Shehara Jayatilaka Napoleon

“From the beginning, I felt that Heavy Metal is not just about music but also something that you feel with your heart. It is music that helps you express your emotions and feelings,” said popular heavy metal musician Suzuka Nakamoto. The genre of heavy metal has often been perceived negatively throughout history and female heavy metal musicians even more so. Sri Lankan heavy metal musician Shehara Jayatilaka Napoleon challenges these norms; composed through expressions of life experiences, healing messages and reactions to external influences, ‘Fountain of Memory’ becomes the first metal album to have been released by a female artist. Since winning TNL Onstage in 2011, the artist has made waves in the music industry and continues to create a space that inspires and influences more female artists to join the heavy metal genre. In conversing with the musician, Shehara unveils the struggles of creating and composing the album in a competitive industry.

Often dubbed, “Metal Maiden” and “Sri Lanka’s Metal Queen,” Shehara was a finalist of the esteemed talent competition TNL Onstage in 2011 and has since released 5 singles titled Broken Wings, Loved for Eternity, Enemy, Days With Gaia and Perfect Syndrome as well as collaborated with many musicians from Sri Lanka; One in particular for a charity project called ‘We’re On Our Way’ in aid of those who suffered the devastating floods in Sri Lanka in 2016. Shehara has toured as far as Sri Lanka’s hill capital, Kandy and played at Metal gigs, festivals, corporate events, live local television and radio both in Colombo and Kandy from 2011 onwards, despite many lineup changes. Since the album launch concert of debut album ‘Fountain of Memory’ in September 2019, Shehara has released two music videos for the songs ‘Loved for Eternity’ and ‘Fidelity’ all which became Sri Lanka’s first Metal album and videos to be released by a Female.

Q |How did your journey in the music industry begin?

A |Ever since I was a kid, music was everything and I grew up wanting it to be in my life in an important way. So, I guess when I heard of TNL Onstage, competing in it was the first goal. A little before I actually sent in my demo for auditions, my uncle who had a home studio recorded me singing First Cut Is The Deepest so, I sent that in, got in, became a finalist in 2011 and released my first single "Broken Wings" as a part of the TNL Onstage Compilation CD. I was also the only female contestant who was interested in Rock and Metal that year so, I think that caught everyone's attention. That was also the same time I met Tennyson Napoleon who helped me write the music to the songs I had written and performing two originals for the competition really set my journey in motion.

Q |Can you tell us about your debut album, 'Fountain of Memory' and how it came to be? What was the creative process like? What obstacles did you encounter in its production?

A |Fountain of Memory has a lot of life experiences, healing messages and reactions to external influences wrapped up in 8 songs. At the time it was first recorded, the band was on a hiatus. We had no drummer and the guitarist and bassist had left the country, so the only logical next step was to take a break from gigs and record the album. I worked part time jobs and took on a lot of freelance graphic and web design work, working sleepless nights, through pregnancies and motherhood to pay for recordings, packaging, practice studios and the album launch concert. The album was intentionally deleted by the producer when Tenny and I first recorded it and it caused a lot of mental and emotional trauma so I'm not ashamed to say that I had to learn to replace bitterness with hard work and practice in order to learn new skills and become a leader and confident frontwoman at the risk of being judged, called names and being treated indifferently. Those lessons resulted in the release of Sri Lanka's first Metal album by a female as we recorded the album all over again, with the inclusion of extreme metal vocals by me – screams and growls – and the help of two awesome producers Azlan Shariffdeen and Izzy Wildchild.

Q |Who are some of your inspirations and how have they inspired your music?

A |I am mostly inspired by Naruto and his unwavering promise of never giving up. Vocally, I am inspired by Dez Fafara of DevilDriver, Chuck Schuldiner of Death and Devin Townsend reinforces my belief of making music from the heart rather than boxing myself up in a single construct.

Q |What is your opinion on the Sri Lankan music industry in its English scene and why is it significant to have female Metal artists such as yourself at the forefront as well?

A |I've been told that listening to my album is refreshing and that when people want to introduce Metal to someone who has never heard Metal before, they play my album because it's by a female and because the music is a perfect combination of heavy and melodic. And what I understand from that is that the Sri Lankan metal music Industry needs more female metal artists at the forefront because the genre is sometimes misunderstood. To the untrained eye in metal, there'll be men dominating the stage, sometimes covered in tattoos and long hair, the girls would just be fans and we have all these misconceptions of Metal being too aggressive or violent when it's all about selfexpression shared through intelligent messages, intricate detail and really, lots of talent and skill that Metal musicians put in a lot of effort and practice to hone. Additionally, what most don't know is that there are many women who help these male musicians behind the scenes. For instance, the promoters, women in media, artists, photographers, wives, girlfriends whom without this male dominated industry would not be. So, I feel like we definitely need more frontwomen on stage changing these misconceptions and sharing what we believe in unapologetically on stage than from only behind the scenes. We need more female musicians who are skilled drummers who can play double bass well especially because most of the local male drummers are already in more than one band. We need female keyboardists, guitarists and we need to solidify this foundation for female metal musicians in Sri Lanka so no one ever forgets we exist, so we can make room for more women to share what they believe in with the right support and guidance.

Q |What are you currently working on?

A |I'm currently writing new material for the second album and my band is about to record a few more music videos. I'll also be releasing two singles in the next few months which are Code of The Ancient’s Right: Shehara (Sri Lanka) & Hambe (Maldives) ft Mohini Dey (India), Fasy (Malaysia), Krsto (Bosnia) & Habeysboduberu (Maldives) and Inner Spirit: Shehara & Tennyson Napoleon.

Stream Fountain of Memory on Spotify, for merch and latest updates, visit sheharamusic.com and watch the music videos at youtube.com/shehara

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4th August, 2021 Performance Art