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'Bob Marley is big in Sri Lanka'

Sri Lanka-based DJ/music producer Emanuel, who was in town last weekend, chats about how Bob Marley continues to be every rickshaw wallah's favourite in the island nation

From Indian ghazals and Celtic chanting to German new-age electronic music project Enigma conceived in 1990, Sri Lanka-born DJ/music producer Emanuel was privy to a variety of music while growing up. “When I was 10, one of my mother's friends gifted me a bunch of CDs, including albums from Faithless (Electronic), Coolio (Rap) and Cameo ('80s Disco). In my early teens, I heard politically conscious Hip-Hop from America and later, discovered that Techno, House and Disco stem from social movements and have roots in Soul, Blues or Jazz,” shares the artiste, whose sets include all these influences, along with sounds from the island nation. With an aim to expand Sri Lanka's native sound-scape, Emanuel recently founded Luna Terrace, an infinity pool bar in the southern part of the island, which hosts gigs featuring international artistes. Excerpts from an interview:

Q. Tell us about the current music scene in Sri Lanka.
A. Sri Lanka has a varied musical landscape. It ranges from traditional Baila (a colonial fusion of Latin melody and African rhythm) to Jazz, Reggae, Rock, Hip-Hop and a variety of Electronic Music. There has been an evolution of sound over the last decade. For instance, Reggae, although still loved, is played less at beach bars, due to EDM's (Electronic Dance Music) world domination, a sound that has even reached Sri Lanka's rural villages, let alone Colombo's club scene.

Luna Terrace, an infinity pool bar founded by Emanuel. Pic courtesy/Sandun de Silva
Luna Terrace, an infinity pool bar founded by Emanuel. Pic courtesy/Sandun de Silva

In the West, it is common for underground sound such as Free Jazz or Independent Electronic to have surfaced commercially. In Sri Lanka, such sound is still 'underground' and sprouting at grassroots level. However, if there was one artiste who has had the greatest national presence for many years, it would be Bob Marley. Every other Sri Lankan rickshaw displays an image or a quote of his.

Q. Considering the proximity, any Indian influences that can be found in Sri Lanka's soundscape?
A. The Sri Lankan sound is born through a confluence of a rich natural environment and an ancient evolution of culture and history. For instance, when you imagine the 'sound of Sri Lanka', you can hear the blowing of a conch shell, drum roll, intense chanting and echoes of tropical birds. Sri Lanka boasts a collection of native drums and has adapted most of India's classical instruments in its inventory. In fact, versions similar to Baila can also be heard in Goa. It is rhythmic and dance-y.

Q. In what way do you mix Sri Lankan sounds in your sets?
A. Though I am definitely inspired by Sri Lanka and its natural and cultural assets, I don't specifically mix native Sri Lankan music in my sets. However, I do mix some Indian music, and at times, the Asian underground music that samples Indian Classical sounds. Currently, I am working with a friend on the production of an Indie-dance album that has a good amount of Sri Lankan inspiration.

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