We sat down for a chat with Devin Randeniya, frontman and vocalist of local cover band ‘Petra’ who became a viral sensation in their own right within the Sri Lankan community with their cover of Bathiya N Santhush’s song Ran Kurahan Mala. The video with over 20,000 views on the ‘Pettah Effect’ channel on YouTube – a platform for up and coming artists in the Sri Lankan music scene – not only got them much needed television exposure but even granted the group an opportunity to perform with the original singers themselves.
The band made up of Devin Randeniya (vocalist), Miuru Jayasinghe (guitar) and Rivindu Wanniarachchi (keyboard), is joined occasionally by Charith Fernando on Percussion.
Q: Tell us a bit about the band. How did it come to be?
The three of us met in school. The other two – Rivindu and Miuru – are older than me but we were all part of the Oriental choir, Western choir and orchestra so we were used to singing together. They left school before me but even after that we kept bumping into each other so we thought we should do something together. I used to upload covers on my own and they also used to upload covers so we decided to do something together and that’s how the band came to be.
Music isn’t our primary full-time career. I’m studying and the others are studying and working as well. So for us, the intention behind starting the band wasn’t the money or the fame, it was just for the fun and the fondness and love for music.
Q: Why the name ‘Petra’?
The person who came up with the name was actually Charith. Petra is actually the Greek word for the feminine version of ‘Peter’, as in St. Peter. And since we were all Peterites we thought it was fitting.
Q: Nowadays, there seems to be a growth in school bands and budding musicians within schools. What do you think should be done so that these musicians can continue a career in music even after school?
When it comes to the artistes, they just shouldn’t give up. They should try to understand themselves better so they can have a proper understanding of what it is to balance studies and music. It was a challenge that all of us had as well and it was hard. But if you achieve that, school will be able to support you and so will your parents and the others. A lot of school bands do have potential. Genuinely speaking, not everyone is great but there’s some really good raw talent. And those bands should be careful what they do and be wise in their decisions, what music they’re going to do, where they’re going to perform and what crowd they’re going to cater to.
Q: Euphoria happens to be where your collaboration with Bathiya and Santhush happened; what was that experience like?
That was actually really random. We were supposed to play much earlier and the set was supposed to be a calm sort of selection. But somehow things got delayed and we happened to be performing right before them. Either way, we had asked them earlier whether we could perform the song – out of respect, as they were performing too – and they were fine with it. So on that day we just asked them if we could do it together and they agreed to come on stage with us. It was a completely random incident that we really didn’t see coming.
Q: Them coming out and sharing the stage with you, what did it mean to you?
Bathiya and Santhush sharing the stage with us really meant a lot. Not everybody would get that chance. None of us are full-time musicians, the three of us are not amazingly talented or anything like that, so for us who just do it for the fun of it, this was a huge deal.
Q: Do you think this should be a more regular thing, where popular artistes give lesser known artistes that little boost?
I think so, definitely in cases where the artiste deserves it. Bathiya and Santhush were so humble and nice and so generous but I don’t know if every other artiste would do that. For us, it was a huge deal and a lot of people came to us through that opportunity so it can definitely be a good thing.
Q: We also noticed that you have been working with Pettah Effect; how did that come about?
I actually know the founder of Pettah Effect personally and in the beginning I did want to join but then I realised I had too much on my plate. However, he called me out of nowhere and then I thought why not. So I also brought these two guys along but at that point, we weren’t really a group. We had always been playing together but weren’t a band as such. Pettah Effect was what motivated us actually to get in to the band scene.
Q: Where do you see the Sri Lankan music scene in around five years?
I do think it will be better than it is right now, granted that the right people come to the spotlight.
Q: How do you think that can be accomplished?
I think it’s important that the artistes promote themselves better. And instead of just randomly and recklessly picking songs, they should pay more attention to the music they make and make it interesting. For example if you’re going to do a cover, when you take a song, you should be careful not to strip away the originality of it. You can change it up a bit and add variation but at the end of the day, if you take away the original effect that made you like that song in the first place, then you’re not doing justice to it. So it all comes down to how you perform. The people need to see something they like in you. I don’t mean to boast or anything but the video of ‘Ran Kurahan Mala’ was a live recording and till up to two days before that we had no idea what we were going to do. But we eventually came up with the arrangement and the people liked it. So there needs to be a sort of organic reach to the song.
Q: What do you think is the importance of platforms like Pettah Effect in Sri Lanka?
It’s especially important in Sri Lanka because being a musician here is not an easy task. I don’t know if I can speak for everyone but there is a bit of a judgmental mentality as well, though it’s gotten much better now. And it is hard to make a living as a musician unless you’re in the big leagues. So platforms like this give you a good exposure and help you get your name out there.
Q: What do you think is the public’s role in order for the music scene to grow in Sri Lanka?
The public needs to start admiring the talent. Be more open-minded; be open to new kinds of music. And be supportive of musicians. It is an art and not everyone can be a singer or a musician. So they really do need the support of the people.
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Interview by Vashni Benjamin
Pics are video stills of Petra’s song with Pettah Effect on YouTube