An illicit review
There is a “musical” doing the rounds on the internet about Asikland (Our – sick – Land). I hope as many of you, my dear readers, as possible, get to see it () before it is invariably pulled down and moved to oblivion. Many of you must be familiar (I sincerely hope) with the episodes that preceded this two-hour musical. The talent of the people involved leaves one gasping, for had they lived in a more prosperous country they would have taken their place among the Andrew Lloyd Webbers of this world, or maybe just a rank or two lower! True the tunes are “borrowed” from more famous artistes such as Queen and Elton John and some of them have been used in well-known plays and musicals and even movies such as Lion King (ironic!), but the lyrics have been changed and adapted so wonderfully. The parody on the names of the characters is reminiscent of the subtle wit of Goscinny and Uderzo of Asterix fame. The storyline is a clear satire on life in the Pearl, politicians, their “catchers” and supposedly intellectual and “literate” conversation of the cocktail circuit. So much so that it is reminiscent of the Antics of Evita and Peron in that world-famous work of Lloyd Webber. Che Guevara or his incompetent representatives in the Pearl are parodied to perfection. So is the inept Opposition and its past and present leaders. There is an authentic insight into the workings of the “ruling family” with nicknames and behavioural characteristics that smack of input from an insider. Even the voices and the inferences of the very accents characters have been dealt with carefully and very insightfully. There is a piano solo by the one term President from Polonnaruwa that leaves on clutching the sides of one’s chair in hysterical mirth. All in all, it is a panacea for the ills faced by us lovers of the Pearl and people who remember better days when honour and genteel behaviour was taken for granted and indeed even expected of leaders of society.
Certainly, the talent of the people involved in this production are on a par, if not far excessive of, those of a young female singer who is being touted on the internet and in the general media at present. Does one dare say it (and I know there are others who agree with me) but such an artiste is literarily a dime a dozen in the Pearl. It seems big names, powerful family connections and of course the blind sheep following of internet posts and Instagram that has gained such “popularity” for a song thin on lyrics to say the least! What of other far superior popular artistes (Annesley, Clarence, Sunil, Desmond – just to name four with much more meaningful and relevant lyrics) the three sisters to venture into the realm of the fair sex and the classical talent of Nanda Malini and maestro Amaradeva? The Asikland musical deserves to go viral, much more so than the aforesaid efforts of a young female singer.
I hear the Pearl is reopening for business as usual. Provided the immunisation levels are adequate this seems to be the way the rest of the world is going. Antivaxxers are still creating headlines and doubt and uncertainty but the thinking seems to be that they are the minority and if they choose to gamble with their health the option is theirs. However, even in liberal democracies like Aotearoa – New Zealand, rules such as employers having the option to discontinue employment if people are not vaccinated are being introduced. A “vaccine passport” both in the form of a card (already available) and a digital document to be stored on a mobile phone or other electronic device will follow. Howls of protest on violations of privacy and government tracking of movements of individuals are undoubtedly on the way.
Talking of inevitability and things on the way, the North-East Monsoon is on the way folks and judging by its impact on countries to the north and east of us geographically, the affects could be catastrophic. Are we prepared for such an eventuality? Here is Aotearoa – NZ the Red Cross conducts “disaster preparedness” exercises in neighbourhoods and among community groups. People are told to have their important documents, first aid kits, battery powered torches and radios in special waterproof bags ready to “grab and go” in an emergency. Local places of refuge for example higher ground in the case of a Tsunami or flooding are pointed out and general action is taken to minimise the trauma of possible natural disasters. Above all people, are educated as to the benefits and the synergy generated by a community of a local neighbourhood working as one during a disaster. The combined strength of pooled resources and the importance of having a “disaster buddy” (someone from another area to check on how you are doing and inform the authorities should you be incommunicado) is emphasised. In fact, there is even a “disaster preparedness week” declared by the Red Cross every year, when such activities and intensified. The Pearl has a Red Cross society doesn’t it? I recall a multi-story building on Dharmapala Mawatha near the public library. I wonder what the worthies inhabiting that building do? I know there are individuals who have been trained at Government expense (past governments) who are currently sitting on their hands due to political differences! What’s more the soothsayers are predicting natural disasters, will even this not move the so-called government who have been elected to safeguard the people, into action?
