Wings in the wilderness

Pathmanath Samaraweera, one of Sri Lanka's foremost wildlife artists, will hold an exhibition of bird paintings at the National Art Gallery from January 24 to 26.

The artist remarks that the works "depict a small selection of the rich and varied bird life of Sri Lanka”. The finely crafted works span a period of four decades.

Several of the older paintings have been retouched.

Alongside a busy professional career, Dr. Samaraweera acquired a reputation not only for his art but also as a wildlife photographer and conservationist. In the latter role he was for several years an active member of the committee of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society.

His photographs have appeared in journals, greeting cards and calendars. Many will remember a classic shot of a Three-toed Kingfisher from the 1980s.

The species is among the portraits at the exhibition. This painting has been particularly praised by experts for the difficult task of accurate rendition of the bird's colours.

Two features of the artist are an exceptional skill at conveying the colours of our birds - often more vividly beautiful than we suspect, and, secondly, the portrayal of exact poses as captured by his own field sketches and 'working' photographs.

An unusual aspect of the exhibition is that some of the original sketches will be shown along with the paintings from them.

The artist has made extensive use of sketches he did in the field. In more recent years he has used photographic material to help fill in detail.

Eminem:From sinner to saint

George Bush called him 'the most dangerous threat to American children since polio'. For the past few years, he has been the bête noire of the Right and the Left alike, a performer with a talent for provoking that is as finely honed as his skill in shifting units. With songs like 'The Real Slim Shady', 'Kill You' and 'White American', he has earned the vilification of politicians, parents and teachers alike, while simultaneously becoming the most idolised figure in contemporary pop music.

Right now, he is not just the biggest rapper in America, but the biggest pop star on the planet. He is Marshall Mathers II aka Slim Shady aka Eminem.

His new film 8 Mile stars Eminem as Jimmy Smith Junior, a slight variation on his real self.

Ironically, Eminem's entrée into the mainstream occurs right at the moment when rap music, his chosen form, is being censured on British shores for promoting what Culture Minister Kim Howells last week called 'a culture where killing is almost a fashion accessory'. Rappers, according to Howells, were 'boasting macho idiots', which, by extension, makes the world's biggest rapper the most boastful macho idiot. Eminem would no doubt agree with all but the last part of that triple billing.

But hip hop is also, despite Howells's patronising and potentially racist dismissal, an American art form, as potent as film or fiction, which currently communicates with a huge constituency way beyond the reach of most novels or all but the successful movies. If that form has a poet laureate, a voice that speaks off and from the streets, and connects with that huge audience like no other, it is Eminem.

Revealingly, and some would say problematically, hip hop's biggest star is white. Like Elvis Presley and Mick Jagger before him, he has adopted - and adapted - a black form, earning, in the process, the kind of global celebrity - and infamy - his black contemporaries can only dream of.

8 Mile is a musical of sorts, an old-fashioned, redemptive narrative about a young man's struggle to escape his grim blue-collar surroundings by making it as a rapper. It is obviously autobiographical and, like West Side Story and Saturday Night Fever before it, illustrates the enduring mythology of the American Dream.

Eminem, though, is a young man who has found fame not by evoking the myth of the American Dream, but by describing, often in graphic detail, the reality of a relatively unarticulated American nightmare: the dark underbelly of the same poor, white, urban America that Michael Moore exposes on film. It is not overstating the case to say that Eminem is as reflective of his time as Bob Dylan was of his; and, in his own way, just as trenchant a social commentator. 'I'd say that Eminem is one of America's more acute social critics right now,' says Paul Gilroy, Professor of Sociology and Afro American Studies at Yale University.

'He is one of the few voices that is telling the truth about the implosion of white family life in America. Everything he says runs contrary to the all-American mythology of Mom and Pop and the happy children that Bush still propagates. And he speaks directly to all those other kids who are the product of broken homes, domestic violence and parental neglect.

‘Those images are there in all his videos, in the anger of his lyrics. Eminem is the bard of the destruction of the all-American family.' For precisely that reason, he is also the most problematic pop star of our time, a deeply troubled, and troubling, figure who alerts us, like the shootings in Columbine, to just how discontented, dysfunctional and prone to murderous rage some young, white alienated Americans are. His songs are fuelled by anger and hate, often towards women and gays, as much as any sense of social protest. And what antagonises his critics most is the way in which he seems to revel in that anger and hate.

