Sujatha the genius female musician in the annals of our history – By Sunil Thenabadu
‘Weera Matha’ Visharada Dr Sujatha Attanayake, the musical genius acclaimed as one of the most popular vocalists, commenced her pivotal career in music when she was just eight years when she sang a song at the then Radio Ceylon ,to the music composed by AJ Kareem.Since then she had not looked back apart from deploying diverse techniques such as Gamak, Tan, Meend, and singing styles such as Khayal, Dhruvpad, Tarana and Dhamar that measure their theoretical and animated values, the guiding philosophy of the inventiveness of music artistry. Sujatha could play many musical instruments conquering the Harmonium and Sitar, also excelling in composing notations in quick succession.
Sujatha could sing in numeral styles and languages including Tamil and Hindi sans any clue of the slenderest Sinhalese inspiration, and when she sings a song in the North Indian classical music tradition, she is not influenced by South Indian or the Carnatic tradition of music although she is an expert in both. She had acquired the Tamil influence having visited India with her mother Wimala Kantha during her younger days. She was Sri Lanka’s female most sought after vocalist for decades, had sung in over 350 Sinhalese films in possessing an idealistic ‘screen voice’ Her first film song was in SM Nayagam’s “Sohoyuro” film in year 1956.In addition she had sung in 19 Tamil films, so many light songs well over one thousand songs which have become all- time hits etched in the hearts of her over millions of fans scattered all over. There were fans who patronize film halls principally to hear her songs which echo film halls.She had sung duets with all male popular artistes During the 60,70- and 80-decades Sujatha was a sought-after vocalist for indoor and outdoor musical shows and for overseas concerts having toured almost all overseas countries.
Sujatha the musician had surpassed in many distinct areas in music she ventured into. When compared with versatile Indian classical singers in North Indian and South Indian Carnatic traditions, Sujatha is the only Sri Lankan singer with such a wide tonal range of voice as wide as those of Indian classical singers. She has the best trained voice among all Sri Lankan singers.
Sujatha had been a sought-after vocalist for many Tamil films,concerts too. Fundamentally, the Carnatic tradition of music is entirely dissimilar to Hindustani tradition and in fact, there are few singers like Sujatha who had mastered both traditions which is a salient conception of hers. It is due to her sheer vocal ingenuity that she is able to sing songs in diverse genres in a array of languages such as Sinhala, Tamil, Hindi, Nepali, Marati, Urdu, Islamic, Gujarati and Bengali in which languages she is well familiar in.
Sujatha’s contribution to Sri Lankan arts and culture was emphasized by many to create a popular tradition of music that combined the essence of all three – folk, classical and popular – while not falling victim to the insignificance, debasements and vulgarization of flavor associated with popular mass musical culture.
Sujatha , is Sri Lanka’s first ever female film music director/composer, stands out as an object tutorial for a gifted musician who applies virtual creed in directing and composing music. The film was ‘Hariyata Hari’ In this backdrop she could take up any challenge in the music arena.For the 150th year of existence of the Police Department year before last when the authorities of the Police administration had entrusted Sujatha to compose the music for the Police theme song which she had done immaculately. It is pertinent to quote, her father MD Perera was a former Police Officer.
In the year 2013 her solo concert “Jeewana wila meda” after a lapse of decades since her solo “Esi Mihira” shows, was held to a packed house at the Nelum Pokuna performing arts theatre under the patronage of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“Sujatha Attanayaka Divisirita”, her biography and “Sujatha Attanayaka Geethawaliya” was launched on 11th November 2017 to coincide with her 75th birthday, also her 67th year in her music career.
Sujatha was fittingly honored with a doctorate by the authorities in the Visual and Performing Arts University during the University’s annual convocation in December 2019 by the Chancellor Sangeeth Nipun Sanath Nandasiri.
Sujatha has inherited the influence of ‘Noorthi Gee’from her mother Wimala Kantha and sister Flori Devi both exponents of Noorthi Gee. Recently with her wide knowledge she compiled and launched a book containing one hundred (100) Noorthi Gees of the Tower Hall era with accurate phonetics (swara prasthara), very useful to school teachers of aesthetics when there is a dearth of such books.
Sujatha was never curious in receiving awards for reasons best known to her. To indicate a few in the year 1965 Sujatha received the Swarna Sanka award for the song Duka Ena Kala from the film “Yata giya dawasa”. In year 1966 Sarasaviya award and Sawarna Sanka award for the song ‘Parauna malwala suwanda athethe’ in “Parasathu mal film.In year 1972 award for the best singer for the song Punchi Dawaswala, then Kumarathunga Samuru award.1974 best playback singer for Parauna mal, Sarasavi award and Swarna Sanka awards.
Sujatha was born on 12th of May 1942 she was the 3rd in a family of five siblings. Eldest sister Flori Devi a renowned Tower Hall actress then elder brother Dharmasiri Perera a music teacher, younger sister singer Ranjani and youngest brother Susil renowned as a drummer. She married Nawaratne Attanayake a Director of Education, Aesthetics. Sujatha too served the department of education as a Assistant Director of education-Aesthetics. The duo was blessed with three sons Heli, Chanaka and Samin. Captain Chanaka sacrificed his life while serving in the army in 1992 while eldest Heli is having his own business while Samin is an airline pilot attached to Etihad airlines based in Abu Dhabi.
At Fox Hill Chess Fiesta 2019 one of the highlights of the awards ceremony was the presentation of a souvenir to Sujatha the ‘Weeramatha’ souvenir in the form of a memento by Brigadier Kithsiri Ekanayaka, Chairman of the Army Chess Committee. Sujatha’s son, Captain Chanaka Sanjeewa Attanayake, sacrificed his life while on duty at Pooneryn on, 25th September 1992. He was an infantry colleague of Brigadier Kithsiri Ekanayake. It is relevant to mention that when Chanaka met with his tragic death Sujatha was at a concert in Melbourne Australia and Nawaratne Attanayake was employed in Florida USA. Both had to rush back to Sri Lanka for his funeral.
Having known Sujatha-Nawaratne Attanayake family very intimately for over five decades have discovered to be a philanthropic duo always striving to boost the welfare of others via donation of money and services. As a characteristic of philanthropic persons, the duo having seen success in their perquisite, two are concerned of the welfare of others who venture to alleviate the hindrances of others been empathetic without seeking whatsoever for their own personal benefit. As a very close family comrade there are many more illustrations and evidences to prove.
The duo collects money from relations and friends to buy dry rations to be given to destitute living in the border villages in Weli Oya which they do every three months uninterruptedly. The distribution is done in a systemic transparent manner with the help of Army personnel in Weli Oya.
Sujatha during her peak had conducted music classes for novices. Two such who became fame were Uresha Ravihari and Asanka Piyamantha, still teaches music for University students. Her charges are very nominal, but do not charge from the poor folk. She is a staunch Buddhist who goes on pilgrimages to India each year, observes Eight Merits on every Poya day. She has put up a small house in Anuradhapura where the duo spends two weeks of the month specifically for worshiping the shrines and promoting Buddhist activities.
Finally, it should be said that she should go in the annals of music as a modest unpretentious down to earth legendary singer. ‘Weera Matha’ Visharada Dr Sujatha Attanayake in her twilight years. All Sri Lankans should extend gratitude for the services rendered to our music philosophy to wish her good well being, health and longevity.
Sunil Thenabadu in Brisbane