Drumming it up for Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan percussionist Rakitha Wickramaratne and his band Naadro will give audiences at RIFF 2012 a taste of their different beats. Rakitha tells us about what rocks their sonic world
How did you get interested in percussion?
Since I was a kid; I was found making sounds, either by tapping my fingers on something, or by tapping things together. My parents decided to send their “noisy” child (who was only 5 then) to learn drumming at one of the maestros of traditional Sri Lankan drumming in Sri Lanka — Piyasara Shilmadhipathi, who changed the perspective of percussion art in Sri Lanka.
How did Naadro come into existence?
During the 16 years of mastering the arts of traditional Sri Lankan drumming and percussion under my Guru, Piyasara Shilpadhipathi, my music master at school had set me inspirations of Western drumming and percussion art at school — Royal College Colombo. With their guidance towards the international art of percussion, I had tuned my inspiration into experiments and was offered a brand endorsement by Latin Percussion, USA. During my research, I learnt of percussion ensembles. I wanted to take this further by gathering a team where we could set challenges and inspire each other, to be better each day.
I hunted down six young and professionally skilled traditional drummers of Sri Lanka, to make the ensemble. Naadro means the extracted power of sun; these six young men are the power I have extracted. Together, we had experimented and learnt through laughter and tears, and reached higher everyday of our journey together; expanded our styles from traditional Sri Lankan and western percussion to Indian, African, Japanese, Arabic and Latin American. It’s like having a little bit of everything good.
You use a range of objects in your performances including spoons and pots; how did this enter your performances?
It was in me. Strange but true — tapping and sound making (more like noise making in the beginning) had been there in me, ever since I could hold something in my fist. Apart from this, we were also inspired while experimenting and researching.
Does this add a special element to your acts?
It beautifully crosses boundaries we have set, which translate to “music being created through instruments.” We love that we can experiment, and that there are no boundaries, no limitations, being one with music; creations of sounds. This technique is one of the specialties we are known for today, as we have already produced a few tracks for commercial purpose in Sri Lanka. Now, the style has become a trend in the corporate and advertising sector in Sri Lanka.
What is most unique about Naadro?
Research, learn, experiment, practice and perform. Honestly, we don’t know if this is unique or not, probably it’s what everybody does; but it had given us a unique value on the local and international stages. There is always a concept and a background for each of our acts. This is what makes us unique
How did you know about and plan to come to RIFF?
Pete Lockett (Percussionist, UK) is a good friend of mine, who had performed at RIFF earlier. Pete introduced us to the Director of the Festival, Mr Divya Bhatia. After Divya heard us and had a dialogue, he then invited us to perform at Jodhpur RIFF this year.
What can an audience expect from your performance?
We don’t perform or play music to make the audience happy. We play what we enjoy. Our only belief is that we cannot simply create or perform something that we don’t enjoy to make someone else happy. We believe that the musician should create the “trend”, but not time or circumstances.
Who are your inspirations?
The rattle shake of an infant, the spin of the ceiling fan to the most professional, powerful and expert artists of the world — everything is an inspiration when we know the best place to extract the technique from.