Guitar Fest 2013: New dawn of music life in Sri LankaView(s):
By Gamini Akmeemana
The crowds clearly love it, and they keep getting bigger, as did the venue, for Guitar Fest 2013 held at the Nava Ranga Hala last Saturday.
The Guitar Association of Sri Lanka held its first fledgling presentation at the Russian Centre in Colombo, three years ago. It was a smashing success and they have obviously gone from strength to strength, with a steady and ever increasing following.
According to Amaranath Ranatunge, one of the leading lights of the GASL, and its secretary Mohammad Iqbal, Guitar Fest continues to be offered free of charge as a service to music lovers, with the aim of broadening people’s understanding of the guitar’s capabilities.
Guitar Fest 2013 certainly benefited much from the guest appearance of veteran compere Arun Dias Bandaranaike, whose wit and erudite knowledge of all forms of music added a new dimension to the occasion.
Like last time, the repertoire consists of a wide variety of guitar music, ranging from classical and flamenco to Hawaiian guitar, rock and heavy metal. But the number of classical and flamenco guitar performances, which dominated past events, were reduced, giving more space to pop, jazz and lighter genres.
The event got off to a fluid start with a superb rendition of the John Lennon classic ‘Imagine’ by students of the University of Aesthetic Studies, where Amaranath Ranatunge conducts the only degree course in classical and flamenco guitar in South Asia. Amaranath himself came on stage later to offer a display of virtuoso flamenco guitar technique. Misha Rodrigo, Jude Pieris and several others too, took turns with the classical guitar, an instrument still relatively unknown here though with a worldwide following comparable to any other classical instrument in Western music.
The occasion was enlivened by the presence of Ken Sugumata, a young Japanese guitarist who knows how to galvanise the audience. His repertoire of three songs included Japanese folk tunes as well as a rousing Brazilian song. Mohammad Iqbal, too, came on stage with two original songs, in honour of Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Ming and Sri Lankan nationalist leader Monaravila Keppetipola, both quite lyrical, sing-along type songs.
But it’s the rock and metal part of the show that the mostly young crowd was eagerly waiting for, and they were not disappointed – Derek Wickremanaike, Andrew Obeysekara, Upul Madhushanka and Anthony Surendra were there with their band members, playing everything from 1970s Steely Dan classics to country and Western hits and orginal, Sri Lankan heavy metal.
Indeed, the barriers between rock guitar and its classical sibling have been breaking down since the 1970s, with innovative musicians like Jimi Hendrix and Eddie van Halen showing that the two genres can be blended together., followed by great rock bands such Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. Some of this exciting ‘hybird’ music resonated through Nava Ranga Hala that evening, providing a rare treat for music fans who are normally treated to just the offerings of one genre.
Anthony Surendra, one of our finest and most talented pop musicians, but sadly away from the limelight these days, showed that he has lost none of the dynamism, originality and humour which made him a household name in the 1980s and 90s.
Accompanied by percussionists (including a thammattama or double drum), bass guitar and octopad, as well rhythm and bass, Surendra performed a highly original, witty and unforgettable version of the Gajaga Wannama (fondly nicknamed ‘dadoriyan wannama’ by Arun Dias before the performance).
The ensuing performance at Kandy included the ebullient Billy Fernando as well. I’m glad to say the event started without the usual delays, despite the presence of several chief guests.
The ubiquitous police presence and heavy-handed security wasn’t there, which means that Guitar Fest 2013 set a new standard for public performances in Sri Lanka. Let’s hope to see more of the good work next year, too.
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