It is a universal truth that the world’s best entertainers, the truest artistes, the most passionate performers challenge themselves over and over again. Every now and then they step outside their comfort zone; they take risks . . . and they carry their audiences with them on awesome, passion-filled emotional journeys.
Which is what happened on the 17th of March when the Soul Sounds, Sri Lanka’s much celebrated highly awarded premier female choir put on a riveting performance they called ‘Born Free’.
‘Born Free’ was perhaps ‘born’ when the troupe made a safari to South Africa and experienced animals in the wild. Perhaps the idea of a musical safari was rocking around in their imagination even then. And so it happened that the Lionel Wendt theatre was once again filled to capacity one brilliant Thursday, with audiences clearly enchanted by the title.
The stage was appropriately forest-like and mystical. And when the lights dimmed and the musicians gathered and the first chords were played and a huge lions paw filled the backdrop screen . . . the singers burst in through the entrance doors of the auditorium, making a dramatic entrance protesting vibrantly in song . . . ‘they don’t really care about us!’
It was from the Michael Jackson medley: the ‘Earth Song’. It was appropriately earthy and hugely energetic. And then the singers gathered into position on stage and suddenly quietened to pause for Shehara Liyanage’s silvery voice as it lifted in solo and she began the Earth Song in earnest. Beautifully lit up by the whole choir.
Yes, the Soul Sounds were clearly different, dazzling, their faces exotically painted. The harmony, the tonality seemed to take on a different timbre. Tossed aside was their characteristic swing and sway movement. Instead they lunged, prowled, made looping movements with their bodies. They threw themselves into a new idiom, and wove into vibrant new group postures, while they sang.
And then they moved on to ‘Colours of the Wind’ from Pocohontas, which Amandi Caldera began with her tender soprano, beautifully supported by the choir.
And so Born Free reigned free. A different colour from before. Drum tattoos, animal slides in huge backdrop, imaginative choreography and much more dramatic stage craft, creating a whole different character and mood.
Dinushka Jayawickreme’s solo of Michael Jackson’s ‘Will you be there’ with choir, was haunting. It was more than a song. More than lyrics. More than movements. Climaxing with Lilanka Boteju rendering the perfect piece of poetry . . . to bring a lump in the throat to many a listener.
After ‘I dream’ by Lisa Firestone sung very lyrically by Amandi Caldera and the choir, the Soul Sounds closed the first half with a rousing performance of one of their prime signature pieces : ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ complete with the background sounds of live forest creatures which only the Soul Sounds can do with such perfect timing and such raucous artistry. It was one of the numbers which won them the Gold at the Austrian Choir Games some years ago.
After the interval the beautiful repertoire continued. Lit up particularly by two items. ‘One by One’ from the Lion King, half sung, half elocuted by Dinushka in native African idiom.
Afterwards the High Commissioner for South Africa Mr. Geoff Doidge, Chief Guest at the Concert was heard to comment how authentic her accent was, how real and amazing it felt.
This was followed by an original composition by Soul Sounds Founder, Musical Director, inventive genius and pianist extraordinaire: Soundarie David Rodrigo. She called it ‘Wild and Free’ and it beautifully captured the elemental wildness, the unexpectedness of the forest. With drum tattoos that spoke, and piano that shivered and quivered. With extraordinary timing that captured the unexpectedness of the wild.
Nilanga Jayawickreme joined her sister Dinushka for ‘Africa’ And at this concert many younger singers were also featured as soloists, as much as the experienced seniors. So we heard Raaya Gomez, Roshani de Silva, Nimaya Harris and Manisha Senaratne . . . They brought a freshness and innocence that was entirely right for this particular presentation.
It was a night to enjoy and think about. There was rambunctiousness as well as quiet. There was mystery and unexpectedness and intrigue and subtlety.
Soul Sounds challenged themselves and came through magnificently. The really beautiful face paint seemed to transform the young women. Inside and out! Yet the presentation was never over the top. Not overdone. The choreography deserves very special mention.
It was just theatrical enough and sensuous enough to turn a human female singer into almost a sinuous creature of the night.
One can only wonder what they can possibly do next. But then Soundarie is a super creative spirit. And she is surrounded by enthusiasm and talent and great performance artistes. If you ask a really creative person what was their best piece, they’ll say: . . . the next, best thing that I do! . . .
We can hardly wait!