On the now infamous The Marshall Mathers LP, where he created his alter ego, Slim Shady, to vent his murderous feelings, he fantasised about murdering his estranged wife and dumping her body in a lake, with the help of his infant daughter, whose actual voice, God help us, appeared on the gleeful chorus.

This was as hardcore and, many argued, as wilfully irresponsible, as pop music gets. Some, like Percival Everett, black American author and professor of English at the University of Southern California, view him not as a social critic but as an ignorant reactionary. 'If Eminem s music and lyrics are any indication of his intelligence, then I am mystified,' Everett says. 'The man is too dumb to be radical, too derivative to be threatening and too predictable to be seminal. The sad thing is that an untalented, homophobic man who abuses and hates women should be popular at all.'

That is a view shared not just by the Right but by many liberal parents who have found that Eminem's music has a particular fascination for not just impressionable teenagers but youngsters more usually drawn to the harmless inanities of manufactured pop puppets. The only thing more disturbing than horror-show violence, misogyny and homophobia, it seems, is horror-show violence, misogyny and homophobia welded to the most compulsive beats and pop melodies in contemporary music.

With producer Dr Dre at the helm, though, Eminem's songs possess a pop sensibility that is currently second to none. It is there in the wonderful rhyming schemes, the taut melodies, and the flowing, often involved, lyrical wordplay that reached an apogee of sorts in 'Stan', a song delivered in the voice of an obsessive fan who ends up committing suicide when the object of his devotion does not return his affection.

Having exposed the dark heart of American suburban society, Eminem cast a similarly cold eye, and keen intelligence, on celebrity culture. Almost simultaneously, though, that same celebrity was wreaking havoc on his personal life. After being torn to shreds verbally throughout the Slim Shady album, his long-suffering mother sued him for 'emotional distress' to the tune of £7 million. (She was awarded £1,000.)

In one volatile week in 2000, he was arrested for waving a gun at a rival rap posse, and for pistol-whipping a man he thought had been kissing his now estranged wife, Kim, in the car park of a Detroit club. In performance, he had taken to dragging a blow-up doll on stage and stabbing it repeatedly with a knife while singing the aforementioned 'Kim', which ends with the lyric: 'Bleed, ..., bleed.' Their turbulent on-off romance ended messily after she attempted suicide by slitting her wrists in July 2000 (Eminem is also believed to have twice attempted suicide). With each outrage, his ascendancy has continued apace, the ire he fuels in his detractors only shoring up his iconic status among his devoted audience.

Two years is a long time in pop music, though. Enough time for opinions to change, for yesterday's anti-hero to metamorphose into tomorrow's lovable role model. Ask Mick Jagger. Ask Ozzy Osbourne. And so it is that Eminem suddenly seems to be undergoing a rehabilitation of sorts in the same media that once called for his lyrics to be censored, his records and concerts to be banned. Recently, the New York Times ran an 8,000-word essay by its august cultural critic, Frank Rich, reappraising the unrepentant rapper's cultural impact.

His name was invoked more than once last week in the debate about rap and violence, but there was an air of going through about it all. Perhaps he is now simply too big, too mainstream, to be the kind of easy target he was when his music was new and potent and effortlessly provocative. Whatever, with the release of 8 Mile, the man that American critics are calling 'the new James Dean' has proved himself to be not just a pretty face and a foul mouth, but an actor of some skill and credibility. In the process, his unstoppable global ascendancy continues apace
-The Observer, London

Kala Korner by Dee Cee
He deserved the 'treat'

It's not often that a lyric writer gets recognition. It's either the singer, be it male or female, or the one who provides music who becomes the talking point. It's their effort that is appreciated. Thus when lyric writer Bandula Nanayakkarawasam's creations were presented at the BMICH the other day, it was a well deserved tribute. A few of his friends had got together and organised the show featuring leading singers.

For the past 22 years, Bandula has used his pen to create beautiful lyrics. They were given life by the country's topmost artistes, set to music by musicians in the top bracket today. Leading the list is Rohana Weerasinghe who conducted the orchestra at the show.