Obtaining fresh mandate unavoidable requirement
by Jehan Perera
The government’s plans for reviving the economy show signs of working out for the time being. The long-awaited IMF loan is about to be granted. This would enable the government to access other loans to tide over the current economic difficulties. The challenge will be to ensure that both the old loans and new ones will be repayable. To this end the government has begun to implement its new tax policy which increases the tax burden significantly on income earners who can barely make ends meet, even without the taxes, in the aftermath of the rise in price levels. The government is also giving signals that it plans to downsize the government bureaucracy and loss-making state enterprises. These are reforms that may be necessary to balance the budget, but they are not likely to gain the government the favour of the affected people. The World Bank has warned that many are at risk of falling back into poverty, with 40 percent of the population living on less than 225 rupees per person per day.
The problem for the government is that the economic policies, required to stabilize the economy, are not popular ones. They are also politically difficult ones. The failure to analyse the past does not help us to ascertain reasons for our failures and also avoids taking action against those who had misused, or damaged, the system unfairly. The costs of this economic restructuring, to make the country financially viable, is falling heavily, if not disproportionately, on those who are middle class and below. Fixed income earners are particularly affected as they bear a double burden in being taxed at higher levels, at a time when the cost of living has soared. Unlike those in the business sector, and independent professionals, who can pass on cost increases to their clients, those in fixed incomes find it impossible to make ends meet. Emigration statistics show that over 1.2 million people, or five percent of the population, left the country, for foreign employment, last year.
The economic hardships, experienced by the people, has led to the mobilization of traditional trade unions and professionals’ organisations. They are all up in arms against the government’s income generation, at their expense. Last week’s strike, described as a token strike, was successful in that it evoked a conciliatory response from the government. Many workers did not keep away from work, perhaps due to the apprehension that they might not only lose their jobs, but also their properties, as threatened by one government member, who is close to the President. There was a precedent for this in 1981 when the government warned striking workers that they would be sacked. The government carried out its threat and over 40,000 government officials lost their jobs. They and their families were condemned to a long time in penury. The rest of society went along with the repression as the government was one with an overwhelming mandate from the people.
The striking unions have explained their decision to temporarily discontinue their strike action due to President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s willingness to reconsider their economic grievances. More than 40 trade unions, in several sectors, joined the strike. They explained they had been compelled to resort to strike action as there was no positive response from the government to their demands. Due to the strike, services such as health, posts, and railways were affected. Workers in other sectors, including education, port, power, water supply, petroleum, road development, and banking services, also joined the strike. The striking unions have said they would take up the President’s offer to discuss their concerns with the government and temporarily called a halt to their strike action. This would give the government an opportunity to rethink its strategy. Unlike the government in 1981 this one has no popular mandate. In the aftermath of the protest movement, it has only a legal mandate.
So far, the government has been unyielding in the face of public discontent. Public protests have been suppressed. Protest leaders have been arrested and price and tax hikes have gone ahead as planned. The government has been justifying the rigid positions it has been taking on the basis of its prioritization of economic recovery for which both political stability and financial resources are necessary. However, by refusing to heed public opinion the government has been putting itself on a course of confrontation with organized forces, be they trade unions or political parties. The severity of the economic burden, placed on the larger section of society, even as other sectors of society appear to be relatively unaffected, creates a perception of injustice that needs to be mitigated. Engaging in discussion with the trade unions and reconsidering its approach to those who have been involved in public protests could be peace making gestures in the current situation.
On the other hand, exacerbating the political crisis is the government’s continuing refusal to hold the local government elections, as scheduled, on two occasions now by the Elections Commission and demanded by law. The government’s stance is even in contradiction to the Supreme Court’s directives that the government should release the financial resources necessary for the purpose leading to an ever-widening opposition to it. The government’s determination to thwart the local government elections stems from its pragmatic concerns regarding its ability to fare well at them. Public opinion polls show the government parties obtaining much lower support than the opposition parties. Except for the President, the rest of the government consists of the same political parties and government members that faced the wrath of the people’s movement a year ago and had to resign in ignominy.
The government’s response to the pressures it is under has been to repress the protest movement through police action that is especially intolerant of street protests. It has also put pressure on state institutions to conform to its will, regardless of the law. The decisions of the Election Commission to set dates for the local government elections have been disregarded once, and the elections now appear to have to be postponed yet again. The government is also defying summons upon its ministers by the Human Rights Commission which has been acting independently to hold the government to account to the best extent it can. The government’s refusal to abide by the judicial decision not to block financial resources for election purposes is a blow to the rule of law that will be to the longer-term detriment of the country. These are all negative trends that are recipes for future strife and lawlessness. These would have long term and unexpected implications not to the best for the development of the country or its values.
