Over the past few years the music scene in Sri Lanka has garnered an audience like never before. Within the music industry, there are diverse voices that are reclaiming the narrative with their bold, experimental, novel, and introspective music. Many artists have also released their debut singles/EPs/albums during the lockdown.
They have rigorously been innovating new ways to connect with their audience, as well as using music as a way of self-expression during these trying times. Music truly has the power to connect diverse voices and to that end, here is a list celebrating emerging as well as innovative voices of the Sri Lankan music scene.
I. Ajith Kumarasiri
If music has the power to heal, guitarist and musician Ajith Kumarasiri stands as a proof of it in the war-torn context of Sri Lanka. With just a guitar, he travelled through war-torn areas singing to the tunes of John Lennon’s ‘Give Peace a Chance’ in the three languages of Sri Lanka – Sinhalese, Tamil and English.
Away from popular and mainstream music, Kumarasiri refused to sell his music claiming that it belongs to the masses - as the voice of the people he argues - it should be freely accessible to all.
“The changes in Sri Lankan politics towards the war made it obvious that war was only a political game to the decision makers. There was no space for humanity - children, mothers, fathers and brothers die. And this is what I voice in my music, in my songs” said the artist.
Art is political and Ajith Kumarasiri’s music is further proof of that.
Born in Colombo, the British-Sri Lankan musician Arjun Coomaraswamy, better known by his stage name Arjun, is a Punjabi singer who has managed to garner a huge following thanks to his stint in both ‘Kolaveri di’ and ‘Suit.’
The singer’s strength perhaps lies in his ability to use contemporary western and eastern sounds while seamlessly combining them with RnB and South Asian Music. His groovy tracks have made him quite popular among Asian youth across the world and he is one to checkout.
Checkout his music here.
III. Bo Sedkid
Muvindu Binoy also known as Bo Sedkid, is an independent filmmaker and visual artist from Sri Lanka whose music is an extension of these creative pursuits.
A versatile artist, his discography ranges from electronic music production to rap and alt hip-hop. With some easy-going numbers to some high-energetic ones, Bo offers a diverse playlist for all.
You can stream Bo Sedkid’s music here.
IV. Costa Marley
Hill capital Kandy-based artist Costa Marley has one too many talents. A rapper, vocalist, beatmaker and producer, Costa has managed to become a known name in the Sinhala & English hip-hop/rap music community of Sri Lanka.
Perhaps what makes him stand apart is the way he brings a new sound to the island - a seamless blend of hard hitting beats, nostalgic samples, and his baritone voice along with catchy vocal melodies. His experimental and dignified form of Sinhala hip-hop/rap music has made him an artist unlike any other in the industry.
Check out his music here.
Colombo based duo Flowers on Both Ears comprises of vocalist Shafni Awam and New Zealand native producer-bassist Isaac J Smith. In March of last year (2020) they released their debut EP UMA. Thematically the EP had the narrative of sexuality and flowers running throughout it.
With shapeshifting sounds that range from jazz to hip-hop to psychedelic, their debut sound is a good parameter by which to judge what all they can bring to the music scene. For their collaboration on Amiga, Mi Corazon they also managed to collaborate with Mumbai-based DJ and vocalist Paloma Monnappa and Bangladeshi singer Moumita.
VI. Daffy Maestro
From the city of Kandy is Gihan Senevirathne also known as Daffy Maestro. To mention the Sri Lankan music scene without mentioning the downtempo, ambient and triphop artist who has been producing music since 1998 would be a disservice.
The electronic artist is best known for his unique sound and experiments with sonic elements and has collaborated on EPs and albums of various other artists.
You can listen to his discography here.
Shuffling between Colombo, Sydney and Brooklyn - producer, vocalist, and harpist ELSZ is a talent like no other. Their music oscillates between soulful avant-pop & experimental RnB setting them apart as an artist who is explorative, experimental, daring, and dynamic.
Their song Take Me To The Sun offers a whimsical and dreamy setting. Their soft and mellow vocals is a reflection of the narrative poetry in their lyricism, along with their ability to unfold emotions and universal themes with ease.
VIII. Priya Ragu
Sri Lankan-born and Zurich-based RnB and pop artist Priya Ragu has been able to make heads turn owing to her impeccable style, witty lyricism that touches on themes of identity, and Ragu’s sass.
The interesting groovy and catchy numbers she produces has many jamming on their feet. While she doesn’t necessarily incorporate Tamil music elements, her songs tend to have that fusion touch because of her Tamilian roots. Owing to her brilliant discography she has managed to make formidable strides in the diasporic space.
What sets Q apart from others is perhaps her powerful vocals. The soul, jazz and RnB singer has collaborated with notable musicians of the Sri Lankan music scene like Bo Sedkid and Imaad Majeed on tracks like ‘Quota [Remix]’ and ‘Control’.
Inspired by musicians like SZA, Jessie Ware, and Princess Nokia, she started experimenting with alt-R&B and rap. Her raw and impassioned lyrics as well as her ability to deliver soulful and sultry vocals that are at once evocative and easy flowing, make her an artist worth tuning into again and again.
You can listen to her debut EP Hysteria here.
Singer-songwriter and creative visionary Rolex Rasathy’s powerful vocals are a phenomenon in themselves. Add to that her in-depth knowledge of Carnatic music and you have genre-defying music. While her music draws inspiration from various places, it is her jazz, RnB, and hip-hop music that has captured our collective attention.
Her first experimental English/Tamil EP ‘Vellavattai’ was born out of a pivotal, life-changing experience while living and working in Sri Lanka in 2016. Since then she has collaborated with many prominent industry artists and has even performed globally. In fact, her most recent release ‘Raavanan’ in collaboration with rapper Navz-47 and producer Steve Cliff, has been a global hit and selected by BBC Asian Network as ‘Track of the Week’.
