If you're a fan of local artists you would have definitely heard of this dynamic duo! Multitalented Senani Gunatileke and musical Ryan De Mel are a force to reckon with in the Sri Lankan music industry. In this interview, they talk about life as musicians, their inspirations and dreams:
Q: What were your inspirations to become musicians?
Senani: Growing up, music had always been a part and parcel of my life. My dad was an avid jazz lover and the evenings after school would be filled with the sounds of Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday with a mix of Eagles and The Beatles playing in the living room. The love for music always resonated throughout the house. This definitely sparked my love for music at a young age and led me on to pursue music later on in life.
Ryan: I grew up in a household filled with music and there was always music in the background and singing in the house. The way music made me feel as a child and continues to do so even today, nothing else does that. So I think even as a child deep down a part of me knew that this is what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life, and so my mom enrolled me for vocal training with the legendary and celebrated Aunty Mary Anne when I was around nine. She is one of my biggest inspirations to be who I am today, not only as an artist, but as an individual and a teacher as well. She is truly a remarkable human being and has always inspired me with her ways.
Q: What is it like being a musician in Sri Lanka?
Ryan: It certainly isn’t easy being in an industry with minimal legislative support and one that’s independent where it requires us as artists to be our own agents, managers, creative directors and marketers and play every role in between switching caps when necessary, as we don’t have any major music labels established here yet to give artists that extra bit of support they may need to enter the industry or start making records. However I don’t think that means it’s impossible at all! If anything, it makes every little career win mean so much more because we’ve put in the work for it.
I also have to say that over the last few years we’ve seen rapid growth in the industry and some of the best music to come out from our little island being released. There’s definitely so many more opportunities now than there were a few years ago and so much of talent this country has to offer, and I’m confident that the barriers artists have today won’t exist for the artists of tomorrow with the way our music industry is developing every day.
Senani: Being a musician in Sri Lanka has been a fulfilling journey so far. The variety of audiences that exists, with a mix of both Sinhala and English music enthusiasts, definitely keeps you on your toes and makes creating music an exciting and novel journey to be on.
Q: As musicians, what do you think Sri Lanka can do better to support and help the music industry?
Senani: I think the music industry as a whole in Sri Lanka would definitely benefit with increased support towards aspects such as funding and creating equitable processes of compensation. The industry would also largely benefit in the advocacy of the overall image of becoming a musician as a respected and well-recognised career pathway.
Ryan: I’ve always believed that the fans and supporters and the people have the biggest voice and they have the power to make or break someone’s career and I think it’s very important that they know that, especially in a time like today where artists are barely getting by, every Like, Share, YouTube subscription and Play means everything to an artist, and the industry needs that support to keep musicians going in order to keep producing more music for the people, and even bring in new talent into the limelight and giving them the visibility and exposure they deserve. So if it’s one request I have, it's for the listeners to be ‘active listeners’. If you like a song, please do share it with someone or people you might think would also like it and spread that love as opposed to enjoying it alone. It costs nothing to share good music.
Q: Senani, how do you manage being a music teacher, dancer, writer and model plus a musician all at the same time?
Senani: Well I would be lying if I didn’t say it often gets quite overwhelming! My love for all aspects of what I do is definitely what keeps me going. My life wouldn’t feel as fulfilling as it does right now if one of those aspects of my work were to be given up on. So all in all, it’s the fulfilment and love for each of them individually that definitely makes balancing it all a smoother ride.
Q: Who is a local musician that you would love to collaborate with?
Ryan: It’s so tough to pick just one, because there’s so much amazing talent in this industry, and specialists in different genres and styles too! I have a dream team of personalities that I would love to bring together one day to work on a project, but if I had to pick just one to answer your question, I think it would have to be Umaria. I think our voices and styles would blend smoothly and we could make something big together, that could go global one day.
Senani: Picking only one artist is a toughie! I would love to one day collaborate with Umara and Umaria Sinhawansa and Viresh Cooray. I can’t just pick one, sorry!
Q: What would you say to those who’d like to become musicians/artists in the future?
Ryan: I would say that if that’s the dream and where the true passion lies, follow your heart and chase the dream. But nothing worth having comes easy, and passion and talent isn’t everything. It’s so important to learn a craft thoroughly and it’s even more important to stay humble and know that there’s something to learn every day in this fast evolving world of music in order to keep improving daily. Something I try to live by is to be a better version of myself tomorrow than I am today. And to anyone that wants to be an artist, fame and popularity should never be the reason anyone wants to be an artist. The craft always comes first. Everything else will follow if the heart is in the right place. Everything I’ve achieved up to date can be achieved by anyone else too. I haven’t done anything magical other than staying true to myself, putting in the work and staying hungry and always learning.
Senani: I would say, definitely be consistent in what you do and wholehearted in your efforts. Don’t give up easily and constantly be open to keep learning, through observation, through example and through trial and error. Find out what forms of music make your soul truly light up and don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and really push your boundaries. Your perseverance and humbleness is what will get you there in the end.
Q: Ryan, you recently released a new song, ‘Dare You to Move’; is there a story behind the song?
Ryan: So the story behind this track is that I started rewatching the ever popular TV series ‘One Tree Hill’ for about the 100th time and this track comes in one of the earlier episodes, and that scene immediately took me back to my teens and filled me with emotions of nostalgia and brought so many memories to life in an instant, and I had to express how I was feeling and I had to do it the best way I know how – through song, and so I came up with my own rendition of ‘Dare You to Move’ channelling those feelings into the arrangement and recording of that track, and that’s how the song came to life, and it’s become my biggest hit to date, bringing so many huge opportunities my way and I’m so grateful.