The existence of a heavy metal scene in Sri Lanka is no low key secret. And yet, the raw talent that seems to exude from these musicians seems to be continually ignored. In the light of other “popular” music like hip hop and r’n'b, which severely lack musical complexity, musicians playing heavy metal seem to be paid little or no attention to.
What’s ironic and all the more pathetic is the fact that we have some REALLY talented musicians, and what’s more is that those who have made it, have made their mark in foreign countries simply because we lack the platform and the appreciation for real talent.
Take for instance Chitral Chitty Somapala, who after leaving the Lankan shores for Germany, is now one of the best heavy metal vocalists out there, and is often compared to the likes of the Gods of Metal such as the late Ronnie James Dio and Bruce Dickinson.
Recently, there was a series of drum workshops held across the country by a man born and bred in Sri Lanka, and after leaving the country at 18, is now one of the greatest drummers out there, who also performed with the likes of Mike Portnoy and Virgil Donati
I’m talking of none other than Tyronne Silva who, at his own expense mind you, has been tirelessly working to ensure, in his words, that no one would have to go through the hardship he endured to get where he is. And where is that? Right on top.
There seems to be a real barrage of talent shows in the island, some even encouraging budding heavy metal musicians, but the scene is nevertheless stagnant. The most a band could do is pool in their own money and organize a show or play in a club.
At least, for the sake of the music starved fans here, get a few bands down? But no, all the great bands, including Iron Maiden and Arch Enemy seem to narrowly miss our lovely coconut island and land up in either India or Maldives.
What is wrong with our country really? Yes, we have endured and ended a thirty year civil war but does that mean that the youth should continue to be ignored?
Heavy metal and what people call its “turbulence,” is after all a reflection of the broken world we live in. It’s how the youth express their disillusion, but why is no attention paid to this outcry? Why is it that we can’t focus any attention to this growing phenomenon?
Why is it that people like Tyronne Silva actually have to pay out of their own pockets to teach young musicians how to drum?
Speaking to a few musicians and heavy metal fans alike, here’s what they say about the current situation, or rather the lack of a situation.
Lasith Fernando, editor of an online rock and roll lifestyle magazine, The Backdoor Magazine, says that its important not just the to teach them, but also for the musicians to see the Gods of Heavy Metal perform. He feels that workshops like Tyronne’s is what the country needs because it’s crucial for young musicians to see Sri Lankan’s who have taken their art to the highest level possible. It’s important for the notion of making it big as a musician, and the commitment required to be embedded in their Psyche, he says.
Rakitha, lead guitarist of Fallen Grace, a melodic Death Metal band, too agrees that it’s very important that there are more workshops like Tyronne’s and feels that while in Sri Lanka, it isn’t possible for Heavy Metal bands to make it international unless they leave the country.
Sohan, however, also from Fallen Grace, says that it is entirely possible for bands to make it international if they push themselves hard enough, and put out more albums. “We should use to our advantage the fact that we have a rich culture,” he says, “we should incorporate all of this into our music to give the listeners a taste of something different. If you believe in your cause, you will definitely make it international. Tyronne coming down shows that musicians can make it and him sharing his knowledge is just great. I wish more people would come down and do the same thing but although a wealth of the talent is in the metal scene, no one wants to do anything to help us out.”
Chris, a budding drummer who also attended Tyronnes workshop, feels that the workshop was particularly important for him as every little bit is help. “Throughout the learning process, every single fact and each slither of information on that particular topic will help you to develop your skill and enable you to be what you want to be,” he says but he too doubts that it is possible to make it international whilst in Sri Lanka. “But there’s hope yet,” he says. “Now that the wars over and the tourism industry is rising, that is a plus one for Sri Lanka, ” but he admits that the challenge of gaining recognition as a metal band in Sri Lanka is hard. “If you are able to leave the country and move abroad, possibilities will increase and the chances will be greater,” he says.
Suresh, vocalist of Stigmata meanwhile, believes that Sri Lankan musicians can make a massive impact. “It’s happened and is continuing to happen, where Bands are getting recognized on a global platform for their talent. An artiste’s ability to survive professionally at a level that you can be dependant only on music is difficult in Sri Lanka. Things are changing though. More local Metal and Rock Bands are getting reviewed overseas, & performing overseas,” he says adding that Stigmata has played at festivals in Malaysia and the Maldives, performed in front of a crowd of 25,000 people in New Delhi, India and is due to perform at the Melbourne International Arts Festival, alongside US space rock giants Dead Meadow and Aussie psyche-sters Blarke Bayer/Black Widow. Their fan base too is growing exponentially, with their latest album receiving a lot of positive response. “It’s also absolutely imperative there are more workshops like Tyronne’s in the country,” he adds, “because there is no proper guidance system for musicians, nothing to discipline them and build their motivation and skill on par with the International industry. And people in our country tend to listen to those who’ve built a name and reputation for themselves overseas. Tyronne is an amazing individual for coming down and having workshops, willing to pass down his knowledge, share his experiences so that Musicians can be more focused and driven to do their homework. Nothing in life is easy if you want to be the best at what you do, you need to shed a modicum of blood, sweat and tears and face numerous obstacles to accomplish what you set out to achieve in the first place. Guys like Tyronne and Chitral show us that you need attitude to survive but also be humble at the same time. We could all learn a thing or two from them. I say bring on the workshops… more the better,” he says.
But where bringing down these people who would “motivate” and help the industry grow is concerned, over the past few years there has been little progress. We have had Civilization One come down, as well as Nervecell and As I Lay Dying, including a few Indian and Maldivian bands. But can we really hope to grow when things move at a snail-like pace?