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The resilient voice of Sri Lankan cinema’s golden era

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Maya Damayanthi

Veteran singer and musician, Maya Damayanthi comes from a family of talented musicians. She has been in the Sri Lankan music scene for a very long time. Maya Damayanthihas been a playback singer for more than 100 films. This certainly is impressive and admirable. Right now she has been very busy doing some more recordings. Arts& Culture speaks to Maya Damayanthi, who is deeply loved and appreciated by her fans. There is no doubt about her talent. How else could someone be a playback singer for more than 100 films? She has done these songs for many famous actresses such as Malini Fonseka, Geetha Kumarasinghe, Sabeetha Perera, Anoja Weerasinghe and many others – the glitterati of the Sri Lankan film industry.

Talented family of musicians

Damayanthi comes from a large family. She was born in Badulla and went to Badulla Girl’s High School and she comes from a family of 12. Seven girls and five boys. Her sister, Anoja Weerasinghe chose the field of film, and Damayanthi chose to be a singer. Her daughter is also doing singing, no doubt inheriting this talent from her mother. Even Damayanthi’s parents could sing well. They are a family consisting of incredibly talented artistes. Performing is in the family. In fact, it was Anoja Weerasinghe who brought the Silver Peacock Award to Sri Lanka. This was a tremendous honor bestowed to a Sri Lankan Actress.

There are certain songs that she is very proud of. One recent one is Aththamme (Grand Mother). This was a duet with her granddaughter, Deveendri Kalhaaraa Jayawardana. The lyrics were written by Kelum Srimal. The music is by Kasun Kalhara. Another song that she is quite proud about is, Danunema Naha Ne. The music was by Dr Nihal Rajapakse, and the lyrics were by Ramani Rajapakse. The song was written before Ramani died. That is why the song is so special, and Damayanthi sang the song after Ramani died. There is another new year song, Rathata Rathe. For that as well, the music was by Dr Nihal Rajapakse, and the lyricist was Damayanthi herself. Another lovely song is Mage Sayanaasane. The lyrics were by Upul Shantha Sannasgala. Music by Samantha Perera. We also cannot forget Roopa Kade. Lyrics were by the lawyer Gamini Alwis and the music was by Thilina Ruhunage.

In addition to singing, she has done voice training and prepares students for the Visharad Indian exams. She does online training for students in this country and in Canada as well. A playback singer, for as long as Damayanthi is in demand, she will keep on doing what she loves the most which is singing.

Damayanthi recently lost her husband of 47 years. They loved each other deeply, and she has written a song about their relationship. She also has plans to write a few more songs of her own. Though she is 70 years now, her voice is still powerful and enchanting. “From the time I was a child I loved music. When I was at school I took part in many competitions. I must say that I served my school well. As a child I was active and had many interests. Pura Handa Lesa Oba Samakala is my most famous song. There is another song which is Desa Wasa Sitiya. My husband did the music for that. That song is also very special to me. Even my husband sang for so many famous actors. My husband was also a playback singer like me. This passion for the arts, perhaps my sister, Anoja and I got it from our parents. My daughter Kushani Sandareka also learnt dancing and music. My youngest daughter is Sachini Nirasha Perera who lives in Canada,” said Damayanthi.

Best and the brightest

Her first music teacher was Daisy Forrest. She then learnt singing from Dayarathna Ranatunga, Newton Tissaarachchi Somasiri Illesinghe, Yogananda Balasuriya, Dammi, Victor Perera, Prof Amara Ranatunga, and many others. In other words, she learnt from the best and the brightest. But the big question on everyone’s mind is – to be a great singer, do you have to be born with the talent or do you develop this talent through rigorous training? Is it nature or nurture? “I would say that if you are born with the talent, it is much easier for you to succeed and sing well. It is much easier to teach those who are born with the talent, and they pick up the techniques very easily. Both my granddaughters can sing well. If you take my family, we have so many family members who display aesthetic talents, giving so many people pleasure and enjoyment. But I must say that you can be a good singer through hard work and dedication. If you are committed to what you are doing, especially in music, you can be successful. I myself am always practicing. Even when I am teaching children, that is practice to me as well. You need to keep on doing vocal training. A voice that is trained is very beautiful,” explained Damayanthi.

Joining the music industry in this country is not easy. “When we were young we worked so hard to get into this industry. We did not have much support. We made sacrifices and we put in the dedication and hard work. Now it is easier for the youth to break into this industry. This is because of the new developments in technology and media. Young people have the facilities we did not have during our time. When doing a recording we sang at a stretch. If a glitch happens, you have to do it all over again. Now the youth can do it part by part. Then what happens is it is nicely mixed up to create the final product. Then a perfect song comes out. I remember once when I sang for a film, it took me until the early hours of the morning,” she pointed out.

Damayanthi has also done voice training for the Tri-Forces. This was during the time of the Civil War. More recently in addition to this, Damayanthi has been a judge on many musical talent shows, serving as panelist. One of this was Ranaviru Real Star where she along with the other judges judged and developed the talent. Now some of these individuals are famous singers. You can say that she has been instrumental in their development and when it comes to where they are now. She has done some sterling work for so many people, teaching them and guiding them, even singing in cancer hospitals.

Unearthing talent

Damayanthi feels that these musical talent shows are very good when it comes to unearthing talent. However, because of SMS, sometimes the really talented ones are not able to win, while those who are not as talented as them manage to win. There are talented ones, but they do not get enough SMS votes. “I want to help young people come up in this field. Because they are the future of music in Sri Lanka. Some famous young artistes I have guided are Surendra Perera, Sanka Dineth, Nadini Premadasa and Gayani Madhusha. In 2014, one of my students won Ranaviru Real Star. She is Capt. Aruni Niranjala.” Unfortunately, still she has not been properly honored by the industry. “I am an A grade artiste in Classics. Once I wished upon a starthat one day I may become a really great singer in Sri Lanka. That has happened! I must say that I have been invited to many countries for concerts. Right now I am content with what I have achieved. My message to aspiring young musicians is, work hard, do your voice training and diligently apply yourself to exams. You need to acquire the knowledge.”


Thursday, June 15, 2023 – 01:00

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