On January 29, 2009, Dr. Tissa Abeysekara, a Trustee of The National Trust – Sri Lanka made a seminal presentation on the heritage of Sinhala music at the Galle Face Hotel, Colombo.
This presentation was primarily a practical demonstration of the various strands which go to form popular Sinhala music of today, by tracing the origins of such elements and illustrating the manner in which they have integrated into the mainstream of popular music in this country.
Dr. Abeysekara concentrated on three major strands; the folk tradition, Indian elements, and the influences of musical idioms of Europe. He included in this presentation the rich Sinhala folk music nurtured in the Sinhala-Buddhist cultural tradition, the ever popular Baila and the religious music of the Catholic/Christian faiths existing among the people of those faiths through five centuries in the form of carols, psalm, liturgies and wake songs. With his lecture as a bridging commentary between the items, the emphasis was on the performance, by a galaxy of leading artistes such as Ivor Dennis, Harsha Makalanda, Ravibandu Vidyapathy and Jananath Warakagoda.
Ravibandu Vidyapathy concentrated on the local drum rhythms and folk melodies with Harsha Makalanda joining him for exercises in fusion as well as certain melodic presentations which reflected the European influence. Ivor Dennis traced the Catholic influence beginning with the compositions of Father Giacomo Gonzalves in the 18th century and then through the Nadagam songs of later years. He also illustrated the musical idiom of Sunil Shantha with its roots in both the Tagorean tradition and the phonetics of the Sinhala language.
The highlight of the programme was a Christian liturgy composed in 1934 by Devar Surya Sena based on the Gajaga Vannama, a rare item of great cultural and historical value.
Thus in a remarkable production, combining the immediacy of live performance with the depth of his incomparable knowledge, Dr. Abeysekara traced the evolution of this musical heritage from the simple beauty of its folk roots to the richness that grew from the absorption of other great traditions and styles. To Sri Lanka’s irreplaceable loss, Dr. Abeysekera passed away a few months after this widely acclaimed presentation.
The National Trust – Sri Lanka with its mission to foster an interest in our cultural heritage, explore, preserve and promote both tangible and intangible elements in that heritage, has with the generous support of the Nations Trust Bank, produced this DVD which is a re-creation of that presentation.
The DVD features the voice recording of Dr. Abeysekara’s lecture, and fresh performances by the artistes who graced his stage on that day. The production of the DVD was directed by Asoka Handagama. The creative contributions made by all of them and many others for the production of this DVD were voluntary and free.
It is their tribute as well as of The National Trust – Sri Lanka, to one of Sri Lanka’s greatest minds, and an attempt by them to preserve for posterity a fragment of the knowledge that was lost with his passing.
The 2 disc DVD set (one DVD with the performance only and one with the lecture and performance) will be available for sale during the event, at the pre launch price of Rs. 1,250. The event is open to the public.
An admission fee of Rs. 300 is payable by non members of The National Trust – Sri Lanka.