Thriloka – Almost Acoustic
Friday 18th July, 2008
Russian Cultural Centre Hall,
I have an aversion towards Sri Lankan fusion music. One reason for this may be that I grew up listening to a healthy balance of different genres and therefore have a real love for what is loosely termed as Sinhala music. Whether it is vannam or nurthi songs or music from the gramophone era onwards, I love good (there is a need for emphasis since there is an incredible amount of the not-so-good kind) Sinhala music. There are beautiful melodies, meaningful lyrics and amazing talent, though for the past few years it has been becoming more and more mechanical.
Therefore when someone takes one of these melodies, plays it with an electric guitar with traditional drums backing it up or adds a few hiphop beats to it or inserts meaningless rapping in between the melody and then calls it fusion music, I believe my aversion towards it is justified. For me, fusion music should be much more than a shallow experiment. The musician should recognize the essence of a certain genre of music, understand its structure and meaning and then fuse it with another genre.
Needless to say, I was slightly apprehensive about Almost Acoustic. Thriloka is called a Sri Lankan Fusion Band and though the band comprised of talent I knew of or had heard of and though the few tracks I had heard were good, I still had reservations about the evening ahead. But by the end of the evening, I had rephrased my stance to ‘I have an aversion towards most Sri Lankan fusion music’ and hopefully this review would tell you why.
First on what they called ‘tonight’s fusion menu’ was Monsoon Rain, an arrangement based on a tune by Ananda Premasiri, a veteran musician at the SLBC (Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation) and a member of the Symphony Orchestra of Sri Lanka. I must confess I paid more attention to the individual musicians during this song because there was so much to observe. It was evident that each musician had excellent technique but it was not great technique that made them special. There was an almost tangible energy that pulled them together, something that was more evident in pieces like Unlucky Number and Seven 2 Six which had complex time changes. And most of all, they undoubtedly enjoyed themselves and despite there being no over the top showmanship, kept the audience glued to the performance.
My favorite was Loophole which featured Ranil Goonewardane of Hollow Point Halo. The answering passages between Sarani Perera and Ranil on guitar and between Sarani on guitar and Eshantha Peiris on piano were excellent. Arahatha Vandanava was based on a tune which was very familiar and the fusion was very subtle. Each time the tune was revisited, you realized that the diversion was so subtle as to leave you unconscious of it. With Seven 2 Six, Thriloka proved that they were constantly experimenting and evolving because the arrangement was completely different from the original in their debut album Bisura.
Harshan Gallage was probably born with drumsticks in his hands, as his solo performance proved. The drumming genes inherited from his father Hemapala Gallage who is a familiar face in the oriental music scene, were out in full force as he displayed technique I am yet to see in any other drummer in Sri Lanka. If I’m not good enough authority on this, then his teacher Aruna Siriwardena was recently on tv stating that Harshan is probably the best drummer in Sri Lanka to date. Search for ‘Harshan Gallage’ on youtube and you can see it for yourself.
Harshan along with Pabalu Wijegoonawardene who played a variety of percussion instruments were he two most animated musicians in the band and while it was evident that they were both skilled performers, their exuberance sometimes resulted in drowning the other instruments. Uvindu Perera on Bass in particular could not be heard most of the time and though there were initial problems with the sounds, I think the imbalance between the drums/percussion and the other instruments was more responsible for this. I had to strain my ears to hear the bass line complement the melodies.
Sarani Perera’s prowess in guitar was awe inspiring, more so because of how effortless he made it seem. Nebula can be described by one word only; trippy. I found myself closing my eyes and listening to the intricate changes that were hardly discernible. Sri Cuban brought out the performer in pianist Eshantha Peiris who I had so far only seen in his classical avatar. So needless to say I was amazed to see him almost get up from his seat while playing. Any attempt on my part to comment on the musicianship of these two musicians would put me in the danger of praising them too much and losing my credibility, so I think its best that you see them perform yourself.
A cover of Michael Jackson’s Earth Song was done and that was the only dish on that night’s menu that I didn’t like. I felt that it disturbed the flow of the rest of the pieces performed and when a band comprises of such talented musicians, you only want to see them challenge themselves more on each song they play. However guest artist CC who was a winner at last year’s TNL Onstage was surprisingly good. Surprisingly because I thought he was horribly off tune and mediocre when I watched him perform at Onstage finals but his performance at Almost Acoustic made me change my mind. Despite seeming slightly nervous (Thriloka doesn’t seem to be afflicted by nerves at all) his pitching was perfect and it was an enjoyable performance.
The closing item was Last Minute for which Thriloka was joined by Anthony Surendra on guitar and Kalani Perera on violin, who apart from being one of the best violinists in the oriental music scene, is also the proud father of Sarani and Uvindu. Though I can’t pinpoint to one particular snag, I felt that there was a lack of coordination between the band and the guest artists during this performance and I felt my attention drifting at times. Eshantha switched instruments for this piece, settling down on the floor to play a harmonium. I noticed that he was constantly bellowing the instrument, which was unnecessary but I suppose it is because hand coordination in a harmonium is different to that of a piano. But it was nice to see a harmonium being played because it is now an almost extinct instrument seen on stage, the organ having replaced it.
Almost Acoustic is the best live performance I have attended in a long time and there are only two suggestions I would like to make. One is a brief introduction to each piece, either in the printed programme or by the musicians themselves before they start playing. For an example, the programme described Nebula as ‘trip to Hameer from Poorya Dhaneshri’ and I did not understand it. Later Google told me that Purya Dhanashree is a raga but some further information to the uninitiated would have made the audience understand it better.
The other suggestion is about the venue. Understandably, there must be practical issues related to selecting a venue but a more relaxed venue would be better to better enjoy the kind of music Thriloka makes. One place I immediately thought of was Club Nuovo at Taj Samudra where there is a more intimate atmosphere because the audience can sit on the floor closer to the band. Even an outdoor location would be perfect though the unpredictable weather these days would make it difficult. If practicalities can be defied (the band had sponsored itself, which in itself shows that the circumstances may not be ideal), then a different venue would only enhance their performance.
Despite new bands mushrooming everyday, there is still a lacuna in the Sri Lankan music industry for good and original music and Thriloka has, for me, filled that void to a large extent. They are definitely worth your time and money and I look forward to more of their performances in the near future.