The might of the pen can only be determined by what one does with it. When Bandula Nanayakkarawasam first wrote a poem against deforestation to the Mihira newspaper when he was just 10 years, it became the foundation of a long list of poems and songs that delighted everyone.
Veteran lyricist, Sunil Ariyaratne, upon seeing poems written by young Bandula Nanayakkarawasam during his school days, was the first to tell him that his poems are like songs, and directed him to Nanda Malini who graciously accepted a song written by this young boy, to sing in 1981. Another song he remembered dearly was called Sipiri Gedara written during the 88-89 uprising, which was banned, and the only recording of it would have been lost had not a musician, Upali Silva, hid the tape and protected it.
“All these songs were newly recorded recently. I wanted to bring out these songs and the stories attached, that were buried with time,” he said, explaining that the Rae Ira Paana musicale comprise these ‘old gems’ as well as the ones that reached the peak of popularity in the last few decades.
Named after the much loved radio program he presented, Nanayakkarawasam said, he opted the name Rae Ira Paana for his upcoming show, as it still carries a meaning for most of his fans.
Rae Ira Paana was broadcast at a time when the 7-9 pm on radio was full of programs on crimes and horror stories. Rae Ira Paana changed the trends and gradually every channel started playing a similar program on music, aesthetics.
The 159 episodes of the program that Nanayakkarawasam wrote and presented were much loved by the public, which had a fan base that represented a cross section of society. While many in the academia had written to Nanayakkarawasam praising the program, many had noted that flower vendors near temples or vegetable vendors at fairs would also tune the radio loud when his program was broadcast.
He has a way with words that appealed to everyone, regardless of any social norms that label people. Be it feelings such as love, pain, suffering or social constructs such as classism, he could grapple and present with words that spoke in many layers.
“I don’t think it’s anything special about me that has made my songs or my radio program a success. I am, first and foremost, a fan, an admirer of good artistic creations,” he said, and that since childhood, every activity in his life had revolved around the radio, listening to music. “But, those songs,” he noted, “were of good quality, very meaningful.”
“Through Rae Ira Paana I would like to create a platform for people to enjoy the kind of music that I was lucky enough to enjoy as a child,” he said, adding that there is no point in blaming the younger generation for the songs released during the recent years as they themselves are trying to express a feeling of burning suppression through them. Society needs to adjust to provide them with a platform to create better music.
The other aspect we need in today’s society is good music critics. “I can always say my songs were good, but I have seen how difficult it is to write notations for the lyrics we write. But, we don’t have good music critics to encourage people, to push people to come up with outstanding music,” he said.
“I was still a schoolboy of 10 years who was getting his poems published in the Mihira newspaper when a senior at school said, the whole country was reading what I had written. But, it was a few years later when I realized that publicity comes with a greater responsibility, that I am responsible for everything that is being published under my name,”he said. Being a student of Richmond College, Galle, for more than 11 years, he says, he saw only one side of life until he moved to Dikwella Vijitha Central College for the Advanced Level. “That is when I saw the huge difference and contrast in the lives of the students who attended the two schools”, he said, adding that the mixed school system was a new concept for him, and adjusting to it became a learning process.
He admits that a lyricist should always live in reality to get the best out of every moment and put them together when he writes songs. His songs reflect the sound knowledge he has of society, of the people and of the problems that suppress them, which again, makes his songs appealing.
As a banker who worked in the finance industry for 37 years, he admits that he looks at money and classism attached to it in a meditative way. “That’s why I can write songs on pain and social issues in a different way.”
Nanayakkarawasam has written songs for artists from Nanda Malini to Sunil Edirisinghe to Madumadhawa Aravinda, to Sunil Perera; from Gypsies to Ranidu Lankage.
He had many to thank for his journey. “My wife and children, and a teacher in my school, Mr. W.S. Bandara, who directed me in the right path, encouraging me to read the right sort of books, and teaching me to analyze the world through literature,” he said, and added that there are many names that need to be added from the music industry, such as, Sunil Ariyaatne, Nanda Malini, Rohana Weerasinghe, Kularathna Ariyawansha, and all the artists who worked with him and are still journeying with him in the music field.
Named after the much loved radio program he presented, the Rae Ira Paana musicale will take place on March 10, at 6.30 at the Nelum Pokuna theatre.
A Pack of eight CDs will be released along with his song book Mata Maa Hamuvuna (I found myself) and a series of autobiographical articles of him that were published in a newspaper at the event.