ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka music legend Sunil Shantha’s contribution to Sinhala Music will be the focus of a lecture by the National Trust, an organisation that promotes the awareness and protection of the island’s heritage.
"Although he lived for 65 years, his creative musical life was less than eight years, and yet the impact of these few years composing songs was profound on the Sri Lankan music world," says Tony Donaldson, an anthropologist who will deliver the lecture on February 28.
Donaldson holds degrees in music and anthropology from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and a PhD in music from Monash University in Australia.
His doctoral thesis had investigated ritual music in the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy. Donaldson was a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) in Singapore and has served as a consultant for the National Art Gallery in Singapore.
Sunil Shantha was also a photographer, which was not widely known.
"Sunil was also attracted to the visual arts, especially painting and photography – a subject that has received no attention in academic literature," Donaldson said in statement.
"His interest in photography began in the 1950s when he acquired a twin-lens Rollei flex camera.
"He went on to produce an intriguing body of works, which sometimes used dramatic lighting and shadows reminiscent of film noir – a cinematic genre popular between 1940 and 1959."
"By examining the aesthetics and composition, I argue that while Sunil used a simple visual format, the meaning behind the works was enigmatic and cryptic."
Donaldson says Sunil Shantha’s music shows remarkable craftsmanship which "which remains an integral part of this nation’s soul mainly because the power of words in his songs and the awe in which they are held informs much of the life and culture of Sri Lanka."
"Songs are not casual words like gossip, talk, or legends," he says. "They are like a document, an indication of the truth; the decorative and poetic side which is emphasized gives away to a stronger focus in life."
Donaldson is currently the researcher and writer for Bare hands Arts Project, based in Malaysia, which will produce an academic work involving over thirty artists from Jordan to Japan.
His publications are mainly focused on the arts and music in Asia, irregular warfare, and the history of special operations in World War II. (Colombo/Feb24/2019-SB)