26 June 2023

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged and unlimited

When many covers are made of a song it indicates a degree of popularity. When it is hummed or sung by people who do not consider themselves artists, that’s popularity at a different level altogether.  

This is a story of a song with a song-introduction. First, the intro. M.S. Fernando’s highly popular ‘Kaekiri paelena tikiri sinaavai.’ Like thousand of others I’ve heard the ‘MS version’. Like thousands of others, probably, I haven’t heard any covers of that song. But I sing it and sing along when others sing it.

On Friday night I did listen to a cover of the song. Just voice and guitar. I told myself ‘MS himself would have applauded,’ for it was nothing like I’ve ever heard. It was unique and it was better than the original, to me.  The rendition said a lot about the voice, musical ability and creativity of the artist, Sanjeew Lonliyes.

Sanjeew sang his original compositions, apart from this and another song by Gunadasa Kapuge (lyrics by Ratna Sri Wijesinghe), ‘Sinhala sindu kiyana….’ The lyrics were mostly his. The melodies too. The audience, mostly students of the Sri Palee Campus of the Colombo University, seemed very familiar with the songs. I, on the other hand, was hearing them for the very first time. 

Someone, one day, will write a comprehensive review of Sanjeew Lonliyes’ work. As for me, I just wanted to share some thoughts inspired by what he sang and some of the things he said when invited to comment on two or three of the songs.  This not being a review, I will limit myself to a song and its rendition which in many ways spoke to and of a genre and a philosophy.

The title of the song: yakada manamaali (the iron bride). It’s the story of a poor man from a remote village who sculpts a bride using scrap metal. Sanjeew, in a way, uses this particular song as the thematic creative for the political and philosophical tenets that signature his work as an artist.

As a prelude to one of his songs, Sanjeew spoke about the trials and tribulations of people who struggle to bring out the artists trapped within themselves, as he put it. In other words, to create, share and engage. The stories behind the screen are largely unknown. The struggles that precede the show, so to say, are unseen. In his case, Sanjeew said, the unheard and unseen behind-the-screen, before-the-show story is what he finds most endearing.

That would be the rough-cut, then. He’s made an art of it clearly and names it as it is, amu or raw. Amu sindu or raw songs, amu culture or raw culture. That’s songs, art, culture and ways of being and becoming that come without frills, without cosmetics. It seems he has struck a chord that resonates with many people, going by his fan following and the degree of familiarity with his work among young people. They knew Yakada manamaali. They sang along.

There’s art that’s seen, reviewed and celebrated. There’s another kind of art. The amu art of the amu people, those who are unseen, unrecognised, insulted and humiliated even, and, in the rare occasion of recognition, whose innocence and helplessness are exploited.

එකතු කරගෙන පරණ බඩු කෑලි...

දිලෙන සියුමැලි යකඩ මනමාලි...

දුටිමි මලකඩ කරගැටම පේලි...

කැලේ වැද්දගේ යකඩ මනමාලි....

Scrap metal having foraged
a shining and tender iron bride
a row of rusted callouses I did see
the wild man's iron bride

And here’s the back story:

සුවඳ මලකඩ පර වෙන්නේ නැති යකඩ මල් බොකි..

හිතෙන්නෑ විකුණන්න කොළඹට සියුමැලි ම කෑලි....

ඒත් පොඩි උන් අඬනවා මඟ බලන් ඇති ගෑනි...

කැලේ ඇතුළෙම පරවෙනවා වෙනව බං හුඟක් මල් ජාති...

The iron bouquets will not wilt
the softest pieces in Colmbo I'm loath to leave behind
but the little ones cry and the woman awaits
there are flowers, people, that in the forest fade

Sanjeew alludes to the political economy of the creative exercise. The amuness, if you will, of it all. Appropriate it is then for the discourse itself to be coloured, perfumed and framed by amuness.

There’s a line from another song (‘Vahannata epaa kisaka uda boththama,’ or ‘Keep the top button  undone, always’) written by the celebrated young poet Timran Keerthi, an amu poet who has lived an amu life: ‘bana pothak vagei karagaeta pirunu ath deka’ (the callous-ridden hands are like a philosophical text).

Those hands, those callouses are known to those they belong to, those who have similar hands and those who have the eyes to see such hands. They don’t belong always to those who have the luxury of standing up, waving hands and screaming ‘here I am, come see my hands.’ That’s a given when it comes to amu people living amu lives in an amu society. They can be read, however, as you would a sacred text peruse.

But rawness pervades. Rawness breaks through the well-polished surfaces of mediocrity, deceit, plunder and overall subjugation. Wait, no. Rawness is made to break through such carefully crafted screens that hide and lie. You need an amu personality, conscious of his amuness and is determined to turn it into a mirror that reflects reality using the amu-potency of melody, musical arrangement, lyrics and audience-engagement.

Sanjeew Lonliyes is such a man. Unpretentious, he unwras pretension. Layer after layer after layer.


['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

In praise of courage, determination and insanity

The relative values of life and death

Feet that walk

Sarinda's eyes

Poetry and poets will not be buried

Sunny Dayananda

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990)

What makes Oxygen breathable? 

Sorrowing and delighting the world

The greatest fallacy 

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi

Beyond praise and blame

Letters that cut and heal the heart

Vanished and vanishing trails


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya

The soft rain of neighbourliness 

The Gold Medals of being

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri

All those we've loved before

Reflections on waves and markings

A chorus of National Anthems

Saying what and how

'Say when'

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra

The loves of our lives

The right time, the right person

The silent equivalent of a thousand words

Crazy cousins are besties for life

Unities, free and endearing

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!"

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis

The revolution is the song

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins

The day I won a Pulitzer


Ella Deloria's silences

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable 


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan

Enlightening geometries

Let's meet at 'The Commons'

It all begins with a dot

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone

On sweeping close to one's feet

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts...

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm

Who really wrote 'Mother'?

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember

On loving, always

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal

When you turn 80...

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday 

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart