Chitral ‘Chity’ Somapala - a name that took Sri Lanka across borders with a new genre of music, is a legend we Lankans truly admire. The composer-cum-singer of ‘Nadee Ganga Tharanaye’ fame has embraced the hearts of his fans by adding his vocal magic to songs that often carry a message. Having performed with European power metal bands such as Firewind, Power Quest, Red Circuit and Civilisation One, today he works as a soloist, appearing in various local and international productions. While on a recent visit to Sri Lanka, we sat down to have a chat with this legend.
Q : What brought you down to Sri Lanka this time?
A : I’m shooting for a new music video for a song titled ‘Sinha Loke Sinhaya’ which is the most expensive production that ever happened in Sri Lanka. The youth have lost their voice. I have questioned them a couple of times and when I ask them what they want to do with their life, many of them are clueless. When we were children, we had an ambition and we focused more towards it. We are going through a period where we cannot even lose a game of cricket. People start cursing the team, the government and politicians. Therefore this is a song that inspires them to not lose hope and to not lose their courage but keep their head high and move ahead.
Q : Tell us more about the production.
A : It’s being directed by a Pakistani individual named Azad who is known to be one of the most successful video directors in the world. We will be doing this production for about three days. It’s a song for which I composed the music and the lyrics were done by Kelum Srimal. There are two versions of this song – one a solo version of mine and also an all-star version including Sangeeth Wijesuriya, Umaria and a few other artistes.
Q : You were born in to a family that worked with music. Did you ever think that you would be who you are today?
A : No, I never expected this. To be honest, I never followed my parents’ footsteps because I wasn’t a fan of classical music. But from the beginning I was listening to English radio channels. Then some of my brother’s friends influenced me to listen to rock music. I’m really happy that I’m in this situation today because this is what I expected 20 years ago.
Q : In Sri Lanka there’s only a handful of artistes who have perfected this genre. What do you have to say about that?
A : The problem lies in our system in Sri Lanka. Only a limited number of people listen to rock music. Especially my songs are moving further because I started singing in Sinhalese which I never wanted to do. I know it’s my own language but in order to be recognised internationally, we have to sing in English. But the resources we have here are very limited. It’s not that I’m complaining about my country but this is the actual situation. We don’t have copyrights, record labels that are dealing internationally and everything depends on money. The media never categorised genres when releasing songs to the public. If so we would have had Sinhalese pop, rock and jazz music as well. Therefore in order to develop music we need to educate children about all sorts of music in schools.
Q : Are you satisfied with the fan base you have in Sri Lanka?
A : In Sri Lanka the fan base is growing and especially the younger generation is following. Also when I do some of my parents’ songs the older generation too seems to be interested. In that case I’m a very proud versatile artiste.
Q : It is only with platforms such as TNL Onstage that the rock music enthusiasts get a chance to showcase their talents. Shouldn’t there be more of such events happening in Sri Lanka?
A : Well, Civilisation One performed twice at TNL Onstage. It is a great thing that they do and we need to have more rock radio stations and channels to promote this culture, even out of Colombo.
Q : Back then from when you started and until now what changes do you see in the local music industry?
A : To a certain extent it has become better. All I miss is the different genres and if somebody releases a song, the rest of the artistes try to do the same thing. This is something that I regret. We should start featuring more artistes on television than doing reality shows. They should feature hard rock, heavy metal bands as well. They don’t have any knowledge about music in that sense.
Q : Your message to upcoming musicians especially in the rock music scene?
A : Do not be swollen-headed! The problem is that if somebody appreciates your work, you shouldn’t take it to your head. But once people are appreciated they usually think that they are indispensable. I know that it’s my profession and I cannot do things for the sake of it. I’m a perfectionist and I ask professional opinions from many others before I release a song. Upcoming musicians should take a lot of advice from elders.
Q : Future projects?
A : I’m planning to do a solo English album which is a direction of classic rock. I’m working with an Israeli guitarist in most of the songs. He’s a talented studio engineer, guitarist and a composer. I have done another local production called ‘Lokaya Dinamu Api’ - a song that speaks about getting our chores done while there’s daylight. I have also done 10 of my parents’ songs with my father’s arrangements. Therefore it’s all about the ‘60s and ‘70s P.L.A and Chitra Somapala vibe with my voice.