His name reminds us of a popular beer brand and the king of the jungle. No, he is not known for the wrong reasons but for his scintillating vocals in the song ‘Nadee Ganga Tharanaye’, a promotional song that went viral in the late 1990s.
Even though it was a song based on an international hit ‘Many Rivers to Cross’, it is the first song that comes into anyone’s mind when speaking of Sri Lankan rock music. He is a musician who did not, and who still does not, conform to the norms and customs followed in Sri Lanka. He opted to be a rock musician despite his parents and other musicians coming from a completely
Seated casually on a couch at a rooftop
restaurant, Chitral Chity Somapala’s piercing look, despite his dark shades, tells you that he is a no-nonsense musician. His air of confidence and charisma is infectious and fans would be smitten by his attitude in no time.
“I was never interested in music until I was 10 or 12. I got pulled into rock because of my brother’s friends who used to listen to that genre. They were influenced by the likes of Deep Purple and AC DC,” he said.
He confessed that the freshness and the international nature of the sound dragged him into rock. “There was something different in that sound. It was different from the sound that we heard in Sri Lanka and I was immediately attracted to it,” he said. “I wasn’t a fan of the traditional Sri Lankan music.”
His foray into rock music as a professional
musician started when he was in his mid teens. At 16, Chitral was focused on trying to form his own rock band. “I was looking for people in and around Colombo. But I did not find the right people for the band. This was over 35 years ago,” he said.
But even now, Chitral feels that the genre is yet to gain a firm foothold in Sri Lanka. “I don’t think the genre is still popular in Sri Lanka. You do have a few groups in Colombo and Kandy. I think it’s the stigma,” he said.
Chitral feels that Sri Lanka is yet to be accustomed to the image of long haired accessories wearing musicians who perform rock. “But there are also other musicians who have a particular dress code,” he said. “I was disappointed that I could not find the right people.”
Had no choice
Chitral admits that he at one point did not have much choice but to go along with the trend at the time. “But, a lot of good things happened at that time. I gained a lot of experience and was versatile. I also learnt how to adopt a new style”,
Then in 1986 Chitral got his first break to travel to Switzerland with a band called Rendezvous where they performed rock music at various nightclubs. A year later he joined the band Friends which too was popular in the local circuit.
After a nine-year-stint with Friends, Chitral quit the band to pursue his dream in rock music. “Being part of these groups helped me financially. It was a regular job for me”, he said.
But why did he move from one band to another? Chitral explained that hopping from one band to another helped him to grow and develop as a musician.
Is he happy where he is now? “Yes I am. I have no regrets. I think that I have done all that I could in rock music. I performed at various international stages. I have shared stages with internationally acclaimed bands including Metallica,” he said.“But there is more to come”.
Despite being in a family of musicians, Chitral says that he was not influenced by the style of music adopted by his parents and the rest of Sri Lanka at the time. “Even Sri Lankan musicians at the time, including my parents, were influenced by Western music,” he added.
Chitral has several facets as far as music is concerned. He is a composer, writer and singer. “I focus on one thing depending on the situation,” he said.
Chitral has composed for four Sri Lankan films and a short English film.
“As a film composer I always know what I have to do. I always get the instructions from the film director because he is the captain of the ship,” he said. “When I write lyrics, I focus on that because the circumstances are different. But I would call myself a composer who sings.”
Even when working for films, Chitral wants his album to stand out from the rest of the pack. “I want my music to sound different. However, in Sri Lanka it is difficult to be innovative with your music score as the directors often prefer to stick to a particular template. But there are directors who are willing to provide that space for the music composers. We need more directors like that,” he pointed out.
But he is also a musician who is not content with what he has achieved so far. At one point he got bored of power metal. “I wanted to do something more and do something new”, he said.
He claimed the market in Sri Lanka prevented him from innovating. “Because of the mass market in Sri Lanka, I cannot do new things,”
However, despite his thirst to do new things, Chitral has stuck to Red Circuit, a band which he co-formed with Markus Teske in 2002.
“We do progressive metal. We have done three albums, and all three have been different from each other. We have an audience who actually listens to music, not bang their heads,” he said.
At the same time, he explained that the members of the band do other projects outside the band as well, which gives a sense of diversity to the individual members.
In today’s commercially driven world, one could say that music too has become a commercial entity where every musical note is composed considering its commercial viability. Chitral however has his reservations about the current trend.
Is money important to create good music? “No,” was his firm response. “Yes you do need money, but not at the expense of your creativity and passion. You don’t need millions or trillions. You just need enough to meet your basic expenses.”
Chitral is more of an international performer. He says that he does not find it difficult to deal with the fan base. “I don’t feel strange at all. Because that is what I wanted and I have achieved. It has always been my goal to perform internationally”, he says.
Is being Sri Lankan a plus?
Chitral’s nationality is also a big plus when he performs internationally. “Each time they ask where I am from, I feel proud”, he said.
He said that when he identifies himself, their response would be: “Oh man, we never thought that anybody would do such things from such a country.”
What’s next for Chitral? “I don’t know. I will continue to produce music. But I would continue to try new genres,” he said. “I will do my compositions and lay it out before the people. If they like them, let them take, and if they don’t, then they could still take them. But I will follow my heart.”