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Incomparable voice that carries the tonal mosaic of the nation :

Fusion of technical acumen with aesthetic finery

Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life. ~Ludwig van Beethoven

The singer has everything within him. The notes come out from his very life. They are not materials gathered from outside. ~Rabindranath Tagore

Looking back on her trailblazing career in Sri Lankan music scene, a striking feature which makes Neela Wickramasinghe’s voice unique among the plethora of singers is her signature Sri Lankan female voice which is manifested in almost all of her repertoire of songs irrespective of the fact whether they derived their music motifs from Western and Eastern traditions of music. Although trained and steeped in the tradition of Hindustani classical music, Neela Wickremasinghe has the unique ability to carry on her intrinsically Sinhalese tonal motifs which undoubtedly she inherited from her pioneering teachers who derived their musical inspiration from rich codes of Sinhalese folk music with its unique tone mosaics.

Neela Wickramasinghe Picture by Ranga Chandrarathne

In a philosophical sense, music can be defined as the ‘organised sound’. However, this definition is too broad and misleading in that there are many organised sounds such as sounds of a clock which cannot be considered as music. Therefore, music can be defined as organised tones. Apart from numerous instruments of music, the prominent role in music is played by singers. What is fundamentally unique in their diverse voice colour and tonality is that no one else can mimic that voice or the voice colour.

Voice colour with embellishments

Voice and the voice colour vary from one singer to another. Although almost all singers may have individual voices and voice colour, there are only few of them whose voice and voice colours are exceptional in terms of musicology. Neela Wickremasinghe has one such trained and learned voice with an inimitable voice colour.

A distinctive characteristic of her voice colour is her ability to sing direct notes with some embellishments borrowed from Sri Lankan traditional folk music. It should be mentioned that though her voice bears typical Sri Lankan female voice, it has been trained in the Hindustani classical music tradition and she is equally conversant with Sri Lankan folk traditions, Hindustani tradition and Western music traditions.

The folk motifs in her voice are manifested in some songs such as Susata Baranin Sarasila. She carries on the same tonality in songs such as Master Sir, Apa Hamunovena Hemanthe, Viyo Gee Gayena, Parami Dam Puramu Apa Dedena, though their melodies are based on Western music. One of the unique traits of her voice is that her ability to represent Sri Lankan female voice even in songs with Western music melody. Neela keeps up her unique Sri Lankan female voice while sticking to their Western music melody.

Although Neela’s voice colour may seem to be almost equal to that of Sujatha Attanayake for a fan, the two voices are distinctly different to one another. One of the factors that Neela’s voice becomes unique is that she sharpened her voice and established herself in the then Radio Ceylon by singing experimental songs under the guidance of C. de S Kulatilake who experimented with Sri Lankan folk music and principally derived his music motifs from folk tradition of music. Songs such as Dathata Walalu and Badde Vatata were creations based on folk tradition of music. Neela Wickremasinghe’s voice was the most suited for songs based on folk music.

Soothing effect of the melody

In the song Daskon Saki sanda Ikman Gamanin, Neela’s voice evokes the legend behind the song. This is also owing to her voice’s unique Sri Lankan-ness. Though she is well trained in Hindustani classical music and sang classical as well as semi classical songs, her emphasis seems to be on keeping the sweet tonality of her voice rather than the application of some of the techniques in singing. For instance, the tonality of her voice can be seen in some of the songs such as in the duet Harimi Rajasapa which she sang with maestro Dr. W.D Ameradeva. In every melody, Neela tries to bring about a soothing effect by using her voice colour. This is a notable feature in her singing.

Master Sir in London

Neela Wickramasinghe’s solo concert Master Sir will be held on September 25 at Camden Centre in London at 3.00 p.m. Neela will sing over 40 songs. The troupe includes Kalani Perera, Mahinda Bandara, Chatura Prasad and Priyantha Dassanayake. Kapila Herath will sing duets with Neela Wickremasinghe at the concert. The concert is organised by Palinda and Asha Samarasinghe couple who are domiciled in London. Concert Master Sir was held in London for the first time in 2000 at Acton Town Hall. The repertoire of songs include some of her hits such as Boodiye Viharaye, Parami dam, Siling Biling, Mage lovata Oba Vadina thura and Bala hindimi dura. In 2011, USA presented her the International Award of Excellence on 100th International Women’s Day and Vishva Abhimani together with a Gold Medal by the Human Rights Organisation of Justice and Peace in recognition of her contribution as singer to the field of music. In 2011, she was given an Award in recognition of her contribution to the nation as a courageous woman by the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs.

Neela shoves a course in the melody line in a manner to upkeep her tonality of voice through the numerous closed and opened notes. Some singers such as Dr. Victor Ratnayake uses to skip some closed notes in the melody line so that the listener should imagine of such notes or such closed notes are often implied in the melody.

Imaginary or psychoacoustic notes

In the theory of music these notes are known as imaginary notes (Anahata Nada-notes created in the mind). It is known as musical memory. It is also described as psychoacoustic sounds or Viggnanamaya Nada in the North Indian tradition of music. However, the degree of this musical memory which generates psycho-acoustic sounds will differ from one person to another. For instance, a person who is well versed in music has a rich musical memory than a mere listener who may recognise the tonality of a song and would say that a particular song may like a one which he had heard previously. It is the musical memory that a player uses to tune an instruments of music.

In terms of tonal range, Neela’s voice has a tonal range which is only second to Sujatha Attanayake’s tonal range. Comparatively, Neela has a higher tonal range than the popular singers in Sri Lankan music scene. Sujata Attanayke has the widest tonal range among Sri Lankan singers.

Flexibility of voice

One of the criteria in determining the ability of a singer is his or her flexibility of voice. Flexibility of voice can be described as the singer’s ability to sing notes in a wider range of the music scale. There are some singers who cannot sing notes in the upper range and whose voice is almost confined to lower range of notes in the Concert C. Diverse singers use their flexibility of voice for different purposes. Some singers use flexibility to demonstrate some music technicalities which are grotesquely described in text books to bring about diverse effects.

However, Neela’s forte is that she uses her flexibility of voice in measuring up the emotional and sentimental value of the melody. She uses her Sinhalese voice even in the upper ranges and maintains her voice colour in songs with Western music compositions. A prominent trait of Neela’s singing is that she pronounces words properly as in the case of Sujatha Attanayake. Though this may seem an insignificant aspect of singing, it is important in the light that some singers are unable to pronounce words with an apparent influence from either Hindi or English languages.

Neela Wickramasinghe is one who distinguishes popular music from lumpen culture. A fact that vindicates her position is that she had never ventured into popular music market or reproduced distorted versions of her songs against the backdrop of distorting popular songs in the guise of ‘remixed’ version or rapping the original melody.

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