In awe of a melody | Page 3 | Daily News


In awe of a melody

Santi Nikethan
Santi Nikethan

Rabindranath Tagore accompanied his ensemble of dance drama Sapa Monchana visited Sri Pali, Horana in 1934 and he staged his dance drama at the Regal Theatre Colombo. Later he held an art exhibition at the National Art Gallery. Tagore in a speech he invited artistes of Sri Lanka to visit India and study at his seat of learning Shantiniketan.

Among the group of artistes who followed his advice to study at Shantiniketan included Ananda Samarakoon, Pani Bharata, Suriya Shankar Molligoda, Prema Kumara Epitawela, Francis Kalinga and Anandalal Athukorala.

Words and imagery

Ananda Samarakoon in addition to music studied art and returned to the island and made an attempt to develop Sinhala music with Sinhala folk songs model on the corpus of Tagore, and he composed and sang Vile Malak Pipila Kadimai, Endada Manike, Ese Madura, Namo Namo Matha (which became the national anthem). He was influenced by the music of Rabindranath Tagore using simple Sinhala words and imagery. His was a well-trained voice which appealed to the ear both young and old.

Sunil Shantha following Ananda Samarakoon gave up his teaching career and decided to study music at Shantiniketan, left for India in 1939. After completing his three-year course of study at Shantiniketan he then entered Maris College of Hindustani music at Lucknow which is also called Bhathkande Sangeeth Vidyapeeth and passed his Vishard examination in the first division and won the coveted gold medal for vocal singing.

He returned to Sri Lanka in 1944 and applied for government employment commensurate with his qualifications but he was unsuccessful. He then decided to participate in concerts. One of his early songs he sang Thotiyo was based on Bengali boat song O Bondure.

He also sang two Hindustani songs at a variety entertainment held at S.Thomas’ College Mount Lavinia organised by the college Sinhalese society in which Suriya Shankar Molligoda accompanied his singing with Sitar music. Sunil Shantha also participated with his singing at Devar Suriyasena’s Christmas programmes. He sang Sumano Sumano to a melody from the popular Hindi film Kismat and his other song Olu Pipila was recorded on the disc by Radio Ceylon.

While he was studying in India he was greatly influenced by the ideas of Mahatma Gandhi, Shri Jawarhalal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose and he developed a sense of nationalism. It was the post-Nurti period when Sri Lankan singers sang for gramophone records, H. W. Rupasinghe with Rukmani Devi sang Sri Buddhagaya Vihare and M. K. Vincent sang Sri Munida and Laxmi Bhai sang Lona Muni Rajage.

They were influenced by the popular songs of the Indian singers. Devar Suryasena who was an exponent of Western music sang Sinhala folk songs with his wife Nelum Devi following the style of singing Western songs.

Three years after Sunil Santha returned from India Sinhala films produced in Madras studios in which the music directors assumed that the Sinhala singers were incapable of singing Sinhala songs and as such employed Indian playback singers to sing Sinhala songs.

This resulted in mispronouncing of Sinhala words and the songs they sang became meaningless.

First song

Ananda Samarakoon’s effort in creating Sinhala music won Sunil Santha’s approbation and encouragement which he paid in words and music when he sang Adai Vesak Poda, he echoing two lines from Samarakoon’s song Poson Po Dina.

Sunil Santha in his first songbook Hela Ridi Valave published in 1946 and 1947 wrote; “I began to realise the tremendous gap in not having a music that belongs to our country and is at home only in the Hela land”. His idea there for of creating Deshiya Sangeethaya, with original compositions that had the power to speak to the hearts of the people. The music he had in mind possessed the capacity to appeal to all sections of the land educated and uneducated, young and old. Then he adopted to propagate his new Sinhala music by publishing songbooks with notations, conducting music classes and presenting radio programmes.

During the period 1946 - 1957 he was actively engaged in promoting his national music, composed songs which included Lester James Peries’ two films Rekava and Sandesaya and experimental songs in radio programmes Madura Madu series. He composed songs and sang Buddhist and Christian devotional songs, songs for children, patriotic, philosophical and nature songs, lamentations, commemorative songs, festival songs and songs of love.

Arisen Ahubudu who composed some of Sunil Santha’s songs said: “The creation of songs out of poetry, the compositions of a melody to suit the lyrics rather than the other way round, the correct pronunciation of words, singing in a manner which brings out the thought and feeling...”

Accomplished instrumentalist

His compositions were songs. They were closely bound up with words and were meant to be sung. He was also a well-accomplished instrumentalist. He sang songs that Indian patriotic song Vande Mataram and set the music for the Sanskrit verses of Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda and he sang the English song My dreams are Roses which he recorded for the film Romeo and Juliet. And all his other had songs had Sinhala lyrics. Sunil Santha understood the inherent qualities of the Sinhalese language and literature and he was greatly influenced by Munidasa Kumaratunga’s writings, his philosophy and vision. Although Vincent Somapala composed music for Munidasa Kumaratunga’s Hela Musiya it was Sunil Santha who created a musical style to supplement the pure verbal style of the Hela Haula which became the foundation of his music style.

The most important sources of inspiration for Sunil Santha were Sinhala folk songs and folklore. When he sang with his lilting mellifluous voice he displayed the training he received in Hindustani classical music. Apart from this training, he had a training in reciting Kavi and Vannam under Urapola Banda of Yatinuwara three years before he left for India to joined Santiniketan.

The best melodies of his were Christmas songs. He sang For Our Lady of Fatima – Fatima Mihira was said to be one of the greatest melodies that Sunil Santha had composed.

When he sang Ambalame Pina and Tikiri Liya he employed only the Udakkiya. While commemorating S. W. R.D. Bandaranaike he sings without any musical instrument to accompany with his singing. Mithuru Viyova was sung at the loss of his friend Suriya Shankar Molligoda.

Appeal to the listener

Whereas Kukulu Havilla was a song based on a poem by Rapiyal Tennakoon. It was sung making the listener moved when the appeal was made to Kataragama deity to redress the wrong done to a woman who had lost hack cock bird and punish the wrongdoer, in the form of a lamentation expressing the women’s grief.

When Sunil Santha decided on composition to set it to the music he paid his attention to the language, sound and emotional content. The influence of the music of Bengal particularly Rabindra Sangeet was evident. In the words of D. P. M. Weerakkodi “The western element in Sunil Santha’s music came through the intermediary of Rabindra Sangeet. The Western element discernible in music had been attributed to the impact of Christian Church music”.

Sunil Santha never allowed his voice to be covered over by the musical accompaniment and he gave prominence to the melody while accompaniment played a subsidiary an ornamental role. His orchestra was restricted to a few musical instruments; Violin, Guitar and a pair of Tabla making his voice stand out.

He had a perfect understanding of musical traditions both Western and Eastern and his melodies became popular which appealed to the English speaking Sri Lankans and he believed that Sinhalese music should be raised to the international level.

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