The cymbal of Sri Lankan rhythm

Internationally acclaimed drummer Tyronne Silva visits his motherland
Text and pix by Natalie Soysa

Since childhood, Tyronne Silva has been obsessed with being a drummer. So much so that at the age of nine he decided to build his own drumkit -- a wooden tea box for the bass, a pedal made of wood, a tennis ball for the kick, toms made with different sized plastic buckets, a metal bucket representing the snare, empty cola cans for percussion and cymbals cut out of sheet metal. He says it worked fine.

Fast forward a few decades and I walk into one of this famed drummer’s workshops in Colombo. Instead of a standard drumkit I see what could only be described in layman’s terms as a battle tank. Sponsored by Pearl Drums, Tyronne’s behemoth is a head-turner – even for non-drummers like me. If you have a chance to flip through their catalogue or browse Pearl’s website, you will find Tyronne among the myriad A-list international drummers featured there.

Tyronne plays his Pearl drumkit

The journey from his DIY drumkit to his Pearl drumkit has been long and hard, but art, any art, demands dedication – Tyronne wouldn’t have it any other way. Venturing far from his hometown of Nattandiya, Tyronne made it to Germany in 1992 at the age of 18, where he began to search for a coach.

Years of hard work, which included a 12-18 hour daily practice routine, part time work and an unquenching penchant for this rhythmically inclined field brought him to where he is today; a drummer who now plays with bands he once idolized, recognized not only for his work with these bands but also as an independent master behind a drumkit.

Tyronne’s daily routine hasn’t changed much – he still puts in as many hours as he possibly can into perfecting his art form. This is a man who spent four months practising the drum arrangement of a Dream Theater song, composed and played by Mike Portnoy, his idol.

He acknowledges local bands like Stigmata and Paranoid Earthling as some of the few metal bands which have taken their music seriously.

What brings him back to his motherland? Tyronne is eager to share what he has learnt during his studies in Germany.

“There are people who learn, keep everything they learnt to themselves and die with that knowledge. Ultimately, what they’ve learnt has only been of use to them and no one else – I don’t think that’s right. As artists, you should be able and willing to share what knowledge you possess,” he says.

He has used his sponsorship with Pearl drums and Zildjian cymbals to bring his drumkit to Sri Lanka to perform and teach free to anyone who is willing to learn. He has been conducting a series of workshops and performing to audiences across the country from the military to schoolchildren and a host of Sri Lankan musicians.

When teaching, he wears a smile, opting to conduct his sessions here, in his mother tongue rather than in English.

He recognizes talent when he sees it, telling workshop participants that one can spend a lifetime trying to perfect a single style of drumming but not be able to know everything there is to be learned. The few who have are the true masters of their art. Motioning to the Sri Lankan traditional drummers who were part of a joint performance with him recently, he cited them as an example. It was heart-warming to watch both parties in awe of each others’ specific techniques and achievements.

Tyronne is saddened by the petty politics in the Sri Lankan metal scene he has been hearing much of and recalls music festivals he had played at, where audiences flocked in their thousands and bands in their hundreds. He smiled at the sense of brotherhood he feels with those bands backstage albeit them all vying for attention from the very same audience.

An industry as small as the Sri Lankan metal scene, he says, cannot afford such luxuries as politics and backbiting, when they should be busy making music. Owing to this fact, Tyronne plans to bring musicians together and will be part of a full-on gig – Colombo Deathfest which goes on the boards today, at Clancy’s Pub in Colombo 7 from 3 p.m. onwards. The performance will feature Tyronne along with some of the finest metal bands in the country under one roof.

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