Heard together, their voice stands out straight and relaxed. Their attempt erodes the norms of Sri Lankan tradition. It is not a single play. Nor is it a duet. It is a collective effort of five eminent vocalists.
Interest in folk music and other buried aspects of national culture tends to be reawakened at moments when there’s a perceived danger of things being lost forever.
Successive folk revivals of the 20th century drew their impetus equally from the two historical landmarks that most permeate the collective unconscious: the industrial revolution and the first world war.
In the late 1960s and early 70s, fear of annihilation, technological progress and a vision of alternative societies filtered through popular and underground culture, conspiring to promote the ideal of “getting back to the garden”. Folk is only one of many ingredients in the mix during these charged moments: psychedelics, environmentalism and the political and energy crises of the early 70s all played their part too.
In our own time, though, the word “folk” no longer refers solely to particular songs and melodies attached to the ancient lore of the land, nor to techniques of singing, instrumentality and delivery, nor to the idea of particular music belonging to small, often rural communities, or even a nation. Folk still includes these preserved traditions, but it is also applied to areas of contemporary music.
Yet well I ken the banks where amaranths blow,
Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.
Bloom, O ye amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
For me, ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!
With lips unbrighten’d, wreathless brow, I stroll:
And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?
Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And Hope without an object cannot live.
(Samuel Coleridge, Work Without Hope)
And now, we are about to enter a new era. Makaranda means nectar in English, and best tasted before while it is stuck in the sieve.
Sri Lankan music needs such a potential right now. With iconic musicians of the calibre of Dr WD Amaradeva dead and gone, most quarters would take it to be the doomsday of the local music industry.
But it is not so, thanks to a few legendary musicians such as Nissanka Diddeniya, Rodney Warnakula, Indika Upamali, Saman Lenin, Navaratne Gamage and Nilakshi Helapitiya. This sextet will introduce a fresh wave of hope to the stagnating music.