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A researcher’s love for folk songs

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A negative consequence of not having a broad research system to pursue knowledge on folklore can be linked to folk songs or the tunes being fraudulently introduced to the modern world as new creations of an individual, opined budding folk music researcher Pasindu Chamara Pahalamedagama, in an interview with The Nation.

 “While we were on a research trip at a village of Veddhas in Moneragala district, we heard a song which sounded extremely familiar. Therefore we stopped by the women who were singing while harvesting Kurakkan to see why this song sounded familiar. It was similar to a famous song we listen to on the radio,” he described one of his experiences. “This village was far away from the town and didn’t even have electricity by then. Therefore there is no way that they could have heard the song played on the radio. It was their song,” he said adding, “At least those words are conserved today, although under a different name. This cannot be the only incident.”

Pasindu resides in Kotte and he received his school education at Thurstan College, Colombo. He received the opportunity to study Ethnomusicology at the University of Visual and Performing Arts after completing school education. He first studied music at his school and later joined Ranwala Balakaya as a permanent member of the team. Currently he is employed as a teacher at Kothalawala Maha Vidyalaya, Ratmalana.

In addition, he runs Pasindu Art Academy to support the students who are interested in folk music. With the support of the Art Academy he will be launching an experimental music collection Iskoleta Jana Gee along with a Country Music Festival at Lionel Wendt on January 30 from 6.30 pm onwards. “Foundation for the Iskoleta Jana Gee was laid through this art academy. Most of the rhythms included in the CD were discovered through the activities of the academy,” he said.

http://www.nation.lk/edition/images/logo/notebook.jpgIn 2011, Pasindu bagged the award for the Best Folk Music Creation at the State Music Award ceremony. In 2013 and 2014 he was awarded the second place in the category Best Folk Music Creation as well as the second place in the Best Children’s Music Composer category. He was adjudged second in the Best Folk Singer category at the State Music Festival.

Pasindu’s first inspiration towards folk music came from the late veteran musician Lionel Ranawala. He reminisced how the foundation for his research on folk music was laid during the period he worked with Ranawala Master.  Later Pasindu traveled across the country in search of unheard folk songs and music. “Batticaloa, Matale and Kothmale, among the places we visited are prominent in contributions.  What we found during the research is included in the Iskoleta Jana Gee and they were subject to several developments,” he said. However, Pasindu pointed out that despite these developments in the research findings, the tunes remained unchanged and unharmed.

He spoke about the challenges faced by the researchers when seeking new knowledge on the folk elements. “Unfortunately, there are only very few people remaining from the generations which have very good knowledge of folklore,” Pasindu stressed that the time the researchers have to gather information is limited. “Gathering information becomes even harder because some villagers don’t agree to share the knowledge they have. They have strict rules and regulations when it comes to sharing the knowledge which they received from their descendants,” he added.  He also recalled an event where they had to return home empty handed in one of their research trips because the old lady whom they were willing to speak to had passed away before they got to her home.

He also said that it is hard to gather information only by visiting their homes and interviewing them. “If you want to research about ‘Nelum kavi’ you have to get down to the paddy field with the farmer. If you want to learn about the Kurakkan kavi, you must go when they are harvesting Kurakkan (finger millet). If not, the researcher will not get the complete understanding or knowledge about the subject,” he explained.  According to him commitment as well as personal interest tops the essential characteristics of a researcher.

Another challenge folklore researchers faces is the lack of financial aid. “Not many parties are interested in investing in the field because they fail to identify the opportunities lying behind,” he said adding that this is the same reason contemporary electronic media doesn’t get the maximum use of folk music or songs. “There are folk songs and musical components which can be used at almost any occasion. But sadly, folk music is mostly limited to Sinhala New Year season,” he lamented. 
He also mentioned how the early contributions of W D Makuloluwa  and C de S Kulathilake inspired the next generation including maestros like Lionel Ranwala or Rohana Baddage and then their generation including himself. Yet he also said that there is a significant decline in attempts made to do research in the field among the younger generation who are involved in the field.  “I was inspired mostly by Ranwala Master and his son Sahan’s work as well as the research done by Mahinda Kumara Dalupotha. I was amazed by the work of Ranwala Master which can compete with western rap music as well the Prashasthi form,” is how he paid his respect to his gurus in the field. 

He emphasized that the interest in the field is destroyed from the school days of a child. “Folk songs, poetry or music included in the school syllabuses is extremely limited and it doesn’t get updated. They don’t even make use of the information which the early research has yeilded,” he expressed his grief. He said that there are over 10,000 written folk songs preserved at the National Library and Documentation Services Board which are not being used. “We always teach the same folk songs to the students, over and over again.” He said that the new folk song collection will also be a remedy for this frustration in education.

Speaking further about the folk song collection, Iskoleta Jana Gee, he said that the CD includes folk songs of ten different types including songs of Buddhist devotees, Nelum gee, Shanthikarma, Walapum Gee, folk games, Raban Gee, Paaru Gee, Prashasthi and Kolam. “All these can be connected to the school syllabus. Apart from that, anyone who is interested in folklore can enjoy the song collection,” Pasindu reiterated.


Iskoleta Jana Gee on January 30

The launch of Pasindu Pahalamedagama’s experimental music collection Iskoleta Jana Gee along with a Country Music Festival will be held at Lionel Wendt on January 30 from 6.30 pm onwards. The event is organized by Pasindu Art Academy.


Last modified on Sunday, 25 January 2015 00:49

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