As a kid he studied Indian music, from oriental music classes. From the age of 14 to 22 he was in New Zealand. “This is where I got introduced to percussion,” says Dr. Sumudi Suraweera.
Moving to New Zealand paved the way for his unique music career where he specialized in ethnomusicology. Ethnomusicology is a discipline encompassing various approaches to the study of the many genres and styles of music around the world that emphasize their cultural, social, material, cognitive, biological and other dimensions or contexts instead of or in addition to its isolated sound component or any particular repertoire. “It is a research on non-western music that was not really focused or studied before,” says Sumudi.
In 2010, he obtained his PhD in ethnomusicology from University of Canterbury, New Zealand. His research focused on Sri Lankan Low country traditional drumming. “That was my connection back here. Being interested in percussion, I chose Sri Lankan drumming and music in its original context. This got me going back and forth between Sri Lanka and New Zealand. I made new connections and they wanted me to come back and set up something like an institute for music. That’s when I met Eshantha Peiris, my partner in Musicmatters.”
Musicmatters is an institution devoted to transferring musical knowledge to the younger generation, founded by Dr. Sumudi Suraweera and Eshantha Peiris.“I always felt that a big gap existed in terms of music education, especially among children. The practical standard and approach was somewhat lacking.” It was with the intention of fulfilling that gap, Eshantha and Sumudi started Musicmatters Institute. For children they teach basic concepts in music and instruments, and most importantly to teach how to make music with others.
“This is like a big hole in the education system here. There is no training as to how one can interact musically with others at a young age.” The purpose of the institute is to impart soft skills and transferable skills that music provides through practical exposure and experience.
Scholarships and grants helped Sumudi pursue his mission in music. “My PhD scholarship allowed me to sustain for a few years while studying something I really liked.” Grants from the Creative New Zealand (New Zealand Arts Council) resulted in the creation of two unique musical products by Sumudi, which involved collaboration of Sri Lankan and New Zealand musicians. These two ensembles are Serendib Sextet and Båliphonics. Serendib Sextet involved three Sri Lankan musicians collaborating with musicians from New Zealand. “A more recent rendition of this group is called Serendib Sorcerers. We explore new musical possibilities with the improvisational tradition of jazz, based on melodies from Sri Lankan folk music.” Båliphonics is the fusion of low-country Båli ritual tradition of Sri Lanka with contemporary jazz, and improvisation.
“Going to New Zealand opened up opportunities for me to consider music as a career path. It was the natural progression of things from school to university that led me to it.” He has played in the school orchestra and went on to follow a Bachelor of Music in Jazz and read for a degree in Information Technology simultaneously. “It was quite tough studying for two degrees,” he shared. “Then I majored in drums.” Sumudi graduated with his Bachelors with a first class honours. He has performed as a jazz musician in New Zealand for 10 years. During this time he has performed with Departure Lounge, Mundi, Solaar, The Crust, Fiona Pears and Greg Malcom. Currently he performs regularly and his main inspiration is self organized events that promote experimental and innovative music with a Sri Lankan identity.