Rohana Beddage turns another chapter in folk music:
Rohana Beddage is immortalized as an artiste who endeared himself to
local music fans by knotting a novel twist to folk tunes and verse. His
vision of leaving a legacy to future generations is enacted by his
mission of delving deeply into social situations. Matrimony blessed him
when he met similarly artistic Padmathilaka while acting in W.B.
Makuloluwa's play Depano.
On the sets of Irata Andana Mal teledrama
Beddage and wife Padmathilaka
Teaching dance to the younger generation
He directed music in stage plays Gajaman Puwatha and Madura Javanika,
produced the children's play Alakanchiya and authored Gammanen Upan
Geetha, Sinhala Sangeetha Shialiya and Loku Ayata Punchi Kathandara. In
the following interview with the Daily News, Beddage asserts his
convictions expressed on media time and again.
Q: What are your current artistic
A: They happen only when I
have the time. I run my Sandagiripaya Kalayathanaya in Horana, with
music, dancing, drama and video technology courses. My new songs Gon
Wassa and Mansiyata Kavi Seepada on Sasanda CD are hardly heard on media
channels. They prefer to play my old songs than the new ones.
Q: The Mamai-Benai stage performances
you did with artiste Bandula Wijeweera showcased the humour in rustic
A: Than being jovial,
Mamai-Benai songs are satirical. I try to point out social flaws without
jeering at society. My lyrics created some new proverbs. The song Nanda
Mama Denna Bahak Nodi Denna Depatte tells about a prospective bride's
parents not coming to an agreement, with the result that their daughter
becomes an old maid. This home division is like the Government and the
opposition. If they do not come to a consensual agreement, the
Government cannot solve the problems of people. The song
Raigamayai-Gampalayai says that the turned page is better. People side
with the winning party for personal benefits and the country does not
prosper. I write songs for the future generations. (I build the road,
you pour the tar).
In 1974, a song of mine predicted of obtaining oil from Pesale and
fuelling our vehicles. Critics do not evaluate my songs and make use of
the irony. I just sit back and do not feel upset about it.
Rohana Beddage. Picture by Malan Karunaratne
Q: Weren't you a radical breeze in
the Sinhala music scene using folk poetry and melodies?
A: Familiarity with folk
literature makes villagers understand my lyrics. The intelligentsia do
not accept folk literature much but that is where our tradition-based
identity lies. Through this identity, we can develop, parallel with the
world. My first song Mage Rattaran Helena was aired a lot on radio. A
folksy tune differing from tradition was the secret of its popularity.
What people understood as a difference was their ignorance of our
identity. I applied the metre of folk poetry to create something
Q: As in other countries, does Sri
Lanka have a foundation of ethnomusicology?
A: No. Like parrots, we
intone what our teachers tell us and do not do a new thing. When pupils
become teachers, they do the same thing. Teachers of folk literature are
not flexible but villagers are free to play with literature, keeping
their roots intact. Director of Education (Music) W. B. Makuloluwa
researched into folk music and people are still doing the same thing
that he did. With my songs such as Ranmali, I developed from where he
left, which brought a tear to his eyes.
Q: You said our folk music did not
develop because we did not have tonic instruments with notations?
A: Yes. Like in China and
Indonesia, Sri Lanka has its own scale which is different from the piano
scale. We have not studied it.
Q: You do not agree that music is a
A: That understanding
dawned when we were studying the subject of ethnomusicology, originating
from the West. In 1970, music educationists held a conference in Chicago
where it was said that "Music is not a universal language. Consequently
there are many musics and each must be studied and experienced on its
own terms and within a framework of its own traditions." In their ninth
conference in Moscow during July of the same year, Dr. Narayan Menon
said, "To listen to
Bandula Wijeweera and Beddage: the Maamai-Benai combination
Indian music and judge it in terms of Western music or some other
system will mean missing the point and reaching absurd conclusions. It
will be like judging Beethoven or Brahm in terms of Raga (the basic of
Indian melodies) and Thala (the basic of Indian rhythm). The question of
style or interpretation of finer and subtler points of execution cannot
be discussed in any recognicable international terms. Aesthetic
attitudes can. All this talk of music being an universal language is a
facile over-simplification. I have heard a great deal of Indonesian,
Japanese, Javanese, Persian, Arabic and Chinese music, not to mention
the various national systems of Europe and I doubt if these constitute
an international language."
When the British first heard India's Raga-based music, they thought
that Indians had a hearing defect as it differed from the piano scale.
As they listned more, they realised it was a different kind of music.
Q: What were you trying to say when
you played Geta Beraya to a dance of Micheal Jackson on Rupavahini?
A: Rhythm is common to all
and can be applied anywhere. (Notations are different.) I can drum for
any dancing anywhere in the world.
Q: You said there is rap in local
A: We have saudam in
Thovils where the exorcist shows his prowess in front of the sick to
receive gifts. He recites and does not sing. That is rap. We had this
type of sahali from early times.
Q: Your Sasanda song was featured on
Los Angeles World Chart Show.
A: Sirasa sent the song in
1996. It went into the top 20 and was the only song selected from Asia.
During that year, the song was played in 240 countries. I am not aware
of the royalty and do not mind someone else becoming rich. I stay the
way I am and have no jealousy.
Q: You have written much about
A: In village life there
are ethics and traditions. One is removing your cap when you enter a
house. Today's youth even sits in class or goes to temple wearing the
cap. When a farmer stops work in the field to have lunch, he removes his
turban as a respect for food. The new generaton does not know the ethics
related to these traditions. I do not allow any one to enter my house
wearing a cap.
Q: What are your views on today's
A: I am glad that the
youth is experimenting with old songs. Rather than opposing it, we
should point out defects. Their creativity in western trends outweighs
flaws. Some of our musicians, trapped in their own knowledge, do not
respect what is outside their purview. I was criticsed for singing two
lines in a Bhathiya-Santhush number. The hostility was against the duo
and not the song.
Q: Do you teach music and dance to
Sri Lankan students overseas?
A: United Sri Lanka
Association in New Zealand asked me to teach Sinhala culture to about
100 expatriate students there. For three months, I taught them of
ethics, traditions, partaking of food, worshipping parents and other
finer points of spiritual development. It climaxed with a four hour show
of lullabyes, pantheru, lee keli and the stage play Parassaa. It was an
amazing experience for the Prime Minister Helen Clarke, taken to the
show in a procession.
Bena on Maama:
"He is a lovely person who helped my artisitic career with no
reservations and changed its shape. He is a man complete in every way.
Lyrics come to his mind and he creates tunes and directs music. He is
also an actor, dancer, drummer and a writer of books on music. In a
January felicitation of Beddage at Elphinston Theatre, Somaweera
Senanayake spoke of him as a 'cultural ambassador'."
Wijeweera first came to know Beddge while the latter was directing
music in Dayananda Gunawardena's stage play Nari Bena while the former
auditioned for the role of the fox son-in-law. Ultimately, Wijeweera
became Bena to Beddage's Mama in the popular stage act Maamai-Benai
(father-in-law/son-in-law). "One song is linked to the other in dialogue
as links in a golden chain," is how Prof Sunil Ariyaratne described the
Alutha gena manamali
Mage sudu Benandita
Popular tele-dramas he acted in:
Irata Andana Mal