of talented directors, musicians, actors and actresses in Sri Lanka. But I felt the weak part is the music. Most of them, especially music directors in Sri Lanka are not really scoring the movie. They just compose music. This is why in my case there are hardly any songs. Well, there’s at least one song. It should be, in a movie. But most importantly, you need to know how to treat the picture in a professional manner.
Q. How do you find the new experience of becoming a film music director?
A. I have always been fascinated by film music, especially the Hollywood stuff, because I really love that big, orchestra sound. I have been experimenting a lot with it, and somehow I learnt how to compose music in that manner.
Q. What are your idols in the Cinema music field? What are the elements of music you use when composing music for movies?
A. Honestly, I’m more inspired by traditional music composers like Alan Silvestri, one of my favorites, John Williams, Jerry goldsmith, James Horner. When you take all my favorite composers like Hans Zimmer, Trevor Rabin, and James Newton Howard, they are all rock musicians. Trevor Rabin has done an amazing number of films and used to be the guitar player for English rock band, YES. So I would say that rock music itself has a good character. This is exactly why I’m getting into the film industry.
Q. You also directed the music for Priyantha Colombage’s Adaraneeya Kathawak and Colomba ek Raathriyak, and also Chandran Rutnam and Asoka Handagama. What was the experience of working with all these directors like?
A. I didn’t direct the music for Priyantha Colombage’s film. He wanted to do a film earlier, Colomba ek raathriyak (one night in Colombo). Unfortunately, he had to drop the idea because of budget issues and then he made Adaraneeya kathawak. It was done by a young Sri Lankan composer. I sang one song which I co-wrote with this guy. So I’m just a playback singer in that movie just for one song.
And about the experience, quite easy. I’ve a 33-year music career. Actually I had some private tuition with a UK composer called David Henchel on film music and another great composer from Germany, called Robin Hoffman, about orchestration. So that’s how I got into it, and especially from David, where to spot the movie, and how to get proper sound and how to think of certain set of instruments, of what you’ll want to score.
Q. Do you consider entering the Cinema music a challenge?
A. Yes, it’s a big challenge for me, also to impress certain Sri Lankan audiences. I got the feedback already from the Me wage adarayak movie. They think I only sang the song. But they don’t see ‘’music by Chitral Somapala’’. When I say I’m doing a film that means I’m doing everything for it. I did everything in my studio in Germany. So there’s no question about it.
Q. Apart from Cinema, When do you hope to release another album?
A. Well, it all depends on the record label, my time schedule and everyone’s time schedule, things could take time, remember, and always all good things take time.
Q. Do you hope to release another Sinhala album like ‘’Sinhabhumi?’’
A. Yeah of course, I’m planning to release another Sinhala album, but like I mentioned, I’m planning to have some English songs as well, in kind of a mixture, because the songs what I have right now are a bit more into this heavier mode. My Sinhala is not the best to write lyrics. Of course I could speak the Colombo dialect, mixing English and Sinhalese words together. I wrote all the English lyrics in certain bands where I have recorded. So I’m planning to do that as well.
Q. Do you see any difference between international and local rock music scene?
A. Of course there’s a huge difference, it’s because we are isolated in one island here, and thank god for the internet and stuff like that today even the rock bands in Sri Lanka they are able to see what’s happening in the outer world. And in the rock music scene, you go to a remote area in Sri Lanka and they don’t know what it’s about. I doubt it very much that it will get really bigger one day in Sri Lanka.
Q.. How do you deal with media as a well-known celebrity ?
A. Well, I’m a very down to earth person, I’m a simple person , and I’m a very straight forward person. And I don’t like when people are exaggerating things and asking me to back myself a little bit from certain things. I’ll say what I have to say. And this is one of the reasons they like me as well. That’s quite as simple.
Q. It is said that some artistes pay bribes to get publicity through media. But in other countries, the media come after you. Ex : paparazzi. What do you think of the concept of paying the media in order to promote yourself , both in private and government media ?
A. It’s kind of an underground paparazzi mafia thing, I guess , with in the Sri Lankan media , you pay certain money and you get your song played several times, on radio to make it famous, I think this whole thing has to be stopped someday. And this is especially one of the reasons my songs are not played very often I don’t pay them a single cent. That kind of corruption has been there in Sri Lanka for the last couple of years. This has to be stopped. I’m totally against it. I would be the first person who’ll step in towards this if other artistes start to complain about this. Yeah.
Q. What do you think of criticism? When you did ‘’ Dambulugale’’ you had to go through some criticism. Do you actually think that Sri Lankans are having a ‘’Frog in the well’’ attitude regarding new concepts?
A. Well, I got criticized. But you know what, I didn’t give a damn. And especially one-track, mind you, people are, the majority of Sri Lankans, when I say so, I mean , Dambulugale was based on this typical world music type of thing. Answering your question, ‘’frog in the well’’ yeah of course, that’s how they are. But I always take criticism as a positive thing, because from that, I could learn something, but there are certain musicians in Sri Lanka , on face book and so on , harping about me , saying that I’m discriminating my own country and running them down . No. I’m a very strong person to criticize because if I don’t like something, I can’t tell them, ‘’ hey listen, I love what you’re doing, you’re great ‘’ No way! That’s it. In Europe, criticism is, the way to be successful in what you’re doing.
Q. Reflecting on your career, what do you think of the journey which you have come through , starting off as a rocker, taking up Sri Lankan rock to the international level, and switching on to Cinema music direction . How do you feel?
A. Actually I didn’t take Sri Lankan rock music to the International level. But what I did was, , basically, English music. I’ve been performing in bands in Europe for so many years, Bands from Germany, Italy, France ,UK, and also from Scandinavia as well, I’ve done sessions and been touring, and I have done a few projects also with some American heavy metal artistes like David Shankle group. I was there for a while, so that’s how we need to start what we are doing. Sri Lankan rock is copied by European rock, I would say. Switching to cinema direction, like I said earlier, some of these composers like Hans Zimmer, Trevor Rabin, James Horner, most of these modern composers, their influences are coming from rock music and also classical music. I’m really ready to cater myself to any situation which is coming with music, for any movie, any album, for any situation, because music is, in my blood.