Mantra Rock Casts Its Spell

Music is a life style, a universal language and the food of the 'divine.'

It's the performer's pride, the listener's joy... may it be hardcore rock or enchanting mantra, music is a sheer delight that breaks barriers and build bridges.

"Tapas' is a Sanskrit term for the spiritual flame. It's the flame that purifies us," says Rahju of the band 'Tapas.'

He says that the term comes from the Yogi tradition where the Yogis try to head back to God, "That effort and the spiritual longing is called 'Tapas'."

Looking at him, dressed merely in a white cloth, a rosary round his neck and hair that is longer than an average female, Rahju looks a replica of a yogi who has come from the Himalayas.

"We don't use lyrics, instead, we're trying to use sound to affect people." Calmer than most of the individuals he's focused and indifferent to the outside rush. Rahju says that their invention is 'Mantra' rock, a term that's been coined by the Rock Company.

"We use Mantra more than lyrics. We've got Tilak Dias on bass, Pabalu on percussion and we also might be getting a new member for the western drum kit. We want Pabalu to focus more on eastern drums. He hails from a family that's into ballet and has been playing 'Yak bera' since he was ten. What we want is to make a broader drum sound and also we'd like to have a keyboardist. It's hard to find somebody of the same wave length," he explains and adds that he's the vocalist and plays guitar, sitar and dilruba. "I'm the one who's chanting the mantras," he says pointing out the fact that he's more of a chanter than a vocalist, thus he uses the yogi mantra chanting in his lyrics.

At the beginning the guys used to just jam in Rahju's painting studio with another artist called 'Vega.' "For me it was just for fun but after Tilak joined in, we decided to go more out. He said, our music could be developed which is why we joined Rock Company, and did a couple of gigs with them," he says and adds that they've already performed in Nuwara Eliya and Kandy.

Talking about their genre of music, Rahju says that it varies from what the other bands play. "We discovered that people liked our music after having performed on stage twice, both for the feeling that it gave a more eastern flavour and something original. I'm glad about all the bands doing original music but it still sounds very western." 'Tapas' has two kinds of music running in its veins. "Apart from 'Mantra rock' we have improvised fusion," he explains, that they decide on a scale from a 'Raga' and start exploring the notes from there onwards to see what comes up. "Then we start introducing the rhythms while everybody contributes. It's an interaction of the instruments. The main thing is to make something out of that moment, and try to surprise ourselves with the outcome, that's the kick."

He says it's quite different from 'Mantra rock,' where he creates a song in which Mantra pattern repeats itself allowing one to actually sing along. "It's more composed and arranged. We try to throw a magic spell through 'Mantra rock.'

But improvised fusion offers a lot of freedom and we're not bound which is very important to us."

Influenced by the 1960's counter culture Rahju says, that he was also inspired by the Indian Yogi, the music traditions and some aspects of modern art. "Also the American modern art from the 50's which influenced my painting."

He reveals that he used to merely play for himself before he formed 'Tapas.' "I was in art school in Norway, where my mom was.

I used to play for rock bands there in my teens.

After finishing art school in Norway, I came back to Sri Lanka and dropped the bands. I played for myself when I wanted a break from painting, until about two years ago when some friends started jamming with me in the studio." Rahju says that he's spent about 20 years just practicing on his own. He doesn't forget to mention that he owes the success to the other two members of Tapas, who are full time musicians.

Tapas performed on May 13 at the Finomenal gallery for the opening of Rahju's art exhibition.

Explaining how they came to the lime light, he says that Rock Company was interested in their music. "It was Pabalu who was in touch with the crowd since he was helping another band on a temporary basis."

Commenting on the music scene in the country Rahju says it's exciting to see all the enthusiasm and young talent. "It breaks the barriers and repressions. Only thing is that we lack local flavour, it's still very western. I'm sure that it'll happen, though." He says that it's interesting to see the young generation trying to identify with the bands or music, wanting their own bands or music. Taking their work to a wider audience, 'Tapas' talks about launching their own CD. "We want to go to the studio and put out an album of 'Mantra rock.' Our future performance depends on the response we get. Most of the songs are composed for the CD, but since we're a part time band, putting them together will take a little while," says Rahju.

They have based the songs on Mantra, which has a meaning that refers to a certain aspect of the divine. Mantra being the chorus, a few lyrics are added in-between. "Then we create the sounds around them including guitar solos and the usual noise of a rock band," he says.

Rahju reveals that they've already completed eight songs; "There's another eight in the works. The first song is called 'Om Namo Shivaya.' 'Sarasvathi Invocation,' the second song, is a very slow track thanking the Goddess Sarasvati for the music. 'Hari Om' is the third one and the fourth song which is my favourite is called 'Buddhang Saranang' which is a call for peace."

Looking at life from a simple point of view, Rahju says when talking about music, "It's something that takes me away. Once you're taken away, you discover that you've actually lost nothing.”

Article from the Sunday Observer magazine, 30th May 2004