CHENNAI: Thurya in Sri Lankan vocabulary represents the category of percussion instruments. Breaking the strict gender norms in the island country’s percussion art circle, a group of female drummers started performing under the name ‘Thuryaa’ in 2015, becoming the first-ever women’s percussion ensemble in Sri Lanka.
The band comprises 20 musicians, of which four drummers — Sithara Maduwanti, Sanduni Chathurangi, Shalini Yashodha and Chethani Rathnayake — were in the city on Sunday. The young and vibrant musicians performed to a packed audience at Express Avenue Mall. In a free-wheeling chat, the members spoke to CE about breaking into the traditionally male-dominated sphere of percussion music in Sri Lanka.
The journey of Thuryaa began within the walls of the University of the Visual and Performance Arts in Colombo.
“I enrolled as the first female student in the Department of Percussion at my university. I became the first female percussion graduate in the history of the university. With the help of my tabla teacher Sriyan Chandrasekara and support from the university, the ensemble was formed with nine talented undergraduate students in 2015,” said Sithara Maduwanti, the lead drummer.
The musicians realised their ability to dance and groove to the beats while playing the instruments and that set them apart. “The whole body including the mind is involved in the process while performing. Sometimes our hands crack from pressure, we get exhausted and a few give up during the process of learning. Determination, training the bodies and constant practice has brought us this far. Women also have the endurance and strength to play this instrument and we’ve proved it,” beamed Sithara.
The team has performed in Punjab, New Delhi, Odisha and Benares. The theme of the band ‘Share the rhythm of humanity’ was created to break the gender divide. “From the time of our ancestors, the traditional art of Sri Lankan drumming has been based within the confinement of men and has been out of reach for women. Everybody has the right to play. We hope to change the mindset with our performances and musical journey,” said Sithara. Soon, the band will be working on originals and albums.
We’re told that there are five kinds of drums depending on whether they’re played with bare hands, sticks or both. The ensemble plays the Yak Beraya (Low Country drum), Thammettama (using sticks), Geta Beraya (wedding drum), Dawula, and Udakki. The team also plays the Indian tabla, dhol, Cajons, Congas, Djembes, Western drums and Timbales.