Music of Sri Lanka

    -- by Devar Surya Sena, Vijitha Yapa Publications, Sri Lanka; (2008).

In 2008, the Devar Surya Sena Trust published a collection of notes on music by the late Devar Surya Sena, entitled Music of Sri Lanka (210 pages). Sena (1899-1981) himself is listed as the author, though Marina Ismail did the editing and compiling of his notes for the book. In the Foreword, she says:  "These notes consisted of folk songs and folk music collected from various regions in the country, accounts of folk drama, music of different communities, and descriptions of the many musical instruments used in this country."

The information in this book stems from Sena’s years of research into the music of the country. In the early twentieth century, the England-trained barrister left his career in law in order to introduce the beauty of Eastern music to Sri Lankans as well as Westerners. In addition to the contents mentioned above, this book also includes a copy of Sena’s A Sinhala Setting of the Ceylon Liturgy just after the Epilogue. It also includes transcriptions of various folk songs. 

The book gives very detailed descriptions of many genres, including the background context and texts of many songs. Many instruments are described, and even the basic playing technique for the rabana drum is given. The only thing for which the reader still wishes is an accompanying recording. Reference is made throughout the book to “as heard in the recording,” though there is no mention of where to find that recording. A Compact Disc, “Music of Sri Lanka,” was released at the same time, but this includes only five songs. Still, this book is an invaluable resource to anyone interested in the music of Sri Lanka.

    --reviewed by Michael Balonek, who has done field research in Sri Lanka.

Published in Vol.4, No.2 of

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