The shining moon among thousand stars
By - Indraji De Zoysa
The isle of paradise, rich in its cultural heritage, which produced the Amaradeva’s, the Martin Wickremasinghe’s, the Sarathchandras, the Khemadasa’s, the Rohana Weerasinghe’s, the Nanda Malinie’s have now produced young artists like, Rashmi Sangeeta, Deepika Priyadarshani, Nelu Adhikari etc. They have being accepted and recognized by our society for their dedication to the music industry. They had an utmost duty to maintain the tradition and culture in our country. Now, we see the emergence of a charming muse, by the name of SAHELI ROCHANA GAMAGE. No, she is not merely that, she is Visharad Saheli Rochana Gamage, the definite silver lining in the dark cloud of modern Sri Lankan music which hangs heavily over the Isle now tormented by a decade of war and cultural conflicts. There is no debate over the fact that Music has a healing element embedded with it and in this epoch, Saheli’s album “Saheli” (meaning friend “Yeheliya”) will be soothing medicine to heal a country and its people bleeding over the injustices done to them in every possible means. Like her name exemplifies, Saheli, is a true friend of Sri Lanka and its culture and it is fortunate to feel that there is at last somebody to fill the vacuum in Sri Lankan music after the great maestros.
Born on 1988.03.08 Saheli is now 20 years old and is reading for her Doctor of Medicine degree at the American National College in Sri Lanka and her sole aspiration is to be a doctor and explore the possibilities of healing illnesses through the use of music therapy especially in relation to cancer related patients. She did her Primary and Tertiary education at the Srimavo Bandaranayake Vidyalaya, Colombo 7 where she was a bright and an outgoing all round student who excelled both in education and extra curricular activities especially in relation to sports and music. She had played netball and basketball and held memberships in the school Western Music Band and the school Orchestra.
She chirpily states in a sweet voice that she started her music career at the age of two and a half years by playing a small play drum given to her by her “Chooty Mama” (Meaning the youngest brother of her mother). From that age onwards, we see her rising steadily making various accomplishments in the field of music. Saheli’s first encounter with the mass media comes at the age of three where she sings a song at a program in SLBC and later at the age of four she gets a chance to show of her skills, of course as a small tot, by singing “Udetath Awith” in a television program called “Kurulu Kedella” which was telecasted by the ITN. The list does not stop there and Saheli states that “I did many TV programs in Rupavahini. “Athuru Mithiru”, “Humpty Dumpty”, “Lapati Pela”, “Kan Kan Booru” and “Kawru Weida Man” etc are some of them. She was awarded a certificate for singing and acting in these programs for many years from the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation”. Other than these, she has won the gold medal at the All Island and the National Level Sinhala Language and Literary Day singing competition held in 2001 and was chosen as the best competitor out of all the winners and repeated the same feat in the year 2002 and thus she was awarded the “Sishya Prabshvara” trophy in 2003 by the Colombo Educational Zone in recognition of her winning the same event for two consecutive years. Later on with time and clime, she was vested with a six year degree of Visharadha (Vocal) in the first division by the University of Bathkande Sangeet Vidyapith, Lucknow, India.
Hence, Saheli’s journey has not been one in which she was catapulted into stardom overnight like some of our recent “Stars”. Like her song “Bhawani” states, it has been a slow and gradual movement forward, accomplished with effort, extreme training and hard dedicated work done with a feeling. In her passionate mission do something special in and for the field she loves, she was ably and thoroughly guided by a range of professional musicians and teachers starting from Visharad Neela Wickramasinghe. Visharad Nanda Malini, Visharad Deepika Priyadarshani, Visharad Shantha Senerath Yapa, Visharad Chandika Rajapakse, Visharad Mano Malavaraarachchi and Senior Lecturer Mr.Mahanama Wickremasinghe have all been her teachers and guiders in the music field.
The end product of such training is obviously visible when one listens to the songs in her debut album Saheli. The album is studded with rare jewels glimmering and shining in the form of literary and lyrical creativity. There is no doubt that it is high, classical, cultured art. It has songs which includes the styles of Indian Classical, Karnataka, Folk music, stage drama style and even Western. The themes of the songs are deeply rooted in Sri Lankan culture and its mainstream identity dealing with issues like social injustice, the difference in treatment between the haves and the have nots and poverty (Ilapatha athata arang), the love of and for the father and mother (Piyagunen and Pura Dasamasa), about love and loss (Malaka, Rusiru Nethin, Asarani ma, Ahase wathura etc), the beauty of the country and the nation (Punyawu), about the social injustice done to the minority groups in Sri Lanka in the guise of war (Kusumalatha) about friendship (Saheli) and finally about her own nature(in ahasa sanda tharu). The songs and the melodies are the products of the musical maestros in Sri Lanka and Saheli through her magical and enchanting voice does the meaningful lyrics justice. Close your eyes and listen to her songs and lyrics along with the soothing melodies which surround and encompass them. Let the sensation sink deep into veins and souls, feel the tingling chilling sensation of happiness creeping up you spine, calming and relaxing your heart and soul. Let the subtle variations in her voice penetrate deep into you heart and soul, it’s beautiful. Beautiful is in a sense meaningless, its content is infinite, but infinitely variable, her songs will make us feel what true beauty is, it make us understand what beautiful means. Saheli makes us feel proud that we are all Sri Lankans, about the very fact that Saheli Gamage is one of our own, standing up for a Sri Lankan Cultural Identity when it is fading and withering away. Furthermore she humbly states that the launching of her CD is a total non-profit venture. The money from the sales will directly go to the Cancer Patients in the Maharagama Cancer Hospital and will be utilized for their wellbeing.
Saheli is by no means a Tabula Rasa. Even Odysseus, on his way back from Ithaca, who would not stop to the joyous beautiful melodies of the seductive muses, would stop to listen to this nightingale of Sri Lanka music without no doubt. In this consumerist, media dominated, post-modern society, one can question the identity and the place Saheli has. But this is a new chapter, a new dose of medicine and once injected it will heal the wounds of this bleeding culture and fill in the absences and gaps while eradicating the neo-colonial forces of destruction. Saheli Gamage, now since she is born, will be the “unswitchable torch”, the most powerful force in the Sri Lankan music arena and culture.