It would have been a tough task to pick 22 out of hundreds of Bandula's creations for the evening. (That's the count I got watching the show on Rupavahini the other night). The show was titled 'Sina Thotak' (from a popular song written by Bandula and rendered exquisitely by Nirosha Virajini), as was the CD and audio cassettes released to mark the occasion.

Although there are full time musicians today, the lyric writer cannot be 'gainfully employed' merely by writing songs. So, like most others, Bandula had to find employment to keep himself going. He is with the Commercial Bank serving at the Matara branch. As the Bank's chairman Mahendra Amarasuriya confessed publicly, they were not aware that the Bank possessed a national asset although they knew Bandula was a creative guy. How nice to hear a company boss utter such appreciative words!

Fellow lyric writer, Professor Sunil Ariyaratne was quite amazed at Bandula's achievements, he being in an environment that may not be the ideal for a creative person. "He is all the time dealing with ayiras (overdrafts), preshana (remittances), naya (loans), vigamya balapath (outward bills), sancharaka checkpath (travellers cheques) and pevarum (transfers). He meets clients who either come rushing to get a facility or to plead for more time to pay the loan instalments. Amidst all these, it is really creditable for Bandula to have written such lovely lyrics," he said.

For Dr. Carlo Fonseka, some of Bandula's romantic songs make him feel young and good to this day. "I didn't have the fortune of enjoying a romantic relationship during my university days.

Ever since I heard the comment that I was not nice looking by a student looking at my marks when they were put up on the board after my first year results when my name was right on top, I decided to become a book worm. I did and I topped the batch winning some gold medals at the final exam but never succeeded in finding a girl," he admitted.

The show was lively with no formal speeches but with many of Bandula's associates being called upon to say a few words from where they were in the audience. The male and female singers( from veterans Nanda Malini, Sanath Nandasiri, Sunil Edirisinghe, Edward Jayakody to Deepika Priyadashini, Kolitha Bhanu Dissanayake and many more) showed their appreciation picking their favourites from what Bandula had written for them.

And while they sang and said nice things about him, the shy, unassuming Bandula sat with his family enjoying every bit of it, sometimes blushing at the comments made by his fellow Richmondites bringing back memories of his school days.

A beautiful prelude to Christmas

A 'Festival of Christmas Readings Carols' was held in December at 'Union Church', Welisara.

The processional hymn 'Once in Royal David's City' by Henry Gauntlet was a fitting introduction. The choir walked down the aisle as Mihiri Rajaratnam sang the first verse solo.'O Lovely Voices of the Sky’, a traditional English carol was sung in a light and sprightly manner. Two of the verses were sung by the full choir with only the sopranos and altos taking up the second verse.

Josiah Holland's 'There's a song in the air' was almost a lullaby. The intrinsic beauty of lines such as "there's a mother's deep prayer" and "A baby's low cry" was sung in cadences that rose and fell making threads of music in depth and feeling. The variance of voice tones brought out the beauty of this musical composition.The first verse of 'O Christmas Tree' a German melody of earlier times was rendered as a duet by Christine Seneviratne (soprano) and Raj Amirthaiya (tenor). In the second verse sopranos and altos harmonized and the third verse included the deep, bass tones of Guy Seneviratne.

"Angels from the Realms of Glory" taken from S. Montgomery's 18th Century religious compositions, was sung in flowing notes reaching a crescendo on "worship Christ the new-born king" which was the chorus.Eroshini Eaton's new version of "Away in a Manger" sung in haunting, intense strains, was accompanied by Warren Jayawardena on the organ. She captured the poignancy of that melody .

The Doxology (St. John's) converted to music in 1857 was sung just before the finale "Silent Night" for which the church was darkened. This enduring carol was sung softly. The choristers walked down the aisle and on to the porch holding 'pahanas' with lighted candles within. Each 'pahana' was decorated with a tangled strip of multi-coloured tinsel.

The choristers were assisted by Olivia Dharmadasa on the organ and trained by Guy Seneviratne who also was the only bass. Nevertheless his voice effectively played a part and merged with the soprano, altos and tenors.

All in all this choir which has just eleven voices and a few years since its inception, created a spiritual significance and a beautiful prelude to Christmas.
Caryl Nugara


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