There are indications that President Wickremesinghe is cognizant of the precariousness of the situation. The accumulation of pressures needs to be avoided, be it for gas at homes or issues in the country. As an experienced political leader, student of international politics, he would be aware of the dangers posed by precipitating a clash involving the three branches of government. A confrontation with the judiciary, or a negation of its decisions, would erode the confidence in the entire legal system. It would damage the confidence of investors and the international community alike in the stability of the polity and its commitment to the rule of law. The public exhortations of the US ambassador with regard to the need to conduct the local government elections would have driven this point home.
It is also likely that the US position on the importance of holding elections on time is also held by the other Western countries and Japan. Sri Lanka is dependent on these countries, still the wealthiest in the world, for its economic sustenance, trade and aid, in the form of concessional financing and benefits, such as the GSP Plus tariff concession. Therefore, the pressures coming from both the ground level in the country and the international community, may push the government in the direction of elections and seeking a mandate from the people. Strengthening the legitimacy of the government to govern effectively and engage in problem solving in the national interest requires an electoral mandate. The mandate sought may not be at the local government level, where public opinion polls show the government at its weakest, but at the national level which the President can exercise at his discretion.
Sing-along… Down Memory Lane
Sing-alongs have turned out to be hugely popular, in the local showbiz scene, and, I would say, it’s mainly because they are family events, and also the opportunity given to guests to shine, in the vocal spotlight, for a minute, or two!
I first experienced a sing-along when I was invited to check out the famous Rhythm World Dance School sing-along evening.
It was, indeed, something different, with Sohan & The X-Periments doing the needful, and, today, Sohan and his outfit are considered the No.1 band for sing-along events.
I’m told that the first ever sing-along concert, in Sri Lanka, was held on 27th April, 1997, and it was called Down Memory Lane (DML), presented by the Moratuwa Arts Forum (MAF),
The year 2023 is a landmark year for the MAF and, I’m informed, they will be celebrating their Silver Jubilee with a memorable concert, on 29th April, 2023, at the Grand Bolgoda Resort, Moratuwa.
Due to the Covid pandemic, their sing-along series had to be cancelled, as well as their planned concert for 2019. However, the organisers say the delayed 25th Jubilee Celebration concert is poised to be a thriller, scheduled to be held on 29th April, 2023.
During the past 25 years, 18 DML concerts had been held, and the 25th Jubilee Celebration concert will be the 19th in the series.
Famous, and much-loved, ‘golden oldies’, will be sung by the audience of music lovers, at this two and a half hours programme.
Down Memory Lane was the brainchild of musician Priya Peiris, (of ‘Cock-a-Doodle-Do’ fame) and the MAF became the pioneers of sing-along concerts in Sri Lanka.
The repertoire of songs for the 25th Jubilee Celebration concert will include a vast selection of international favourites, Cowboy and old American Plantation hits, Calypsos, Negro Spirituals, everybody’s favourites, from the ’60s and ’70s era, Sinhala evergreens, etc.
Singers from the Moratuwa Arts Forum will be on stage to urge the audience to sing. The band Echo Steel will provide the musical accompaniment for the audience to join in the singing, supported by Brian Coorey, the left handed electric bass guitarist, and Ramany Soysa on grand piano.
The organisers say that every participant will get a free songbook. There would also be a raffle draw, with several prizes to be won,
Arun Dias Bandaranaike will be the master of ceremonies.
President of the Moratuwa Arts Forum, Melantha Perera, back from Australia, after a successful tour, says: “All music lovers, especially Golden Oldies enthusiasts, are cordially invited to come with their families, and friends, to have an enjoyable evening, and to experience heartwarming fellowship and bonhomie.”
Further details could be obtained from MAF Treasurer, Laksiri Fernando (077 376 22 75).
CATCH 22 for
‘Ranpota’ hitmaker Nimal Jayamanne has got a new outfit going, made up of veteran musicians.
The band is called CATCH 22 and they, officially, started performing at The Warehouse (TWH), on 2nd March 2023.
The members are Nimal Jayamanne, R. Sumith Jayaratne, Duminda Sellappruma, Keerthi Samarasekara and Sajith Mutucumarana.
Says Nimal: “I took this name (CATCH 22) as a mark of respect to the late and great Hassan Musafer, who was the drummer of the original Catch 22.
You could catch Nimal in action, on Thursday evenings, at TWH, from 7 pm onwards.
Till recently, Nimal, who underwent a cataract operation, on his left eye, last week, was with Warehouse Legends, and has this to say about them:
“Thank you Warehouse Legends for letting me be an active member of your team, during the past year and 14 days. I wish you all the best.”
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