My Musical Journey – Rajiv Sebastian

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In this piece, Thushara Kulatunga catches up with popular Sri Lankan vocalist and musician Rajiv Sebastian, who spoke to USLanka about his musical journey as well as his current exploits and plans for the future.

For those who don’t know, tell us a bit about how you got in to music and how you started out.

I had a craze for music from an early age. At that time I listened to records and cassettes. When I was small, my mothers elder brother, had four children who could play and owned several instruments. One was on drums, the other on a guitar, my youngest cousin sister used to sing and the other cousin sister played the keyboard. She was also a part of the Premasisri Khemadasa orchestra for which she played the cello. I used to sing with them sometimes, but I never really had a childhood dream of getting involved in entertainment. That developed as I kept collecting pre recorded cassettes, which was what happened in our era and we also had a record player at home so I also started collecting records. I grew up in the 70’s where the pop era was born. Later on when my cousins decided to migrate, they left their sound system here with us. There was a Harmonics drum set, a Harmonics guitar, A YC10 Yamaha organ, mics and a locally made amp and some speakers.  So that was how I started and when friends got to know that I had that sound setup, they came in.  I used to play drums first and taught myself how to play.  This was just as I was getting out of school.

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I heard that you’re coming to a milestone moment in the next few years. Tell me a bit about that.

It will be my 25th anniversary of officially playing music. I have been playing with my band Rajiv and the Clan for 22 years. When we celebrated our first anniversary there was a dinner dance at the Akasa Kade. After that we celebrated the 15th anniversary and we had a concert with people like Desmond De Silva, Annesley and Indrani who all did spots at the BMICH for the show and a DVD was also released. The 20th anniversary was two years ago. If I’m alive for the 25th anniversary I think why not? I think I should especially because there are hardly any people who regenerate the sound of the 70’s. Just singing a song from the 70’s or having an acoustic drum set is not going to help. You have to know the gravity and the depth of it and then regenerate the sound.

What have you been up to since then?

I’ve been organizing various concerts, but unfortunately, some time ago I was teamed up a production company and a person who I wrongly assumed was a genuine music lover, but turned out that he loved only money so I was played out big time. So I decided to call it quits and start my own entertainment company. I have so far released ten cd’s and four dvd’s. The four dvd’s are the concerts that I have done on my own. The cd’s are not all mine. Some of them are the sounds of the pioneer big band sound maker by the name of Harold Seneviratne, who happened to be the number one saxophonist of the 60’s. There are two cd’s of his music I have released. There is also Clarence, Annesley and Indrani Live in concert when they celebrated 20 years in show biz at the Hilton, I got the original recording and I produced a double cd. I’ve also done 2 cd’s by the name of Kafirinna Café volumes one and two and also ‘Singlish Christmas’. On my 20th anniversary I also did a cd called ‘20 hits in 20 years’. The first dvd out of the four was called ‘Legends of Sri Lankan pop’, where I got down all the legends who really clicked in the 70’s and I got 25 of them on one stage. And everyone started copying my themes, because I was the one who introduced the word ‘legends’ into the concert industry. After that I got Desmond de Silva and Dezmond Rodrigo back together and there is that dvd. I also did my 20th anniversary dvd and last June, I did the very first 60s 70’s event at the Nelum Pokuna where we payed tribute to all the artists of the 60’s and 70’s called ‘Salute to the Roots of Sri Lankan Music. I genuinely wanted to pay a tribute to the roots, because if not for them, we wouldn’t be here right now. I also have my usual routine of occasional weddings and dinner dances and I’m also currently involved in making music for a tele-drama.

Tell me about your influences and people who have inspired you.

To be very honest, there are two people that I have to mention. As I said, I grew up in the pop era and I really loved the style of Clarence Wijewardana and the Moonstones and Super Golden Chimes and what they provided as they modernized the music. There is also Desmond de Silva, who I was privileged to see at that age as a teenager with Desmond and the Clan.  And after Clarences death, it was me who did a tribute to him, composing the song ‘Kandulin Nimavu Ape Gee Pothe’ and I got Annesley and Indrani to sing and did the melody myself. I also arranged music for a nonstop of clarences called ‘Sihiwatana 6’. Even with Desmond, if you look at all the times he has come to Sri Lanka to perform, I have coordinated those concerts 90% of the time. So I would say that these two are my biggest influences.

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From the time that you started playing in the 1990’s till now, what is your opinion on the music scene? Do you think it has changed for the better?

We all expect things to change for the better. That’s what we build up the future for. Even internationally what we believe is that technology should be the slave of music, but unfortunately our musicians have become slaves of technology. Tell me one unique voice that you can recognize now.  We had many distinct voices such as Jothipala, Clarence and Sunil Shantha and many more who all had their own style. Tell me one musician from the present generation like that. Reality shows are a killer. Just because one channel does, every other channel wants to get in and it’s a bad trend. I’m not saying the entire set is rubbish. On and off there is something good.

Many say that you became popular by singing Clarance Wijewardanas songs. Have you received any negative feedback?

That is just one style I sing. I don’t know how many people know that I started at the Akasha Kade as a Western singer and performed at the Hilton lobby as a Western singer under the guidance of Entertainment Director Harold Seneviratne. In 1999 there was a tribute show to Clarence called ‘To Clarence with Love’ and I sang at that time. Yes, some people do say that I have the identical voice but it’s not, it’s more of the same style. There are vast differences in our ages and even in our voices. It’s not easy to redo something someone else has popularized. They have it in their blood, the fans. So it’s not easy to touch that fan base, which I did. And also by doing that, I brought two songs into the new generation. Songs like ‘loke jeewath wannata’ was not even popular at that time. I did not know that when I was requested to do a recording saying that they have got the copyrights and they wanted me to record some songs, which I did and I ended up being taken to courts. The so called producer is still fighting with the case but I as a gentleman, with all respect to the legendary, late Clarence Wijewardana, I went for a settlement.

Do you have any words for aspiring musicians?

Don’t do something just because you like it. You might kill and ruin the entire industry. Therefore ask yourself first. Why don’t I act? Because when I go in front of a mirror, I see myself. Therefore I know I’m not suitable to be the lover in a movie. I should know where I stand and what I’m capable of. So if you can’t sing, please don’t sing, if you can’t compose, please don’t. It will be damaging to the entire industry.

What does music mean to you?

It’s very difficult to explain by detail because it means a lot to me. It means a lot more than someone could describe. It’s a wonderful profession if you can do it here and it has done a lot for me and I have no regrets about my career.

By: Thushara Kulatunga

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