A trio of musical misfits who are also pretty comfortable staying that way, Owl Tree-O’s music is a meeting of heavy-soft vocals, synths and beats, creating a symphonic cacophony that sounds like tomorrow. With Nihara on vocals, bass and keys, Sarani on keys and Dilshan on drums and percussion, the trio deliver neo-soul stylings, with call-backs to trip-hop and funk in the mix. The band was formed organically within the fertile environment of the Musicmatters collective in late 2018. Dilshan was exploring new grooves, while Sarani wanted to explore the keyboard, and they decided to jam together and explore sound. With the addition of Nihara, the trio was born. They released their debut single “On And On” in 2019, which captured the attention and adoration of Colombo’s contemporary music scene. They have since performed at Luna Music Festival, KACHA KACHA, Sound Room Sessions, and a few hoots at bars such as TRAX in Ahangama and Drunk Panda in Colombo.
Photography by Shehan Obeysekara
Fading in. The sound of the rippling water. It’s peaceful. Calming. She begins to hum. Lulling you into the present. Into the other side. The waving reflection of the trees plant you there as if telling you that you won’t lose your foundation if you simply give in to this… moment. A blurred songstress comes into focus. (Is this the other side of the water?) Another man appears until the camera cuts to the image of the drummer preparing to play his drums. The 4 of them are surely my guides to this place and are about to play me a song. The sound of the morning water continues to be accompanied by a splashing of dulcet keys and her soft hum.
I said 4 counting the environment but of course, in a more slightly mundane way, it’s 3 people with somewhat of a quip of a band name, Owl Tree O(Get it? Our Trio?). It is a play on words of course, ”Owl" in Sinhalese kind of means "problem" "issue" or "off" in a way. In reality though it’s the trio of Dilshan, Nihara and Sarani, weaving together a beautiful sonic vessel with their assortment of drums, keyboards, sounds, bass and vocals. On this other side of the water, the literal is blurred into it’s own emotional smearing, faded into its true form.
“Wake up to the sound” sings Nihara as a crepuscular sunlight also dances on the water. A comforting and welcome affirmation as I’m introduced to my new awakening. That space, that 4th unnoted band member, the space is presented. This space feels as cozy as the coziest of living rooms. This is a communal affair but every ounce of my being wants to simply lay down and let the music float over me. Maybe the dog will come over and I will pet him as well. The drummer has a Raban-influenced percussively decorative style of drumming that gives enough room for Nihara’s voice to dance in the light of Sarani’s keyboards. All of this is lightly grounded by the vocalist’s bass or accented by her keyboard.
In the second half, the evening sun has set. And the band has dressed themselves for the occasion. The Raban is typically played in celebratory instances. If the opening songs and performance in the first half was a celebration of the new morning sun, then the second half is a celebration of its equally beautiful opposite, the twilight of the evening moon. All members have changed into more evening attire and so has that unspoken 4th member, wearing the moonlight in a most magnificent fashion.
The band members all seem to have an openness to each other and the ability to listen and respond to each other is the centrepiece and the marvel of a seasoned humility. This constellation of experience, moods and openness creates a situation where the trio becomes a conduit for their surroundings and in this video, the water, trees and the environment of Bolgoda Lake become the fourth band member. Now the evening takes the role of the 4th member. Therein lies the wonder of Owl Tree-O, the ability to channel the environment so effortlessly and bring you into the beauty of the present. In short, the music of this band must be experienced and can’t be explained. Although they can easily be recommended to those who enjoy bands like Khruangbin and Hiatus Kaiyote, the fact the Owl Tree-O is something else completely must be asserted. A gem of their own that should be appreciated as one should appreciate every new day we are allowed to bear witness to.
Experience, Moods and Openness
By Eiliyas with contributions from Imaad Majeed
Sunil Shantha - Walakulin Besa
Sakwala Chakraya - Lunatic Free
Thriloka - Mahasen Yaadinna
Serendib Sorcerors - Pattini Saudama
Pabalu Wijegoonawardane - Angam Keliya
PaRaap - Sengkodi Parakkum
Amila Sandaruwan - Nirwasthare
Paranoid Earthling - 69
Colombo 00200 Kinesthetics - Why Baba
We asked Owl Tree-O 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.