Where were you last Sunday night? If it was not the Bishop’s College Auditorium, take a minute now to add that to your list of regrets. Getting ‘Jazzed Up’ with Rukshan Perera live in concert should have been a part of every musician or music-lover’s agenda.
First up is the fact that Colombo rarely sees performances at this level. Rukshan Perera is an immensely accomplished, highly experienced and insanely talented musician. Sunday’s concert brought the cream of Colombo’s performing pop musicians together onstage with a tasteful as well as meaningful repertoire of original compositions and arrangements of popular tunes by Rukshan. Natasha Rathnayake, Voice.Print, the De Lanerolle Brothers and Thriloka are all well known for the quality of the music they produce. Having all these acts together on stage, and more importantly, under Rukshan’s umbrella, made the experience that night truly splendid.
Needless to say, the lights were not bright enough to outshine these well-known stars behind the mics and instruments. What made the evening different from other similar shows these artists perform at was the sensitivity towards music. Vocal and instrumental quality was complemented by a truly rare finesse, a refusal to over-do any one act or the other, and a balance of styles as well as individuality and unity.
Among the numbers that stood out was ‘Nature’s Calling’ featuring Natasha Rathnayake. Not only did the diva do true justice to the evocative song with her broad and sultry voice, she also seemed to be conveying her emotions regarding climate change with a pained look that absolutely refused to leave her face. The question of a wardrobe department did also come up during this number, but that did not hinder it from conveying a dramatic sense of what our environment is suffering.
The next ear-catching number ‘Something Is Happening to Me’ featured another guest act fast becoming uncontrollably popular in Colombo: Voice.Print. The acapella group seemed finally to have overcome their tendency to sing as many different artists rather than one performer, possibly thanks to the amazing delivery of a reverberating bass line by Melantha Perera from Mirage fame. It seems a family thing, the way he and his brother Rukshan go about their music-making: seemingly effortlessly!
‘What Time Is It?’ was a question far from the audience’s mind, the two and a half hours of the show gliding by in what felt like minutes, but Rukshan got at the keyboards nevertheless, to ask it. He used variations on the famous Big-Ben tune as a recurrent motif in this number that really got the crowd laughing and applauding. The confidence he exudes was most obvious in this number as he stopped in the middle of the song to prompt the audience to go “blah blah blah”.
The Colombo Brass Ensemble sensitively accompanied Rukshan as he opened an instrumental medley of popular local folk tunes on his flute. The Mozart Meets India-like performance was one of the many numbers during which Rukshan displayed another of his qualities that’s uncommon among locally established musicians - a true desire to share the lime-light.
Harshan Gallage, drummer for the backing band Thriloka, gave us a short taste of his unmatched skills at the drum-kit during this piece, battled by Dylan Rathnayake on percussion. Eshantha Peiris too shared a few moments of sparkling improvisation with the audience, characteristically gentle yet brilliant, during an "experimental" jam session with Rukshan on guitar and Julius Mitchell from Voice.Print doing his thing.
Official beat-boxer for the acapella act, Julius got the most alone time with his audience - and justifiably so! There are many young aspiring artists out on the Sri Lankan musical horizon doing quite a number of fabulous things with just their vocal apparatus, but Julius Mitchell is probably the only one with a whole dj's console as well as a good collection of popular dance tracks all concentrated in the upper part of his body. Slick, smooth and unassuming, his command of the audience too is quite something to see! Somebody only needs to take him to a club and give him a mic to put most dj's out of business.
Voice.Print (yes, they featured heavily in the programme) returned onstage to back Rukshan up on another memorable performance; the ‘Nursery Rhapsody’ - an arrangement of popular local children's songs in the form of Queen's ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. The harmonies were undoubtedly more complex than what they usually do, but the challenge was decently well lived up to. Rukshan's vocal flexibility was made obvious as he kept switching, in this number, from straightforward western-style singing to the sri lankan lilt with ease and no awkward moments, and carrying no trace of an artificial accent (the lede of most western-influenced local vocalists) into the sinhala lyrics - parts of which included ‘Me Gase Boho’ as well as ‘Athuru Mithuru’!
Most of Rukshan’s lyrics (especially those to 'We Are Brothers', his duet with Melantha, composed in memory of his mother, their music teacher) stood out in their remarkable simplicity. They refuses to succumb to pop-culture, discussing unfashionable matters in clear, un-poeticized language. The whole concert was testimony to Rukshan's deep and more importantly, genuine, concern with the world around him - not only in his lyrics but also in the way he highlighted the younger generation of artists onstage, those needing and deserving the exposure.
Among the better-known artists was Mariazelle on backup vocals and Ishan de Lanerolle doing a sensitive and subtle bass-line for a medley of local pop tunes that brought the maalu kaaraya, kammal kaaraya and the kandy lamissi together in Colombo 7! Chris Wickramanayake took to the keyboards to accompany Rukshan on 'Sri Lankan Blues'. The lyrics were a little mashed up in this one, but honestly not grounds for complaint, as the song was simply fabulous. Another memorable piece was an instrumental arrangement of 'Olu Pipila', a testimony to Rukshan's instinctive musical genius. In a nation of musicians infected with the imitation bug, Rukshan stood out as capable of successfully claiming for himself not just any song, but a house-hold favourite - a risky business.
In fact, the whole deal of putting up a show at this level of glamour and musical quality is itself ridden with risk. But the ease with which Rukshan dealt with the tiny glitches that popped up in a nearly spotless show declared to his audience that entertainment is surely not the easy game most people think anyone can play. Sunday night's programhas the potential to redefine show-biz standards for Colombo, and if there was anything missing, it was a more relaxed audience and a Sri Lankan instrument or two. For a musical genius of Rukshan Perera's calibre and inherent talent, this is hardly a challenge!
What the audience and artists experienced that night was more than just good music, bright lights and a packed hall. It was not just Rukshan Perera showing off his skill, some musicians sharing his light or a random collection of people bopping heads. It was the inception of a dialogue that is constantly (only) whispered. If our country can produce artists of real skill and integrity, can it also produce an audience of equally matched commitment? For as they sang at the end, each move we make is part of that 'Journey of Love' we take on this "one land, one land for all".
All photographs taken off Facebook.