Powered by Blogger.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Ananda Samarakoon

"Samarakoon is a timeless melody", wrote Chandraratne Manavasinghe a few days after the musician's tragic death. "His music brought freshness and sweetness to our weary lives. His lyrics were an adornment to our language. Whilst taking Sinhala music towards a new vista, he gave his fans joy and happiness".

Born on 13 Jan 1911 to a Christian family, Samarakoon was baptised as George Wilfred Alwis. In 1936, Samarakoon left to Shantinikethan to study art.

Ananda Samarakoon created our national anthem. He is also the father of the artistic Sinhala music. We may also consider Samarakoon as the founder of the modern 'geeta sahitya". Certainly he was the precursor to all consequent lyricists. Manavasinghe admitted that it was Samarakoon's work that inspired him to become a lyricist. We must also note that Samarakoon was an exceptionally gifted painter.

Critics rank Samarakoon with Sunil Santha and Amaradeva as the three most influential figures in Sinhala music. Prior to Samarakoon we had nothing that can be called as original Sinhala music.
No one perhaps ever felt the need to have one, or thought it was possible to have a musical tradition of our own. In this sense we may even consider Samarakoon as our musical conscience. He studied music only as a secondary subject. In six months he abandoned his studies and returned to Sri Lanka. In 1937, he changed his name to Ananda and embraced Buddhism.

He was patently influenced by Ravindranath Tagore of India. It is his fascination and the desire to emulate the great Indian musician that took him in the direction of creating a musical tradition of our own. The vogue at the time was Nurthi Drama, with songs derived from the North Indian Ragadhari music. Lyrics of Nurthis songs were often meaningless phrases with no or little literary merit.

Samarakoon was aware of the need to create a form of a symphony that can be classified as our own. As Amaradeva described, Samarakoon succeeded in creating a new consciousness, as he had realised that the best way to touch the innermost point of sensitivity of the people and evoke response from them was to identify the music with the traditions of the land. For melodic patterns, Samarakoon turned his attention to the Sinhala folk song, a source totally ignored by all his predecessors. He also followed the Tagorean dictum that in creating a song, the musical composition and the lyrics must be of Equal importance. In fact, the lyrics and the tune should be inseparable. his intimate knowledge of the village and its landscape, its people, their culture, values and beliefs, was the source from which Samarakoon drew material for his lyrics. He was careful in his choice of the musical instruments. He also used a carefully cultivated vocal technique to give the Sinhala feeling in his renderings.

It is the immortal classic "Endada Menike" (1940) that paved the foundation for the artistic Sinhala music. The duet unfolds in the form of a dialogue between a young village boy and a girl. Its theme is love. Yet the song contains no single direct reference to love. Its child-like quality is characteristically Samarakoon at his best. "Endada Menike" is a tryst with Goddess Sarasvati. Disguised as a village maiden, Sarasvati is picking Kekatiya flowers from a brook.

On the bank is her lover (admirer), the village youth with a flute.(Samarakoon later drew a painting to illustrate the tryst). In love with the damsel, the boy is eager to join her in the frolic. She innocently dismisses his advances, teasing him that she would change form and drift away from him. Culmination of this song is her claim that she is illusive and that she would turn into a form invisible. However, the boy has the ultimate device to ensnare her and keep her in captivity. It is the sweet melody of his music from which she could never flee away. The language is poetic and beautifully rustic. Just like most of his successful compositions, in "Endada Menike" the poet and the musician are combined and are inseparable. Critics and fans were equally enthusiastic. Inspired by this success Samarakoon went on to create a string of successful songs in the early to mid 1940s, the period regarded as his golden era. Among his best known works are: "Podimal Etano", "Vilay Malak Pipila", "Poson Pohoda", "Asay madura" "Sunila Guvanay", "Punchi Suda", "nilvala Gangay", Sumano", "Pudamu Kusum", and "Siri Saru Saara Ketay".

In 1945 Samarakoon's only son died tragically at the age of five. Crushed by this grief, Samarakoon left the country. He roamed in India between 1947-1951, a period during which he probably did not compose any songs. He returned to his first love, painting and held eleven art exhibitions in India., Malaysia and Singapore. His work as a painter drew high critical acclaim. His illustration for the song "Endada Menike" drew the following remark from his contemporary Sunil Santha: "I would not venture into the task of discerning whether Samarakoon was born as a musician or a painter!"

In 1948, in his absence, one of his early compositions, "Namo Namo Mata" (composed in 1940, recorded in 1946) was nominated as the national anthem and was officially adopted by the State as the national anthem in 1952.

During the last ten years of his life (1951-1962), we witness a gradual decline in the artistry of his compositions. His association with the film industry as a lyricist and dialogue writer also did not yield any thing of substantial artistic merit. It was a fiasco in many ways.

The fame of being the creator of the national anthem became a bane. Critics were now savage on its lyrics, more particularly the "Gana" significance of the introductory words (Namo Namo Matha) which designate disease and ill luck. Samarakoon was not a believer in "Gana", and the criticism must have caused great pain to him. He wrote numerous articles counter attacking his critics in a naive and unlikely attempt to defend his composition. Without his consent, the introductory words were changed to "Sri Lanka Mathaa" so that the "Gana" significance now would designate victory and prosperity.

Samarakoon reacted strongly to this move and the manner in which it was done. Samarakoon had once vowed that he would rather sacrifice his life than allowing changes to the lyrics of his composition.

On 5 April 1962, Samarakoon committed suicide by taking an over-dose of sleeping tablets. He was fifty-one at the time of his death. Samarakoon's contribution in musical education is worthy of mention. RA Chandrasena, the man instrumental in introducing Victor Ratnayaka and Premasiri khemadasa studied music under Samarakon in early 40s. Pandit Amaradeva (W. D. Albert Perera) studied music under Samarakoon in late forties, and also worked as his understudy. Some of Amaradeva's early compositions were based on Samarakoon's lyrics.

Some early compositions of both Sunil and Amaradeva discern Samarakoon's style.

Listening to the original renderings of "Endada Menike", "Vilay malak Pipila", "podimal Etano", "Poson Pohoda" etc away from your motherland is an unique and an unforgettable experience. Samarakoon the timeless melody was also a prophet!

No comments:

Post a Comment