- Rajitha Rupasinghe on 2022 for musicians
2021 is now officially in the past as we embark on our first week of back-to-work drama and getting back to normal after the holiday season. 2021 was an interesting year, to say the least, especially for the entertainment industry, which, for obvious reasons, started the year on its knees. But a year later, if this past holiday season is any indication, the industry is slowly making progress, especially for musicians.
With 2020 and 2021 being nothing short of double-whammies for entertainers, The Morning Brunch chatted with the proprietor of renowned local band Misty and the Western Musicians’ Association’s newly-installed President Rajitha Rupasinghe for his hopes on 2022.
Established in 2016, the Western Musicians’ Association (WMA) was formed in response to a dire need to be able to bring the western music community together and look into issues that affected the welfare of the community as a whole. The WMA serves as a platform to uplift the standards of western music in Sri Lanka and help western musicians grow.
2021: Some hope at the end
Reflecting on 2021, Rajitha shared that 2021, was of course a very challenging year for the entire community of musicians. However, the WMA Executive Committee was able to rally and support musicians through various projects and initiatives. “I became the President of the WMA in September 2021, but even before that, over the past two years, as an Executive Committee, we managed to do several projects that benefited our membership,” Rajitha explained, adding that in 2020, the WMA was even able to obtain relief funds from the Government for western musicians, a huge achievement at the time because given that is no formally recognised industry for musicians in Sri Lanka.
While 2021 saw musicians and entertainers take a severe beating (arguably a harsher beating than 2020), the months leading up to the 2021 festive season and 31st night have been encouraging. “Thankfully, after the restrictions were most recently lifted, we’ve seen lots of musicians working, and we’ve been very happy to see this, even if it is in a smaller capacity than before,” Rajitha shared, saying, “we’ve seen lots of musicians performing in different settings, whether it’s in pubs or restaurants or private clubs and even in hotel lobbies. We’ve seen lots of hotels down South inviting musicians to perform. Things are looking very encouraging at this point. Lots of musicians in our membership were occupied this holiday season, some even went abroad and performed in places like Dubai. It’s a happy sight to see.”
2022, the WMA and local musicians
Off the back of an encouraging holiday season and 31st night, Rajitha explained that in 2022, he hopes to see more and more musicians going back to their livelihoods, adding that the work of the WMA is far from over, and they have several projects to continue supporting musicians in the pipeline as well. One major goal of the WMA for 2022 is being formally recognised by the Government as an industry entity and association.
“There are several other projects in the pipeline as well. Our main goal is to be able to build and implement a trust for older musicians,” Rajitha said, adding, “predominantly, musicians don’t have a retirement plan, nor do they collect EPF or ETF. Through the trust fund, we’re trying to allocate funds for musicians. It’s an uphill task, and we don’t have support from the Government at present, but through building this trust fund, we hope to be able to benefit musicians in need within the WMA.”
Misty and 2022
As leader and founder of the practically legendary band Misty, we asked Rajitha what plans he has for Misty in 2022.
Like all other bands, Rajitha explained that Misty had to make its way through the uncharted territory of 2020 and 2021, and now, more than ever, they need to think ahead. “We have to re-strategise our goals and think of how we can move forward with this pandemic,” he said, adding that even when it comes to travelling overseas to perform, it’s now time to be able to make such moves because most countries now know what to expect and how to work despite the pandemic.
“Realistically, I feel we have to live with the pandemic for another year or two, so we can’t get discouraged but we need to make new plans, Rajitha shared, “during the lockdowns, Misty stayed productive through virtual events. We’d been travelling for over two decades and we used the skills we picked up to our advantage, doing virtual performances including a virtual NYE performance for 2020/2021.”
This year, Misty, who has always based themselves in Colombo for NYE in the past, made the considered move to venture out of Colombo to perform at the Sheraton Kosgoda Turtle Beach Resort for New Year’s Eve, where Rajitha noted the crowd was almost exclusively made of foreign tourists, another encouraging sign for 2022.
“We generally play in Colombo, but many hotels didn’t have 31st night celebrations this year, some even cancelled their celebrations last minute. As a band, Misty took the bold decision to move into down South hotels. With the pandemic, we can’t predict anything well in advance. We don’t know what’s going to happen, so as musicians and bands, it’s important to take baby steps and keep moving forward. I always feel that a positive intent and thought process will help carry you through anything.”