December 8, 2011

Lilting Tunes from Lanka - Sanath and Malkanthi Nandasiri in India - The Two Languages Have Many Words in Common

By Shalini Umachandran

(By courtesy of, 10th February 2003)

The Sinhalese language is rather like Tamil is what crosses the mind while listening to Sangeeth Nipun Sanath Nandasiri and Visharadha Malkanthi Nandasiri. "The two languages have many words in common because of the geographical proximity and cultural ties. Even the people of the two places have a lot in common," explained Sanath Nandasiri, who was in the city with his wife to perform at the Sri Lankan Music Fiesta 2003.

"We enjoy performing in India because it's like being at home. The faces, the cultures, the people - they all seem so familiar," said Malkanthi Nandasiri. They performed at the Music Academy this past week and the show was organised by the Sri Lanka Deputy High Commission in South India. This is not their first trip to India.

Sanath Nandasiri learnt Indian classical music in Lucknow in the 1960s under some exponents and has effectively adapted it to suit Sinhalese tastes. "We have adapted Hindustani classical music, incorporating Sinhala folk and tribal music as well," said Nandasiri. The combination has worked well.

During the two-hour concert, the duo sang about 20 songs, all in Sinhala but with a strong Hindustani base. Their music is rich and harmonious, with Malkanthi's sharp voice accompanying Nandasiri's deep, mellifluous tone. The concert started with a devotional song to the Buddha, followed by a couple of songs about a Buddhist monk recalling his life at home and prince Siddhartha expressing his love for the Buddha. They were accompanied by Sangeet Visharada Manoj Peries on the tabla and Sangeet Visharada Ajith Jayaweera on the harmonium.

Although some words were similar to Tamil, which made understanding the music easier, the introduction to each song in English was helpful. "But music crosses all boundaries; it's a universal language. You really don't need to understand the words to enjoy the harmony," reasoned Nandasiri. "After all, where words end, music begins," added Malkanthi.

This becomes especially true with their brand of music. Emotions came through their melodies as Nandasiri's voice expressed the feelings of a youth pining for the beauty and simplicity of village life. Then, he shifted into filmi mode with apparent ease as he sang a slow tune that he introduced as "very very popular film song in Sri Lanka."

One of the highlights of the show was `Doo Anuradha', a duet conveying the joy on the birth of a daughter. With its happy, almost folksy sound, the musical couple had the audience clapping and swaying to their tunes. The concert was part of efforts to strengthen ties between South India and Sri Lanka, said Sumith Nakandala, Deputy High Commissioner for Sri Lanka in Southern India. The show was the second in a series, which commenced with the Sri Lankan Film Festival held in Chennai in December.

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