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Question: what happens when you put some of Sri Lanka’s best voices together, give them some of the most popular and neatly arranged music, back them up with some of the hottest sound technology available and the most sought-after accompanist in the country?
Answer: Oktave and ‘My Tribute’.
Saturday the 4th of June, 2011 saw St. Mary’s Church continue to fill up after the evening mass had been said. Music lovers from around the city packed into the beautiful church to experience the unique yet seasoned sounds of the sweetest new octet to arrive on the music-scene in Colombo: Oktave.
The brain-child of Rajeev Aloysius and Neranjan de Silva, the group has been performing at various functions in and around Colombo for some time now. ‘My Tribute’ was nevertheless the first concert these musicians presented themselves. Peshali Yapa-Aberywardena, Jehan Bastians and Eshantha de Andrado are also among the famous names belonging to the octet, and the audience came full of expectation. Needless to say, these expectations were more than fulfilled that night.
Oktave is different from any other choir in Sri Lanka in that while other such groups consider sound equipment secondary and shy away from electronic amplification, it is an integral part of their setup. The group’s aim is to be good enough to “withstand the scrutiny of individual microphones”. So when Peshali opens the favourite ‘Amazing Grace’ with her confident and sensitive alto, we know they’ve got their dream in the making.
Each of the numbers were arranged by Neranjan himself, specifically for Oktave, and Jehan’s clear, easy tenor perfectly suited their version of Chris Tomlin’s ‘Jesus Messiah’. The gospel feel of the song though, kept calling to the singers for a little more swing and a little broader delivery, the absence of which did not prevent the number being thoroughly enjoyable.
Harin Amirthanathan’s powerful tenor solo succeeded in drawing out the strength of the choir in their rendition of the heart-warming favourite ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. A thrillingly silent moment after “though your dreams be tossed—” was perfectly complemented by the full orchestra at Neranjan’s fingertips.
The delivery of ‘You Raise Me Up’ by Eshantha, despite conveying a feeling of being rushed, was duly mellow and rose to a rich and impressive fullness. The theme of the evening ‘My Tribute’ based on Psalm 30:12 was sung very sensitively by Peshali whose controlled strength of voice gave the choir a good foundation to really open up and sound fifty-strong!
Everyone has heard the ‘Alleluia’ from Shrek performed in so many different ways, and the Oktave rendition of the number was in fact, just another one of those. The blend of voices though, was quite amazing, considering the fact that each of the eight voices was amplified individually by a hand-held microphone, and the fact the singers are all well-seasoned helped render the sound a well-controlled body. Neranjan’s accompaniment again shone through, complementing the choir with its strength as well as variety.
Rajeev brought the evening’s praise to a grand close with a well-controlled and precise rendition of ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ in his deep, full bass. Neranjan’s arrangement allowed the choir to give the audience a peep at the amazing breadth and range they are capable of, bringing the evening to a memorable and regretted end.
Despite the fact that all the numbers they performed were popular favourites among a varied crowd, and ones that have been sung endless times by endless numbers of similar musical groups, the Oktave performance of these numbers was consistently infused with a unique and signature sound. Neranjan’s arrangements, characteristically simple yet evocative, combined with the singers’ maturity of voice as well as their evident passion for music and vocal performance, create a super-blend that leaves the audience yearning for more of their heart-music.