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Sri Lanka's gift to the world of Music

Rathna_Deepa janma bhumi, Lanka_Deepa vijaya bhumi


By Shelton Gunaratne

The evening of music with maestro W. D. Amaradeva and his orchestra on April 29 was an enchanting occasion for the Sri Lankan diaspora in Minnesota and their guests.

I had never met Amaradeva or been to any of his recitals before although his music had given me great joy during Sri Lankan get-togethers or long-distance driving.

Sitting in the O’Shaughnessy Auditorium with my Malaysian spouse, a long-time friend from Excelsior, and his 11-year-old step-grandson (who has no concept of Sri Lanka although he happens to be the offspring of a Sri Lankan expatriate), I was momentarily “teleported” by the sound of Amaradeva’s authentic Sinhala music to the Peradeniya University’s open- air theater, where I saw Ediriweera Sarachchandra’s “Maname” and “Sinhabahu” in the late 1950s and the early 1960s.

Why did my mind take me back in time to Peradeniya of yore via Amaradeva’s voice? Because Amaradeva (born Albert Perera, a carpenter’s son) joined in the creation of a vibrant Sinhala music tradition about the same time that Sarachchandra and a team of my contemporaries—H.H. Bandara, Namel Weeramuni, G.W. Jayantha, J.B. Dissanayake, Wimal Dissanayake, Simon Nawagattegama, and others—were laying the groundwork for rejuvenating Sinhala cultural forms of music and drama.

At the time, Ananda Samarakoon (the composer of Sri Lanka’s national anthem), Sunil Shantha, S.S. Molligoda, and most notably Mahagama Sekara, had begun a revolution in Sri Lankan lyricism. The songs they created were deeply poetic and expressed simple concepts, many with nationalist ideas. When lyricism began, Amaradeva, as well as musicians like Mohammed Gauss, and Premasiri Kemadasa started experimenting with a uniquely Sri Lankan variety of film music.

To quote the Wikipedia, “In response to the spirit of the times, Amaradeva began working on indigenous folk music embellished with Indian ragas, thus giving expression to a more sophisticated cadence. In other innovations, he experimented with Western harmony and counterpoint and with South Indian and Tamil musical forms. … In time, Amaradeva's music came to reflect an entire philosophy, reflective of the spirit of a nation.”

This entire philosophy came through in Amaradeva’s presentation at the auditorium. The song “Aatha Kandukara” (Distant Mountains) transplanted me on the Hantane hills overlooking the serene beauty of Peradeniya. “Maha Wessaka” (Heavy Downpour) reminded me of how I drenched myself with rainwater pouring down the tiled roof of my ancestral home in Pathegama. It was all nostalgia. Amaradeva’s recital took my mind to the lyrical songs of Samarakoon and Shantha whose musical genius enveloped an entire generation.
Subhanie Amaradeva
Subhanie Amaradeva’s
imitation of Rukmani Devi’s most popular songs provided an unexpected bonus. Perhaps the old saying must be revised: Like father, like daughter.

I bet that the non-Sri Lankan audience also enjoyed the lyrical tunes and the orchestra despite the language barrier. My spouse, whospeaks no Sinhala, said that she found the tunes most appealing and the orchestra (Maliyadde with keyboards, Gunasena with violin, Gallage with tabla, and Kumara with guitar) eminently exhilarating. My friend from Excelsior, who visited Sri Lanka once, also confessed his enjoyment of the tunes and the orchestra (although he seemed more inclined to enjoy his hand movements trying to imitate Amaradeva technique of conducting the orchestra).

Our thanks go to the Minnesota Sri Lanka Friendship Foundation for organizing the Amara Piyasara 2006.

Minnesota State University Moorhead

 Shelton Gunaratne grew up in a hamlet in southern Sri Lanka, graduated in economics from the Peradeniya University, and began his career as a journalist for Ceylon Daily News. He came to the United States as a fellow of the World Press Institute. Subsequently, he received a master’s degree in journalism from University of Oregon and a doctorate in mass communications from University of Minnesota.

 Suresht  Gallage  Gunasena  Anjana Kukmara
 With MnSLFF board members present
Maestro W.D.Amaradeva his wife Wimala and daughter Subhanie with MnSLFF board members present

Pandith W.D.Amaradeva - with his fans

Pandith Amaradeva meeting with his fans Pandith Amaradeva with Mnslff members

Amaradeva fans came to Minnesota from many different states including Nevada, Iowa, Illinois, California, Wisconsin and Kansas and they were thrilled with his magnificeint performance.

Music, says Pandith Amaradeva, "is the finest of the fine arts." His music is both very fine and widely loved. Sri Lankans say it is music that transcends ethnicity, class, and age. Or as his friend Ediriweera Sarachchandra put it, it is music that "speaks to the soul of the nation." - April 2006 in St. Paul Minnesota

Father of Sri Lankan Music visits the Twin Cities.....

Pandit W.D.Amaradeva receiving the award from USA Congresswoman Betty McCollum
To express our gratitude and honor Maestro Amaradeva’s contributions to the renaissance of Sri Lanka’s musical culture MnSLFF presented him with an award that marks a lifetime of musical achievement. USA Congresswoman Betty McCollum, who represents Minnesota’s 4th Congressional District gave the award to Pundit Amaradeva on behalf of the Sri Lanka Minnesota Freindship Foundation.

It isn’t every day that a living legend visits the Twin Cities. The Sri Lankan community expressed its profound joy and admiration on April 29, 2006 upon the visit of Pandith W.D. Amaradeva, a renowned international composer who is called the “father of Sri Lankan music,” for his work in voicing a national identity through musical composition over 50 years in the post-colonial period.
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When he sings in classical style it is indeed a rare treat.....

Pandit W.D.Amaradeva
A child prodigy, Amaradeva rose to become Sri Lanka's music master, composing songs for the finest films, ballets, musical dramas, and radio and television programs of his lifetime. His music reflects a unique synthesis of the country's varied heritage, combining the influences of North Indian Ragas, Sinhalese folk melodies, and Portuguese waltzes and hymns, among many others. Amaradeva’s music “speaks to the soul of the nation.” Join us in welcoming his first visit to Minnesota… April 29, 2006
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Jayani Adikram
Our representatives in Sri Lanka more..>>

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The Journal of Becky Gunaratne who is one of the representatives of MnSLFF in Sri Lanka. more..>>

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