Sunday, March 26, 2017

'Voltage': A different kind of band and company

Concerts are the rage these days. So are reality shows. I am not a regular concertgoer, so I wouldn’t really know the kind of dedication that goes into them. I do know, however, that those who organise ensure that the event as such not only unveils well, but also reflects their efforts. This is particularly so if the organisers happen to be schoolchildren, not because they don’t have anything else to do but because their prime motive, if you can put it that way, is to enthral their audience.

I firmly believe that human beings are endowed with a love for music. I believe also, however, that this is not enough for them to sustain, thrive on, and if possible add to our music industry. That is why schools have brass bands, music societies, and dancing circles. That is also why these societies engage with the public, showcasing the raw talent of their members. For that reason, there is a difference between concerts organised by professional bodies and those organised by societies affiliated to a school. The concert I am writing about here, however, falls into neither category.

Before we get to that concert though, we should talk about the organisers. They form a group, but on their own right they are veritable performers: among them, Vimod Edirisinghe, Dishad Weerasinghe, and Vinuja Ransika. They have performed and are performing at their respective schools. They know enough to distinguish a concert from a one-hit gig. That is why their latest show, Illuminate, deserves more than a cursory sketch. To get to Illuminate, however, one must first get to Voltage.

It all began last year when a group of schoolboys got together to start up an event planning company. That company would soon give way to a beat band, with eight members: Thilan Silva, Chamuditha Jayasanka, Akila Kushantha, Sahas Yoman, Anupa Kahanagamage, Nadun Methwadana, and of course Vimod and Dishad. Given that those involved were engaged with their studies (as they still are), however, such an enterprise proved to be difficult. What helped them overcome this difficulty, then, was their mutual love for flaunting their talent, which trumped everything that stood in their way. And so, confidently but cautiously, they went ahead and encountered their first live event, Sound Mash.

Sound Mash (which was held in August) was not your typical concert. Vimod puts it best: “We knew that schoolchildren love music. We knew they love bands and we knew they love to start a band of their own. That is why we gave them an opportunity to come up with their own little groups, showcase their talent, and tell their audience that they were ready.” This did not, however, give a free pass to everyone and anyone: there were auditions to ensure that the competitors knew what they were doing. In the end, five bands came up: Revolution, Inferno, Beta, Pickups, and Evolution. Of these, Inferno came first, Pickups second, and Revolution third.

What interests me here is what pushes Voltage (the company). Vimod tells me that they are less worried about concerts and reality shows than about promoting beat music in schools. In this, I believe they are filling a gap, since no event planner before them has attempted to cohesively extract talent from schoolchildren. After all music, as I pointed out in my article on Sarith and Surith Jayawardena, is birthed at childhood. I am sure that is what motivates Voltage and its members to do what they are doing.

Which brings me to Illuminate. Illuminate more or less continues from where Sound Mash left. It’s set to bring in Nadeeka Guruge, Sanuka Wickramasinghe, and Kavindya Adikari. What it will do, Vimod tells me, is empower school and social media bands to perform for about two or three minutes at the Nelum Pokuna Rooftop Amphitheatre in April 28, so as to get them the exposure they want. “You will be guaranteed unplugged music, the kind that no venture like this has brought about before, with our own arrangements,” Vimod tells me.

In fact both these shows are part of a series of projects that Voltage will be engaged in. The top brass of Voltage change every year, are designated schools to facilitate a good network, and maintain links with aspiring artistes for this reason. The members themselves (who, owing to spatial constraints, can’t be listed in full here) come from different schools, moreover: Vimod is from Ananda (where he is an Assistant Prefect) as are the other members of the band, while Vinuja is from Royal. Vimod is the Chairman this year, but he will be succeeded to ensure a steady flow of reckonable representatives.

Is there anything else to say? Yes, in what the boys at Voltage have envisioned for this show. Vimod tells me that with Illuminate, they hope to open a studio of their own. With this, he tells me, they hope to nurture even more talent from schools, so as to hone in on their main objective. I am sure money figures in there somewhere, but I am also sure that the boys involved here consider that as their last priority. Aptly.

So what should WE do? We should visit what they have organised. If possible, we should also join in. And we should enjoy. If we emerge from Nelum Pokuna that Friday night happily, on account not of the music and vibes but rather of the broader purpose of that endeavour, I believe what Voltage is trying to bring about will be achieved. The better for them, I should think, since that will empower them to move from project to project, school to school, discovering talent and refining it.

That is why I referred earlier to Illuminate as a different concert, which falls somewhere between musical shows organised by professional bodies (like Synchronight) and those organised by societies affiliated to schools (like Transcendence). Whether it will be qualitatively better, of course, we cannot tell. But we can predict. We can infer. And along the way, we can hope.

Written for: The Island YOUth, March 26 2017