Sri Lanka’s budding creative industry, recently, had one more unique addition in the form of music. It is the debut extended play, A Lament Unforgotten, by Sanjeev Niles and featuring Pabalu Wijegunawardene. Orchestration and production is by Nishan Daniel at Hit Factory studios.
“The Initial idea of the song was mine as I wanted to do a track using the power of eastern drums. So it was a coincidence when Pabalu contacted me and said he wants to do something together. I was already having the idea of this song in my mind at the time so I created a small demo and sent it to him. Then we got together with Nishan to do the tracks and to have the orchestration of all the other instruments involved in it,” says Niles.
He found inspiration for the lyrics after reading Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala.
“The emotions she described in the book moved me to think about her experience. There were lots of really hard emotions in that. It’s not just sadness. There was both anger and pain,” he says.
Niles’ song uses the different tones of pain expressed in Daraniyagala’s work. “There is the solemn time and the time you want to tear your hair out. My song takes these emotions in. It was her writing and my intention to do something using the melody and eastern drums that contributed to the song,” he contends.
Lyrically, what the song covers is about someone who has lost an entire family and other very important people in life in the tsunami. It expresses how someone deals with the grief and pain even after such a long time.
“Many Sri Lankans have experienced this situation. I am sure anybody who has lost a loved one under tragic circumstance can relate to this song,” opines Niles.
The melody, although essentially following a western theme, refers to different types of music. “There are elements that sound like a hymn sung in a church as well as the eclectic Wannama sounding elements. It’s a blend altogether. I added these intentionally to the song,” admits Niles.
Niles and Nishan first met while they were at S. Thomas’ Preparatory School, where both of them were part of the college choir. “I was following Niles’ music for quite a bit. It so happened that when he wanted to do this song he contacted me and asked me whether I was interested in collaborating. That’s where it all started,” recalls Nishan.
When Nishan first heard about the song he was excited. “I was immediately ready to do it because it was a challenge for me since I have not done something like this before. Also I have always loved the idea of using Sri Lankan drums,” he says.
“Nishan is a really good musician and he plays the guitar and the keyboard. He did all the additional tracks in the songs that include violins, horn and all. He is a multi faceted guy,” added Niles.
Nishan believes that the English music market as a whole is improving in Sri Lanka. “More people write their own songs in English now. Ten years ago, radio stations here rarely played local music. But now that recognition is given. When it comes to sound engineering and recording here, it’s still at a very basic level except for those who have made a name for it elsewhere. As time goes the field would grow proportionally with exposure. Looking at Hit factory and the number of students we have I can say that the industry is growing,” he claimed.
It was drums that were played before the Poruwa ceremony at local weddings that first put the idea into Niles’ head. “It brings out some strong music and very aggressive dancing. I was humming certain melodies in my mind and thinking that those go together. Strong, powerful vocals with raw energy and power of drums blends well together,” he reasons.
Niles wanted the song to reach people’s souls. “I didn’t want to do a soft, light song. I wanted it to be very heavy. I wanted it to be powerful. The traditional drums complimented the tsunami theme. Pabalu and Nishan helped put that together,” he says.
For Pabalu Wijegunawardene what matters most in instrumentation is whether the particular instrument successfully expresses the particular emotion that needed to be conveyed.
“It doesn’t matter whether the instrument is Western or Eastern. In this case, Yak Beraya was the most suitable. I also used the African drum Djembe to bring about a deep sound that suits the theme,” he says.
It was Wijegunawardene who arranged the rhythm section of the song. Speaking about the tough market for the locally-produced original English music he emphasized the media’s responsibility in introducing the general public to quality music. He lamented the lack of sponsors for creations of this calibre.
Nishan believes songs that endeavour to retain its Sri Lankan identity while attempting to reach out to the international market are also significant. “This song is really important in that aspect as it has Sri Lankan elements. Although it’s got a western sort of feel to it, the Sri Lankan identity is there. Even though the market is really small I think it will grow if people just keep pushing the boundaries and keep trying. Keep that identity and still try to make good music,” he reasons.
(Pics by Musthaq Thasleem)