By Cheranka Mendis
An old lady in a worn out red dress with her feet tucked in sits on the new mats laid in front of the stage. Oblivious to the hooting, clapping and whistling a permanent smile plays on her lips, a contrast on her withered face. Battered old hands rise in harmony to the rhythms as she claps almost unknowingly to the beats created. She sways to the music, and despite the words being foreign to her old ears, she enjoys.
It was the first in a long time, that the people of Jaffna witnessed a positive culture clash as the Jaffna Music Festival unfolded at the Jaffna Municipal Grounds next to the famous Duraiappah Stadium. It was the first for many youngsters to be part of an event this big featuring artists from around the Peninsula, other parts of the country and even from the global music world. It was the first time for many artists to perform on a stage with lights and sound in place and most importantly it was the first in many years that some of the recitals were ever performed.
Sharing her views of the Music Festival with Weekend FT Ishani Ranganath of the Ranganath Dancing Academy in Warakapola who with her team of 12 dances travelled to Jaffna on request of the organizers stated that the event was both an educational and a valuable one. “We witnessed many cultural performances that were almost a dying art in Sri Lanka. Not only that we witnessed the cultures of other countries through music, dance and performance. It made us realize there is so much in the world that we are ignorant about.” Being a professional dancer Ranganath stated that the Tamil cultural performances were easier to understand as they had studied their crafts before. “It was however interesting to see the international groups among which the group from Rajastan and South Africa received very good response from the audience.
Travelling to Jaffna after a lapse of years Ranganath stated that it feels like “I have entered another country. I cannot identify with the colours, shapes, roads or the language of the people. The only thing is that we don’t carry a passport,” she smiled. “But they are good people, very kind and hospitable. The only problem is that the language barrier separates us from communicating.” Her group performed upcountry dancing and traditional singing.
Sri Lankan Kaffirs with their dark skin, afro hair and luscious lips could easily beat Shakira in a dance off. They shake, they move, they glide and they hold the rights of spreading Baila tunes around the country. Originally brought to Sri Lanka as cheap labour today the community itself is a diminishing one. Peter Luvi, the song bird of the group paused their performance to talk to us. “It is said that we arrived in 1817 from the Mozambique. Our community which has only about 20 families resides in Puttalam. The cultural performance and our songs have been passed down from generation to generation and we are highly thrilled to be able to perform amidst such a crowd today,” Luvi said.
Belonging to the 6th generation of performers Luvi and his team uses a dolak, rabana, pokas, spoons and a bottle filled with water as instruments to create music. The women’s’ main task is to dance. Attired in long flowing dresses with prints they move with such ease they draw a whole crowd to their tent.
Meanwhile the group of three from Norway ‘Tindra’ sharing their experience stated that this was one that will definitely go down in memory. “We first performed to a school of 300 students in Anuradhapura. It was very exciting as we did not know how people are going to react. However it was a rewarding experience,” Jorun Marie Kvernberg who plays the fiddle for the group said. “At some festivals you get this vibe- the atmosphere creates it and when we went on stage the first time at the Jaffna music festival we felt good. So we did well.”
Charlie Rishmawi of Sabreen Association from Palastine commented, “It is a great idea to gather people from all over the country. It’s amazing how so many people came to watch it despite Sri Lankans been known for their love for cricket. We liked performing as their response is enthusiastic and they truly seemed to appreciate our culture even though there was a language barrier in place.” The event was funded by Royal Norwegian Embassy and USAID and implemented by Sewalanka Foundation, Concerts Norway and Aru Sri Art Theatre.