The distinct music of the ‘Kaffirs’, the descendants of the African origin, who were brought to Sri Lanka by the Portuguese in the 1500s is slowly gaining popularity in the country through exposure they have gained by public performances in Colombo as well as at hugely attended events such as the ‘Deyata Kirula’ annual exhibition during the past years.
Now for the first time, their unique blend of music sung in a language which is a mix of an African dialect as well as Portuguese is being recorded to be released as a music CD in an attempt to further popularize their melodies.
Their cultural heritage includes the dance styles Kaffringna and Manja and their popular form of dance music Baila.
For Peter Louise, one of the groups of 12 singers who will be adding the vocals to this CD, it is an opportunity of a lifetime. ‘Music and dance are very much a part of our culture. ‘Whatever we sing has been handed down to us for our forefathers and we are proud of it’ Peter says.
Shereen Alex has been singing for about 15 years with this group of ‘Kaffir’ singers and has performed at several shows. ‘I remember my grandparents singing since I was a little girl. The ‘Kaffir’ tradition is such that when ever we get together, we make impromptu music by using whatever means available to use as instruments’ she explained. These could include two dried coconut shells or a spoon and glass bottle.
Peter, Shereen and their team were at a modern recording studio in Colombo for the first day of recording of their debut album, when TV Times met up with them. The album will consist of nine songs which have been refined for the studio recording by well known musician Janaka Fonseka while one song will be retained in its original manner.
‘The lyrics and melodies have been retained in their original form but we have trimmed them to refine their music so that they would not sound monotonous as they tend to be’ Janaka said.
The initiative to get the music of the ‘Kaffirs’ recorded was taken by the Chairman of the Theatre Institute for Disability Oriented Research and Advocacy (THIDORA) Rohana Deva.
‘Thidoara’ has been working with differently abled persons for many years as well as the less privileged sections of society to develop their skills in the field of arts. This was one reason why we decided to get the ‘Kaffirs’ involved in this project’ Rohana Deva said.
For Janaka and Rohana, the project has meant visiting the village of ‘Siranbiadi’ in the Puttalam District many times, where around 200 members of this community live, listening to their music and learning about the instruments they use so as to see how best the sounds could be recorded into an album.
‘The ‘Kaffris’ are a testimony to the diversity of the population of Sri Lanka. The fact that their unique kind of music as well as traditions have survived till today shows the tolerance that our society has for different cultures’ Rohana said. As part of his efforts to support the arts, Rohana also launched a website -www.puppetary.lk- to assist puppetry artistes in the country last year.
The sound engineer for the album is Pushpakumara Batangala, while the recording engineer was Sandaru Gamage.
Rohana’s future plans include a joint performance between the differentially abled students at Thidora and the Kaffir singers so as to get exposure for their talents.
Those interested in getting further details on the project can contact Rohana on 0718113515 or visit the Thidora web site, www.thidoratheatre.org.