Victor Rathnayake is a popular Sri Lankan musician. He was the first Sri Lankan musician to hold a live one-man concert; His concert known as “SA” was first performed in 1973, and was an instant success. Rathnayake credits his success to his “fitting blend of Western music with Ragadari classical music.” His songs deal with diverse themes that vary from love, to patriotism and Buddhism.
Matara Achchi is the first film he composed music for and its Sandakada Pahana song sung by Sunil Edirisinghe is still very popular among Sinhala music fans. Rathnayake also has composed music for films like Siribo Aiya, Podi Malli, Sarungale, Hulawali and Athuru Mithuru.
Rathnayake was born in a small village near Kadugannawa. His father, Rathnayake Veda Mahaththaya, was an apothecary and sang “noorthi gee,” a type of Sinhala folk songs. Victor got his first instrument at the age of nine when his father presented him a harmonium for his birthday. He studied singing and various instruments under musician Cyril Perera at the M.G.P. Institute in Mulgampola in his teens. In 1963, he began attending the State Music College, now known as the Institute of Aesthetic Studies. He wrote his first song, an ode to Lord Buddha, in 1964; it received play on radio stations run by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.
In 1966, Rathnayke joined the Ministry of Education as a music instructor, and was assigned to a post at Eththalapitiya Maha Vidyalaya in Bandarawela. He would later look back to his days as a teacher in his song “Sihil Sulang Ralle,” which described the beauty of his surroundings that he noted as he travelled on the train to the school. The lyrics were penned by Sena Weerasekera on Rathnayake’s recollections.
By 1973, Rathnayake was a trained musician and noted that there were no one man concerts. The closest was “Shravanaradhana” a joint concert by Amaradeva and Nanda Malini. On the urging of his friends Premakirthi de Alwis, Sunil Ariyaratne, K.D.K Dharmawardena, R.R. Samarakoon, Chintana Jayasena and Bandara K. Wijetunga, Victor decided to attempt such an event. The first Sa concert was held on July 20, 1973, at the Lumbini Theatre, Havelock Town. It is widely considered a turning point in Sri Lankan music.
The name “Sa” came from the root or tonic note sa in the Indian music scale and was suggested by Chintana Jayasena. Jayasena pointed to the fact that no Sri Lankan drama, film or work of art bore a name of just one syllable at the time and believed that it would bring luck.
“Sa” was highly popular, and Rathnayke’s gained many fans following its inception. One female fan wrote “Do you know that I treasure 49 hairs of yours?” in a fan letter, expressing how many times she has seen Rathnayake’s show. Critics described the show as “exquisite insanity” and a “melodic lunacy” because of the fervor shown by Rathnayke’s fans, who would sometimes attack auditoriums where he was playing when they couldn’t get in.
Rathnayake’s style was influenced by musicians like Sunil Shantha, Ananda Samarakone and C. T. Fernando who he considered “pioneers in the music field” for their use of “classical Ragadari and Hindustani music” as their starting point.
Courtesy of Wikipedia