Today we’re pleased to bring you an interview with Suresh De Silva the lead singer of Legendary Sri Lanka band: Stigmata. :Like Myanmar (which has an excellent Punk Rock Scene) or Thailand (which also can shred guitars with the best of Nations), Stigmata’s popularity and lyrics are a forceful rebuke to the “Beach and Buddha” stereotypes that most travel companies use to promote these nations. Ignoring the plurality of faiths, cultures and voices that make them so unique.
Below please find our interview with Suresh, contact Asia Art Tours for your next authentic Sri Lankan Holiday, with the artists of this incredibly diverse nation
- In your own words, what is the most exciting Art happening now in Sri Lanka. This can be anything (plays, architecture, films, painting). What art in Sri Lanka is exciting to you?
The Performing and Creative Arts in Sri Lanka is currently at a very interesting place and journey. It’s certainly flourishing in terms of creativity and authenticity, the risk taking and the truly talented groups and individuals pushing the boundaries and limits of what is deemed possible and not. The last decade and a half has been rife with talent across the spectrum be it Music, Art, Theatre and even more Corporate based endeavors from the Creative Industry to Architecture and Design.
However the country as a whole lacks certain infrastructure development and proper operational frameworks for funding, media backing and stakeholder advocacy across the gamut as well. This can be a good and bad thing. On one hand this gives the creators the incentive to develop a D.I.Y. approach. We live in a time with social media platforms, more avenues and channels to promote oneself and propagate more awareness for themselves. The independent need to not depend on external entities to get your art/creations freely or widely out there is predominant, and I feel personally this encourages and pushes people to get out of their comfort zones, get off their arses, cease to be languid and complacent and go out there to be seen and heard. It’s a basic stage of a revolutionary step that has been apparent throughout history, all over the world. As creators we conceive and tell stories. We as artists give people hope, purpose, meaning and help them face their demons in a way. We allow people to not be afraid to dream, to reach inside to those abysmal and uncanny places that we don’t always access or make a focal point to address or examine. It is escapism isn’t it? Giving people freedom to be themselves or to explore the unknown.
Sri Lankans are some of the most talented people in the world, but also among the laziest, feeling entitled to things without working towards it.
On the other hand, not every creative group or individual may have the same drive, experience, ambition and impetus to foster the aforesaid motivation and vision. It IS hard here for creative entities outside the mediocre and mainstream framework. Funding for one thing, national support and backing is another and media/press support can certainly be focused on more groundbreaking talent as opposed to encouraging flash in the pan, here today, gone tomorrow entities that have no real staying power, or anything unique to offer.
Theatre is in a great place, despite the hindrances some face in terms of funding. Jerome de Silva and the Workshop Players (who I had the privilege of working playing the lead of Judas in Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Jesus Christ Superstar in 2013) are doing world class theatre productions and they are easily toe to toe with Broadway stuff. Jehan Aloysius and Centrestage Productions are doing cutting edge, groundbreaking original productions (I played the guest lead of a tyrant in RAG the Musical last year). Jehan Bastians and Neidra Williams are doing solid stuff, Kevin Cruze and Ruvini de Chickera are engaging audiences with great and intense productions in English Theatre. However Sinhala Theatre is also thriving, in terms of the sheer quality and standards of the performances and plays.
Take Writers. For a long time the Sri Lanka literary circles like most other industries were dominated and manipulated by a certain elitist movement. If you don’t fit into their social circles then you really don’t stand a chance of having a platform to showcase your work. That’s all changed now. Take Yudhanjaya Wijeratne who is the most successful young Sci-Fi author in the world, hailing from Sri Lanka and he will be the only author ever from our isle to be signed up by a major publishing company; one of the world’s Top 5 to be precise. He has pushed the boundaries of how to reach larger audiences online and via communicating effectively on social media. Take Shehan Karunathileka a brilliant novelist from SL, who continues to awe inspire the world with his work. I was able to write and self publish my debut collection of writing titled ‘From Chaos to Catharsis’ last year as well, and it’s sold out two full physical print runs in less than 8 months. I had so much encouragement and backing from those who did Readings at my launch to the Barefoot Café and some friends and well wishers that it gave me the confidence to go ahead and defy the norm and launch my own work independently. We have some amazing Poets, Authors and Other Creative Writers here as well. Megan Dhakshi, Lilanka Botejue, Sundary de Alwis, Navin Weeraratne and many, many more.
