Divanka & Shivy

The duo of Divanka & Shivy consists of two exceptionally talented musicians who have played in various bands in the local music scene, over the years. Divanka Sewmin is a drummer from Matara who emerged out of the Musicmatters collective, and has performed in acts such as the alternative bands The Soul, The Drift, and Magic Box Mixup, as well as collaborating recently with Sinhala hip hop artist Master D. He is trained in jazz drumming. He turned to music as a serious pursuit following his high school education, despite coming from a family with no musical background. At age 10, he made his own drum set from scraps and tuned into songs from his social environment that was predominantly Sinhalese. His father would tune the radio onto English music, which introduced him to Western genres. Since then he has learnt under Dr. Sumudi Suraweera of Musicmatters as well as a chance encounter with esteemed Jazz musician Aruna Siriwardhana. Divanka's approach is distinct in his explorations and experimentations, which brings us to his recent collaborator: Shivy Fernando. A self-taught bassist from Thalawathugoda, Shivy has performed in acts such as the pop/dance band The Rebels and funk/soul bands Brown Sugar and A Team. His style is distinct for his use of looping pedals and his passion for experimentation and collaboration. Having taken up the bass guitar in 2003, he has played numerous gigs locally and overseas, gaining experience as a session musician, a solo performer and through representing multiple projects and outfits in dynamic group settings. With an affinity to analog tech and sound, his skills were honed through experimentation. Together, they strive to explore as much as they do express.

Photography by Shehan Obeysekara

The star of the show is a small Kubota Diesel tractor.
 

Zooming in, we see the tractor is manually switched on with a hand pedal. Zooming out, we see that the hand switching on the tractor is actually a hand of a drummer, a very skilled drummer in this matter, who casually starts to play his drum to the monotone beat of the tractor.Accompanying this drummer, an equally skilled bass player, comes along and starts to add the groove to the jam. I could not stop laughing the first time I saw it, but also I played it on repeat, again and again.
 

The appeal to the 2 minute video is how drummer Divanka and bass player Shivy casually and unpretentiously clash the modesty of a Sri Lankan rubber estate backdrop to the slickest sound of jazz. With their laid back fashion taste: plain T-shirts and similarly minimal sarong, the most comfortable pieces of attire to laze in a lush backyard drenched with tropical sun, spectators would not expect them to play jazz.

Jazz is not music for the common man. It requires a skilled musician to play jazz. And not only that it symbolizes fine musicianship, jazz also symbolizes privilege. Like in other developing countries, including in their country Sri Lanka and in my country Indonesia, jazz is gate-kept as music for the high class only. Playing jazz, as well as obtaining references to enjoy and learn jazz, requires a network of resources only available for people who can afford the best in life.

Sumudi Suraweera, an expert of the local music scene in Sri Lanka, with whom I got the pleasure to talk to, said jazz has very low reach in his country while practicing jazz musicians are mostly self-taught and will end up finding employment in hotels, playing for the privileged tourists.

Lower classes, those who are more familiar with the sound of tractors and agricultural elements, would listen to Sinhala pop music, Sum said, which gets its signature from a mix of Indian and Western influence. Sinhala pop singers serenade listeners with lyrics on heartbreak and love affairs. The popular songs are oftentime played in public transport and other public places attended by the vast majority, earning the reputation of being familiar and homey but also common. Sinhala pop music turns out to sound very similar to Indonesia’s dangdut music, which is also enjoyed by the masses while also earning the title of the music for the underprivileged.

Divanka was born and raised within the exact agricultural environment, but with his exceptional musical talent has paved his way to the scene in Colombo. There he worked even further to sharpen his already fine musicianship into extraordinary levels. The fact that he decided to return to the unpretentiousness and the familiarity of the rural areas, along with the musical experiences under Divanka and Shivy's belt, only shows the agility and the versatility of the duo.

So when Divanka & Shivy dress to laze in this backdrop & play the music of the privileged, along with the hum of the Kubota Diesel tractor, they hit our heartstrings. And we laugh at their wits, & subtle yet striking social commentary.

Tractor Jazz: A Sound for Everyone

By Gisela Swaragita with contributions from Chinthana Dharmadasa

Tractor Jazz 

Nikhil - Alright With Me

Melissa Pereira - Stranger 

Master D, Divanka - Jungle 

The Soul  - Sticky Like Glue

Colombo 00200 Kinesthetics - Bloody Bugs

Charitha Attalage - Sakura (feat. Manasick)

Master D, Divanka - Baila

The Soul - Aiyo

Mikka - Salli Bage

Playlist

We asked Divanka & Shivy to curate a playlist that would situate their work in their local context. They chose to highlight songs by musicians they have collaborated with, as well as songs by their contemporaries. They have found these works to be inspiring and influential to their own explorations. 

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.