After over a thousand years of continuous Buddhist practice in Sri Lanka you won’t be surprised find many Buddhist chants in Sri Lankan traditional music, and of course there are substantial musical strains from India — specifically, music from Bollywood films — but the music of Sri Lanka also provides many unexpected surprises. You may not expect to hear Portuguese cantiga ballads, which originated when the Portuguese arrived in the mid-1400s, or an African-inspired music called “baila,” which came with African settlers called “kaffrinhas.” Sri Lankan musicians with an ear to the Caribbean brought Calypso to the island in the 1960s, resulting in a jubilant blend of Caribbean, African and Indian sounds. More recently, Sri Lankan musicians have embraced international styles like disco, hip hop and even, for better or worse, Europop.
Wikipedia on Sri Lankan music | About baila music
In class we’re going to listen to:
— Annesley Malewana: “Gon Wassa.” Malewana was the lead vocalist of the Moonstones, one of Sri Lanka’s most beloved baila acts of the 1960. Malewana reunited with Moonstones’ composer Clarence Wijewardena in the ’70s to form the Super Golden Chimes, another one of Sri Lanka’s most popular bands.
More about Anneley Malewana:
A bit about Malewana, Wijenwardena and the Moonstones | Listen to “Gon Wassa” while looking at a very happy Malewana | Clarance Wijewardhena trapped in a rainbow, overcome by fog, then attacked by bubbles and flying colors | The Super Golden Chimes reunited!
— Bathiya and Santhush: “Arunodaya Wage” from the album “Naththara.” One of Sri Lanka’s first singing groups to sign with an international record label (Universal, in 2002), Bathiya and Santhush have released pop and rap songs in Sinhalese, Tamil and English.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to “please await” Bathiya and Santhush’s official website, but if you toss the words “Bathiya and Santhush” into the YouTube search engine and you’ll get a wide array of video choices, from smooth Sri Lankan pop to not always-kid-appropriate, yet infectiously catchy hip hop.
— Prince Udaya: “Dath Hamim” from the album “Suwanda.” There’s not much information about Prince Udaya available online, but you can find him on YouTube singing very sweetly, though incredibly unenthusiastically.
One of Sri Lanka’s best known musical exports is the British-born, Sri Lankan-raised Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, otherwise known as M.I.A. M.I.A. is an outspoken rapper and political activist whose father was a Tamil separatist organizer. In the ’80s she moved back to London with her mother and siblings where she finished her schooling and went on to become a visual artist and internationally known rapper.
M.I.A. raps about very grown-up topics such as war, colonialism, racism and life on the streets and her lyrics aren’t meant for kids so there won’t be any links here, but her gritty, passionate and utterly danceable music is well worth a listen.
More info about M.I.A. UK’s
| A subtly snide profile from the NY Times
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