Veteran singer Victor Ratnayake can make you think beyond the lyrics of a song. He can make you love our culture, the Sinhala language and make you feel proud about being Sri Lankan.
This he has done through his songs and music directions during an illustrious career that has spanned 54 long years! Last month he celebrated his 75th birthday. A group comprising his close associates, who call themselves ‘Victor Ratnayake Prathiba Pranama Sansadaya’, organized a show titled Victor Vajraprabha at the BMICH on February 18 to celebrate the occasion.
Looking back at the long journey in music, Victor, during an interview with the Nation, said that he was happy to have such close friends who have backed him during good and challenging times.
Victor is a Buddhist. He takes great pride in saying that there can be no singer in the Sri Lankan music scene who has sung as many songs in the name of Buddhism as much as he has. But he also sang the song Api Saudiya Puramu which means ‘let’s drink and celebrate’.
“People have asked me why I sang that song. It was composed and I contributed to this creation by making an input through my voice. It’s just a reminder that though I am a Buddhist I have materialistic interest. I have not renounced the world,” he said.
We know that Victor has contributed to the careers of many singers by composing songs for them. He has gained more satisfaction than hearing his own songs when listening to others sing songs which were composed by him. “I think that this ability to give others a hand in the field of music, mostly through composing songs, is a habit that I have cultivated through generations of human lives. It’s similar to giving alms to someone,” he said.
Recently, Victor was in the news with regard to tying the nuptial knot. He now lives with his present wife Hashini Amendra, a diehard fan of his songs. According to Hashini, they had met at a musical show and after several years of association entered wedlock. “I am a great fan of his music and now it’s an honour to be his wife. I am so happy that I have been able to contribute to his career. Seventeen of the 18 songs which went into the CD that we released at Victor Vajraprabha were chosen by me. Even the content to the website, that we launched, on that day www.victorrathnayake.lk is being provided by me,” said Hashini who added that she had met Victor in 2006.
Hashini said that she likes Victor’s style of talking straight. “He is frank and honest, but I am afraid that he will make enemies when he talks like this. After all, you can’t change the way people think, just because you are honest and talk straight,” she added.
That’s the new chapter in Victor’s life; a girl bubbling with enthusiasm and wishing to help her husband to continue with his music career. She served her husband with a glass of fruit juice and my fellow photographer and me with tea as we chatted away with Victor at his spacious residence in Athurugiriya.
The veteran musician loves to talk about his contemporary musicians with whom he has travelled so far in the music industry. He was a singer and violinist, but took the challenge when he was invited to be the music director in the film ‘Matara Achchi’. The year was 1969 and the song Sandakadapahanaka in the film sung by Sunil Edirisinghe and composed by Volley Nanayakkara became a hit. “Songs made during those days will last for a long time because professionals who studied the subject were involved. We never clamored for quick popularity and if technical support was used it was only to add a little gloss. The rest were pure skill and dedication. Now we hear so much noise during a song and artistes who can’t sing can hide behind technology,” he affirmed.
He has fond memories of his solo music show ‘Sa’; the syllable being the first in the Indian music scale and believed to bring luck. He had as many as 1450 ‘Sa’ shows with the year 1984 marking the 1000th show. How had the music scene in Sri Lanka progressed by the dawn of that memorable year? “There were few composers and most of our reputed artistes had to depend on Indian and Hindustani melodies when composing songs. I didn’t have that advantage because I always believed in a Sri Lanka style and of patriotism. But the ‘Sa’ shows helped me establish myself and also send a strong message to other artistes that we can have melodies with a Sri Lanka flavour,” he said.
It was with a sense of accomplishment that Victor recalled how the ‘Sa’ shows presented him with the opportunity to entertain a Sri Lankan audience overseas.
His songs ‘Pemrasa Vehena Mangala Geethe, Miyuru Kalpana, Reyak Malwayase Madu Sihine, Neela Bingu Kala, Sandakada Pahanaka, Andura Bindinata Reyak Dawalu and Kula Gedarin Dumbara Kanduwetiye are some of the songs which will be ever etched in the hearts of music fans. He said that it is important for the present generation of singers to learn music under a proper teacher and start making valuable contributions to society.
“A lot of youngsters are of the opinion that Victor Ratnayake envies the young generation of artistes. This is not true. I tell these young singers to stop singing songs by other artistes. If you continue doing this you will remain an amateur,” said Victor as he took this opportunity to recall a vital lesson given to him by his music teacher Cyril Perera ‘If you are doing something, do it right or otherwise leave’.
Victor has fed me with a load of information. My notebook is full and my mind is stuffed with enough stats and milestones about a man who arguably now takes the place of ‘community leader’ in the Sri Lankan music field after the demise of Pandith WD Amaradeva.
His present wife Hashini will have to share her man with thousands of fans because the name Victor Ratnayake is a national asset and goes beyond being the belonging of a handful of family members. For Hashini, Victor is her husband, dad and most importantly a true friend, all combined. According to Hashini these are roles that Victor plays quite effortlessly. It could be so because he is a gentleman with the reputation of being someone who warms up to human emotions. The stuff that he is made up of is an endless list. The Sri Lankan music fraternity loves this package, this man, this Victor!
Pics by Sassanda Liyanarachchi
Victor and wife Hashini