There are some fantastic Artists in the country, from legends like David Paynter to Lionel Wendt to modern artists like Yasmin Buckman to Isuri Dayaratne to so many more who contribute their uniqueness and aesthetic to Sri Lankan Arts. One of the most innovative and revolutionary artists at the moment is Madhri Samaranayake, who is truly world class.
Music in 2018 in Sri Lanka is at an interesting place. Among the many covers bands and jukebox tribute artists there are original musicians and artists that are putting Sri Lanka on the world map as forward thinking visionaries and revolutionary creators. Stigmata is celebrating our 18 year anniversary this year as the nation’s pioneering and premier Heavy Metal Band. We have carried the flag for our country touring the world and having a body of work critically acclaimed worldwide, from the Discovery Channel to the BBC UK. We also have some amazing Professional Musicians, Sound Engineers and Producers now to so many different Bands from a variety of genres doing some interesting stuff and performing more shows. Bands like Paranoid Earthling, Thriloka, Salvage, Nathasha Rathnayake, Asela Perera, Daddy, Doctor and Constellation deserve to be mentioned. Artists like the amazing Sanjeev Niles is creating brilliant original music and Shehara Jayathileke is doing great stuff too and of course Soul Sounds though cover centric is a world class talented choir.
Also the Lankan Comic Con committee and forums are doing amazing work to develop the creative culture and build networks globally as well, in all kinds of mediums.
It’s a very exciting time right now because with social media and a modicum of common sense and some strategy behind your marketing and promotions artists have a voice to spread their art to new audiences globally. Personally I think the Performing Arts are holding a mirror to society and the world at large and raising awareness of a lot of the stuff that’s happening around us, while also educating people on our heritage and history as well.
- When you look at Sri Lanka how does the art of the past, compare to the art of right now? Where do you see the future of Sri Lanka Art heading?
Our country has a diverse and rich history and heritage spanning back centuries, even before the first official documented writings which were in 543 B.C., and there are reasons why our nation has been an epicenter of attention for writers, scholars, geographers, voyagers, annalists, merchants, adventurers and colonists in the past. We have our own aesthetic and authentic Art, Music and Culture and in many ways they were ahead of that respective time. Naturally there is a larger Western influence with the modern day Performance Arts. Yet take what we in Stigmata do for instance which is globally recognized as ‘Pure Sri Lankan Metal’, it is not just a catchy strap line or moniker we have utilized, but our formula and body of work since our genesis contains Sri Lankan and Cultural musical elements from the rhythm structures to the percussive arrangements to the time signatures and scales and modes used in our sonic formula.
I feel the only comparisons really are that those that are truly passionate share a connective thread where they create art not for money or popularity or just for leisure, but because it is a labour of love. When you are passionate about something you don’t let your creations be validated by what others think and feel. You realize it is not a race or a competition. You create something that means something to you, you exorcise your sentiments and bring it to life and light because it’s therapeutic and it’s self medicating in a way. I think all great art pushes boundaries, challenges the status quo and defies convention. To me that’s a big part of why we do what we do. To be a voice for the voiceless and to be a sanctuary for the disenfranchised and those outlaws in society from all walks of life. Like I answered your earlier question in sedulous detail, listing out some of the icons of the past and present we have had stellar innovators in days past, but we also have some superb innovators today. The fine line and balance between good and great art is perseverance, endurance and honesty. As long as an artist is true to her/himself I think the creative nucleus will never abate and those creative wells will never run dry. Overall we so much talent across the spectrum and perhaps it’s time more people recognize it and have an opportunity to be exposed to it.
I see the future of art heading on a creative trajectory that’s brilliant. Yet it would be better to see some solidarity in terms of wider state and corporate support for artists, be it for producing stuff or distributing them or even fostering a steadfast hub where all original artists can network and have a common moniker under which to gather or unite. I realize this has been attempted before and it sounds superficial. But there is a famous saying that an Artist is only as good as his/her paint. I would like to add skill and experience onto that idiom as well. However we need to see if the necessary resources are widely and economically available, if there are places to display and promote the aforesaid work, if there is enough media attention on real, hardworking artists and not just the popular ones, that are seen on glossy lifestyle magazines and at popular hangouts. Everyone has a voice. And everyone’s voice is special. But not everyone is talented in the same way. All Artists from all walks of life need to have more productive and practical means to express themselves and reach larger audiences without compromising their artistic integrity.
