Singer Rohitha Jayalath’s robust voice has a touch of Jamaican accent in it. His fans are bathed in ecstasy when they hear this voice on stage. But Rohitha, the most celebrated musician in the group called Jayasri, doesn’t see anything sensational in his voice. He says he doesn’t do any special voice training exercises to help him sing reggae songs.
“I just open my mouth and sing,” Rohitha told Nation in a telephone interview on the eve of flying back to his present home in Austria. He said his is a gift from birth.
Rohitha has placed his signature in the reggae music scene. His style of singing has given birth to a new music which he terms ‘Asian Reggae Art’. “My brother Rohan and I always wanted to be different. We only followed Western musicians. Our band comprises musicians from Asia, Africa and Europe. The different way in which we play music makes us unique,” said Rohitha.
He still remembers winning the top award at the ‘Austria World Music Awards’ in 2003. There had been extremely talented musicians who had learnt from different music schools who exhibited both professionalism and flawless technique. Rohan and Rohitha were never on the same page as the other competitors where thinking on the technical lines in music was concerned. To the surprise of many, Jayasri bagged the award.
When there were queries as to how this group that won was declared the winner, the judges responded by saying that their music was unique and different and won the attention of the judges. According to the judges, the music produced by Jayasri had been rated ahead of music produced by others, which the judges termed as impressive, but common. According to Rohan the award had given the band the much needed push. “We knew we had the potential, but the award just confirmed it,” he said.
Rohitha and his brother play music in Europe. The group has many bookings and enjoys playing till the end of summer. When the weather becomes unfriendly and invites the snow season, it marks the time for the duo to visit Sri Lanka. The other members in the band return to their native countries.
Rohitha and Rohan did a few musical shows when they were here this time. Unlike in Europe, fans in Sri Lanka get to flock around them, have chit chats and even get their autographs. “I believe it’s my good fortune to be loved by my fans so much. I consider it an honour,” he said. However, European members of the band leave the stage from the backdoor soon after a show concludes, largely due to security reasons. Rohitha said that if any member of the band is physically abused by a fan after the concert in Europe, then the organizer has to take full responsibility.
Music aside, he said he benefited immensely by absorbing the cultures and ethics practised by Europeans. According to Rohitha, he was highly taken up by the manner in which Europeans honour punctuality. “They show a lot of courtesy to one another and are disciplined in public places, like shopping malls. No one jumps the queue,” he laughed. However, he said that his stay in Europe helped him absorb some of the cultures, but he still remained the ‘old Rohitha’. “When at home I like the mess in my room and get up only when I want. I believe I find my creativity in that mess. I love my freedom,” he reflected.
The two brothers grew up in Nattandiya, a village that attracts a fair number of tourists. They showed a great interest in music from childhood and were helped by many individuals. But mostly, this experience turned out to be one of self-study. “There was no need for me to be a Visharada (music master). I had small dreams. All I wanted was to listen to my own songs on radio. We later played all kinds of music and learned all types of musical instruments. This base has given us the ability to go anywhere and perform on any stage, where are other great artistes,” he said.
His choice of music is reggae, but he never sings Bob Marley’s songs. “If I do that I won’t be different. I have been noticed in the music industry because I am different,” he said.
When Jayasri plays on stage one can hear sounds coming from instruments like the Thabla and the Sithar. The other musicians in the group also add bits from their music cultures into the performance. “It’s a good clash of cultures,” he laughed underscoring that the blend produced by the musicians from the Asian, African and European continents is vibrant, entertaining and absorbing.
One of his greatest moments in music came when members of an African band that adores Bob Marley’s music had told him that they appreciated the contributions his group (Jayasri) was making to reggae music.
There are occasions when he hears tourists humming his songs after a show in Sri Lanka. He dislikes boasting about the group’s achievements. “Boast is not the proper word to use. The better word to describe our journey in music is achievement,” said Rohitha.
Some of his songs which have penetrated the hearts of the people are Mille Soya, Adara Lowe Apa Hamu Une, Hima Kumari, Lion Nation, Pitarata Visthara Mewa, Sheela and Sudu Andumin. His best works have gone into albums like Mod Goviya, Sundaree, Peace and most recently Love. Rohitha claims that he and his brother are the first Sri Lankans to be featured in the European Charts.
Jayasri comprises Rohitha, Rohan, Sumal Fernando, Bidroho Faham (Bangladesh), Pervez Syed (Bangladesh), Herb Pirker (Austria), Moses Afany (Nigeria) and Miwoosh. There is no leader in the band. Everybody is free to play whatever instrument they fancy and make their individual contributions. The composition of the group has remained pretty much unchanged for over two decades now.
The two brothers this time around had shows in Colombo, Beruwela and Moragolla during their holiday. Rohitha had this to say to youngsters following music as a career: “Don’t get together with others and produce musical shows by copying songs from other artistes. You are bound to fall when those around you stop supporting you”.