Photography by Shehan Obeysekara
Face painted mime white belting out the lyrics to a song filled with seductive observations. Amila Sandaruwan of Meegoda is a creative force to be reckoned with. Drawing from the more brilliant aspects of his inspirations such as theatre and ritual dancers, Amila incorporates these influences of his own upbringing and culture. He seems to accomplish naturally what classic psychedelic rock bands of the ’60s and ’70s aspired to. The regard to mysticism, symbolism and space is a part of his life. And while he appreciates these outside influences he is 100% Amila from Meegoda. And he does a great job reflecting his interest in elevating music through the incorporation of Sri Lankan ritual influences. His distinct lyricism, sarcasm and surreal imagery are ever-present.
His songs range from pure fun to deeper searchings, observations and aren’t afraid to be a combination of all three as exhibited in his catchy classic “John Cena”, where he muses that the child is obsessed with the famed actor and wrestler but wonders what good would John Cena do in the climate of his current surroundings. "Upatha Vipatha" (translated as birth and death) seems to more directly deal with more esoteric matters and does a magnificent job of giving much breathing room to the space and ideas held therein.
The track “Dangara Gahena Hithivili Kandu''(Mountains of Spiraling Thoughts), seems to blend these two sides of himself perfectly together as the udekki and yak beraya low country drums and accordion provide a breathing minimalist yet pulsing background to Amila’s expressive singing and guitar work. His two bandmates sit alone with him on the corner street as he begins to croon out this declaration of his intentions of engaging with his own spiraling thoughts and desires as they involve into bewhat becomes him as he accepts these impulses. Now whether this is in reference to something more tangible and carnal or something more spiritually leaning is unknown.
But one could also easily contest that the two need not be separate endeavors. Even further that when the two are simultaneously considered they are even more impactful. All while evoking the movements of traditional Devil Dancers.
Another note is that this corner of Church Street and Justice Akbar Mawatha in Slave Island (also known as Kampong Kertel and Kompanna Veediya), a rapidly gentrifying part of Colombo where communities are being displaced and heritage buildings destroyed. Including the Castle Hotel bar, where he once performed songs like ''John Cena'' and the regulars from the community kept singing the chorus so the song seemed like it would never end. It should also be noted that it was in these shophouse style buildings of Slave Island where the constitutional reforms that led to Sri Lanka's independence in 1948 were discussed.
There is a section where he utters “heen sarey mang enava" (slowly, quietly, I approach) as he returns to the place. It feels as if this is symbolic of returning to where he always was, only with the distance of understanding that he is where he always was. This was my initial thought but it is actually him being cautious in how he approaches you, realizing he is returning to his and your vices too. With that fact being it feels like he is cautiously approaching the meeting point where the past meets the future. In this case, the past which achieved independence and a future laced with the hallowed promises of capitalism.
Amila Sanduwaran’s work as an artist is an absolute marvel as the past and future come to terms with each other. Meeting at the corner of Church Street and Justice Akbar Mawatha. Sparking a conversation and singing a song.
At The Corner Of The Past And The Future
By Eiliyas with contributions from Chinthana Dharmadasa
Dangara Gahena Hithivili Kandu
Nihal Nelson - Ma Mala Da
Nihal Nelson - Gune Aiyage Kamare
Rookantha Goonatillake - Sanda Basa
W.D. Amaradeva - Aradhana
Athma Liyanage - Epa Kandulal Sala
Gunadasa Kapuge - Pabalu Nage
Premasiri Khemadasa - Udumbara Hinahenawa
Gunadasa Kapuge - Viduli Mini Pahan
W.D. Amaradeva - Siripa Piyume
We asked Amila Sandaruwan to curate a playlist that would situate his work in his local context. He chose to highlight songs by musicians of yesteryear whose work has been a source of inspiration and influence towards his own musical voice, lyrically and sonically. The songs range from the 60s all the way to the 90s, capturing a trajectory of Sinhala music.
Amila Sandaruwan is a Sinhala singer-songwriter from Meegoda. Though he came to most people's attention with the off-kilter hit song “John Cena", Amila started out as a thespian involved in Sinhala theatre productions. He has composed music for film, theatre and television. Since 2007, he has performed as a solo artist at local events and festivals such as "Down Town Pulse." He went on to collaborate with musicians from the Musicmatters collective. In 2013, he started a band called "No One" with friends from the University of Visual and Performing Arts. He was also briefly involved in the band "Happy Journey" as a guitarist and vocalist, singing renditions of his own songs as well as those of other band members. His songs evolved with each collaboration and configuration. In 2015, he performed at "KACHA KACHA: Last Night At Castle", bidding farewell to the Castle Hotel in Slave Island that was soon to be demolished. It is still remembered and spoken about by the bar's regulars who live in the community. By then, he had left both bands and decided to focus on his debut album. He had developed his own unique musical style, being exceptional for writing and composing his own material, a feat that is uncommon in the mainstream Sinhala music scene. His lyrics were particularly nuanced and distinct, sometimes surreal, often absurd. He used sound to communicate in the manner of words rather than simply as melody, in an almost concrete sense, while both drawing from, deconstructing and expanding on folk forms. His debut album "Deiyo Dunna Kolla," released in 2017, was a result of this exploration, a collection of songs spanning 10 years of his work, recorded in collaboration with musicians from the Musicmatters collective. In 2019, he started a band called "Devata" that attempted to introduce these experimentations to a mass audience, learn from the feedback, then attempt once more, and so on. Although they disbanded, Amila continues this work. He is currently engaged in experimenting with Sri Lankan rituals and rethinking performance in the interest of elevating music to the sophistication of these folk rituals. He is interested in the ways in which people connect with ritual performance, particularly how it bypasses the ego and moves through the body.
The audio recordings contained in this playlist have been used for non-commercial, educational purposes in compliance with the fair use provisions of the Intellectual Property Act, No. 36 of 2003.