- What are the conversations right now happening in Sri Lanka society, and how are these conversations playing out through the arts? Could you give us an example of an artist you like who has something to say about one of these contemporary issues?
If you are referring to Social Listening and paying attention to overall communications in line with how target groups feel about advocating local Arts, it’s better than it was say 20 years ago when we started. Look at the activity online, look at the behavior of target groups that support different types and genres of music. The Heavy Metal and Rock genres have always prided itself in building loyal and longstanding followers and supporters from the grass level up. We see consistent support at live shows and people willing to spend and purchase original albums, merchandise etc. Stigmata have always pioneered innovations whether it was being the first band to truly embrace social media here or to create and offer our fans a variety of exclusive merch. We engage with our audiences frequently and we let them contribute their sentiments from what we create and design to the paraphernalia we conceive. Because truth is that everything needs to spin full circle, and for that to happen it is unified effort of the Artist, all Stakeholders involved and the Fans. A scene and movement will rest on the strength of these foundations.
In a nutshell, we have along with a few others shaped an infrastructure for Artists in our genre of music to have more opportunities to tour overseas and be internationally recognized but to also have advancements in raising the bar in terms of concerts, studio recordings, the presentation of what we release to fans and also in terms of fashion and lifestyle. This was not always so in the late ‘90s and early 2000’s. People frowned upon originality and anything that was cut against the grain and popular vein. So consider for a moment that we have headlined festivals overseas, performed for 40,000 strong at the Dhaka Army Stadium in Bangladesh to a full house at the prestigious Forum Theatre in Melbourne, Australia, to playing the Music Room at the Majestic Hall in Dubai for 200 people. We’ve been not so much as breaking boundaries as annihilating them for a long time.
To answer the second part, I am sure you’ll find an answer suitable to the context in some of my earlier responses. The contemporary issues more than anything else I see, is people just being lazy and expecting things to be handed to them. If you want something, you have to work your heart and soul to achieve it. There’s no cutting corners or a safe middle ground. What point is there in caging an Eagle? A bird is meant to fly.
- What influences do you see from foreign countries on Sri Lanka and/or Sri Lanka Art? And do you see any influences from Sri Lanka acting on foreign countries?
My opinion is that leaving aside purists and elitists, every culture and civilization is an amalgamation of different influences and inspiration. From music, art, architecture to engineering… from the Minoan and Mycenaean Civilizations to early Egyptian, Greek, Roman and Persian Civilizations to even our own… from trade and explorations, societal systems, practices, methods, means and techniques… all these things have been passed down and its all mixed up to a great degree. We are fortunate to be geographically placed in a favorable point where we receive the best of all the Eastern, Middle Eastern and Western influences in terms of Art, impacting a lot of stuff from the creative arts to engineering to science and commerce. Look at the milestones left behind by the Portuguese, Dutch and Brits who colonized us. One can’t deny that there has been a positive influence for every negative one people will throw out there.
Take our music, we incorporate everything from Jazz, Fusion, Blues, Classical, Latin, Middle Eastern Music, Funk, Folk, Progressive Rock, Thrash and Extreme Death Metal to espousing our own cultural sounds; Baila into our sonic framework. There are no limits to inspiration and the world moves on while inspiring each other. It’s the only way forward. We are all different, some indifferent and yet we are finally all the same. We are born, we live, we die. You slit anyone’s wrist the blood flows red. Racial, religious and hereditary differences are subjective. Universally humanity has always been the same and so shall we always be. For better or for worse.
To answer the second part, absolutely. Just look around you. Maybe they are subtle nuances but nevertheless they are what they are.
- From Sri Lanka or any country, what’s the work of art (music, film, dance, play, painting, etc..) that has had a large impact on your life? Why?
From Sri Lanka, we have certain rhythms and aesthetics in our veins, in our blood. It’s an ongoing thing really, to absorb and keep learning, in whichever vocation you may be a part of. Same goes for art and theatre, film and literature. In a way those influences are kinda primary influences that always remain with us. I am personally inspired by really evocative writing, I love thought provocative poetry and art, I love theatre that engages audiences and gets them to think. I could see a design by someone like Madhri Samaranayake or hear a piece of music composed by fellow Stigmata founder and lead guitarist Tennyson Napoelan and be inspired. Inspiration isn’t from one central place. It’s everywhere, it’s all over. Be it in film, TV shows, music, art, literature etc.