XI. Sahi Siva
Some people are born to create music and Sahi Shiva is one such artist. Having been learning Carnatic music from a young age, his vocals are a force to reckon with. He has been composing his own tracks since the age of fifteen and has collaborated with several artists.
His debut album Vaeraan was an honest and vulnerable exploration of his personal experiences and brought his restrained and at the same time ethereal voice to the forefront.
Listen to his debut album here.
XII. Sarani Perera
Guitarist Sarani Perera has had a significant contribution to the local music scene of Sri Lanka. The experimental fusion guitarist has equal interests in being a sound artist, guitarist, and in field recordings. He has been at the forefront of the alternative music scene of Colombo that has been growing in the past decade.
He’s been a part of numerous local projects like Tom Cat and Magnum, Thriloka and The Soul, and his immense knowledge of the guitar make him a great listen especially his improvised and experimental bits.
Checkout Perera’s projects here.
XIII. Sengkodi Parakkum
Taking traditional music and lending it a more modern touch is an all-girl folk drumming troupe. Honed in the Parai traditio,n (Parai means ‘to speak’, ‘to tell’, and it is the drum that is used by ‘untouchables’ / ‘unseeables’ / ‘unhearables’ to announce that they are in the vicinity so that upper caste people do not hear their voices, nor touch their shadow) the troupe it taking it to a contemporary setting thus subverting the socio-politics of it being a rural music form. Paired with poets and rappers and having evocative lyricism, it is truly music with a cause that combines the vibrating notes of Parai and Tamil rap.
XIV. Serendib Sorcerers
Exploring the possibilities of folk music is The Serendib Sorcerers, a band that consists of Susantha Rupathillaka on vocals, Sarani Perera on the guitar, Uvindu Perera on bass, Sumudi Suraweera on drums and percussionist Prasantha Rupathilaka.
The band’s approach to music is contemporary, western and improvisational. Their debut album ‘Jana Gee Reworked’ received much critical acclaim and their second album, ‘Pathulen Muthu gena’ brought out a collection of unfamiliar pieces of Sri Lanakan folk songs from different local regions. The two albums have managed to set the tone for what they wish to do with the folk music of the region.
Sometimes music is born out of accidents. At least that was the case with Sri-Lankan American musician Shaya Ramanan who ended up producing her first track ‘ToxXxic’ on Garage Band in April 2020. Her production is proof that music can be produced within the walls of your bedroom and without any fancy equipment.
Already a singer, songwriter, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist, Shaya now dons the hat of a music producer as well. “As a first generation, Sri-Lankan American, Tamil brown girl, and female producer, I feel like I wear many hats,” Ramanan tells Vanyaland. Her latest release ‘Down’ is an electro RnB number that is a push for representation.
You can listen to Down here.
XVI. Tea Kada Pasanga
Lending a breath of fresh air to the Sri Lankan music scene is a Tamil rap group, ‘Tea Kada Pasanga’ whose pop hip-hop music is not only entertaining but also an interrogation into identity and social issues.
Their most popular song ‘Ezhara’ (a term that translates to ‘loiterers’ or ‘slackers’) was a critique of ‘hustle’ and ‘grind’ culture and embracing this identity over that, thus making a statement with their music.
Listen to their music here.
Fusing elements of pop, rock, funk and folk, a trio based in Colombo have been creating a new sound that reflects the unique and clashing tastes of its members. With Zahara on drums, Avanti on guitar and Nihara on bass and vocals, they are dedicated to making original music. Their debut single ‘Tripping Over Time’ is an accurate display of the band’s sound that is new age, spunky and fun.
Perhaps the world of electronic and dance music scene of Sri Lanka would be incomplete without mentioning Teklix’s discography. Their music is a seamless blend of hypnotic atmospheres, exotic melodies fused with energetic grooves, and ethno and tribal elements that all lean towards a more deep dark synths vibe. Teklix’s music is a journey through ethnic soundscapes with a modern deep progressive house core and one that is sure to get one in the groove.
You can checkout Teklix’s discography here.
XIX. The Soul
Colombo-based band The Soul has on several occasions defined itself as ‘genre fluid.’ Playing a mix of jazz, blues, reggae and RnB, the band consisting of Dave Roberts as the vocalist, guitarist Khazim Miskin, guitarist Sarani Perera, bassist Uvindu Perera, and drummer Divanka Sewmin. They have been among the first to produce original English songs in the Sri Lankan music scene that is dominated by Sinhalese music and Tamil rappers.
After playing at the NH7 Weekender concert in Pune and Goa’s Sunsplash festival, the band has managed to garner an Indian following as well. From mellow music to high energy singles, the band does it all. After five years, the band put out the music video for their single ‘Optical Illusion’ just last month.
XX. Tom Cat And Magnum
In the past few years a new wave of electronic musicians have been emerging in the Sri Lankan scene, among them are Tom Cat And Magnum which comprises of duo Sarani Perera and Isaac Smith. With experimental and fresh sounds, they’ve managed to carve out a distinct sound that has come to be associated with them.
Perera’s background in the psychedelic fusion genre and Smith’s bass knowledge further gives the duo that extra edge. Their self-titled debut EP can be credited for fully launching them into the scene. Their latest EP ‘Kompannavidiya AF’ also features vocalist Shafni Awam of Flowers On Both Ears, vocalist Dave Roberts of The Soul and singer and harpist ELSZ.
You can stream their music here.
This list was collated with the help of Paloma Monnappa and Shafni Awam.
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