As an Actor I am influenced by everyone from Al Pacino to Bryan Cranston to Jennifer Lawrence to Mathew Mcconaughey to film makers like Francis Ford Coppola, David Fincher to Darren Aronofsky to Stanley Kubrick. As a Writer I love everything from Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, J.R.R. Tolkien and Sir Terry Pratchett to Mo Hayder. Art I appreciate everything from Vincent van Gogh to Leonardo Da Vinci. As a Creative Director I encompass influences from all over the place and look at people like Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs to people like Annika Senanayake and Chevaan Daniels here in SL that are relentless corporate icons in terms of striking a work and personal balance but shaping milestones for their respective conglomerates.
The music that has had the biggest impact in my life is Heavy Metal and Hard Rock. Why? Because it always made me feel like I am home. It resonates with me. It speaks to me and what I feel. Also it to me the form of music that is intricate, powerful, engaging, poetic, evocative, it speaks of issues and things that need to be spoken about, it’s bold, it’s unapologetic and rebellious. It revolutionizes the music industry once every while and does it irrefutably. All things needed to give the world a kick up the butt in my opinion, to wake it up from its complacent slumber. Again I love Johnny Cash as much as I love Nevermore. I love The Beatles as I do Bob Dylan. I love Sisters of Mercy as I do Def Leppard or Duran Duran. I adore Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Death and Morbid Angel but also love Chris Isaak and Stevie Wonder.
- Lastly, for Asia Art Tours, what is the one thing you would like to tell our travelers? It could be what you’re working on. What you’re thinking about? The last thing you ate? Anything at all 🙂
For Travelers: Sri Lanka is a place so rich with heritage sites, legacy, culture and a longstanding history, with unique flora and fauna to diverse cultural backdrops to unique monuments of ancient engineering that will leave you spellbound. We have forests, beaches, arid plains, highlands and a variety of landscapes that make our country a tourist hotspot for sure. But upon your first or next visit, remember that as much as you ought to go on all your excursions and adventure jaunts, sightseeing and traveling, experiencing the best of leisure and culture check out the Performing Arts in our country, come for gigs, attend exhibitions and come experience something that’s not on the travel brochures and websites. Check out the Galle Fort Walk done by a friend Shanjei Perumal who has revolutionized how walking tours are done. Catch a couple of theatre productions and even take a stroll around the Colombo 7 Green Path area where Canvas Painters from around the island display and have their work for sale on weekends.
What the Band is working on:
Tenny and I were bestowed the honor of composing an anthem for our Alma Mater for the S.Thomas’ College centenary celebration at Mount Lavinia by the Warden of our College. We just wrapped up the recording of that at ARK Studios with Kasun Sandarage. It’s called ‘Forever One’ and featured four amazing students from the College Canto Boys Choir on vocals and it will be released prior to the 139th Battle of the Blues encounter next week in March. This is one of the greatest honors of our lives.
Stigmata meanwhile are working on celebrating our 18 year anniversary this year with a string of performances, tours and gigs planned throughout the year. We are working on new music at the moment, and are really elated how it’s shaping up. We hope to hit a recording studio soon and start recording a new EP that we hope to release with a new music video or two supporting the new singles around Summer. It’s everything we are known for, except we have evolved further, there’s more heaviness, more groove, more seamless blending of intricacy and subtlety, it’s catchy as a fire in hell too. Expect a killer new website and more limited edition and exciting Merch to be launched later this year as well. We just launched a limited edition T-shirt which sold out in under a month. We need to finally get our existing body of work on ITunes and other platforms and we are going to OWN this year.
What I am working on: I am currently working on my second novel, which is a black comedy in space… think Star Wars meets The Discworld Series meets Monty Python. I have no idea when that will see the light of day, but it will be later this year.
What I am Thinking About: Right now? I’d rather not go into detail J
The Last Thing I Ate: Mutton Rolls from Fab?
Thank you for interviewing me, it is my pleasure and I do hope this will suffice.
For more information on meeting Stigmata or Art Tours in Sri Lanka like our “Past and Post Colonial Modern Art Tour”, contact Asia Art Tours Today! Matt@asiaarttours.com