Amarsha Tissera and Tehani Tissera

One of humanity’s great accomplishments resides in our mere capability to understand and encode emotion through art and music. Through colour, shadow and harmony, us humans experience and observe, listen and comprehend a message or sentiment in a string of notes and tones. Music plays a major role in any being’s ability to remember and reminisce a moment or place in time. Daily ARTRA’s Artist of Week, musician duo Amarsha and Tehani, music comes naturally and in a riveting conversation, they tell all:

Q: Could you tell us a bit about your background, how you came into the music industry?

Amarsha: Our mother is a music teacher, and so was my grandma. Tehani started playing the piano when she was 4 and took up the violin at 7. I began playing the piano at age 6, and the cello at 7. We were just born into it. I think for my mum especially, teaching us music was more of a safety plan so that even if we didn’t want to do anything else we could always teach music or be with music. It’s always been a good thing to fall back on.

Tehani: Music has always been a part of me, I’ve always been around it and we just grew up with but it was structured like classical music. We learnt the piano from Mrs. Ramya De Livera Perera, cello from Tamara Holsinger, and the violin from Mr. Ananda Dabare.

Q: What does music mean to you?

Tehani: It’s always been something that I’ve looked to, if you take music out of my life, I’ll feel a massive void. It’s just not something I go to, but something I am in all the time. If I’m not singing or playing, it’s in my head. And, it’s also the education of music to others, so as much as it is therapeutic it’s also about learning because there’s so much that you learn in music that you can apply to real life.

Amarsha: For me, it’s just a happy place. Whether I’m singing or playing there’s nothing that can compare to what it feels like to be performing.

Q: What’s your take on the local art scene, currently, what do you think about other musicians, in what you do now, what are your thoughts on that?

Amarsha: We’ve been brought up mainly on classical music. So we can’t speak for all local art forms or genres, but for the ones that we have been exposed to, it’s definitely like a culture shock because there’s such variety in our local art scene and it’s absolutely eye-opening for us.

Tehani: A lot of people underestimate the talent we have in Sri Lanka and it’s amazing how many people without a professional musical background are so talented and we see this every day. We were always in this little bubble of classical music but when we stepped out of it through Pettah Effect and we started seeing all these other artists not only from Colombo but out of Colombo and even online, and in simple things like school talent shows there are people with so much potential of becoming fantastic musicians.

Q: What do you want to convey through your music?

Tehani: When I feel something when I perform, my whole purpose is to make you feel that. So, I try as much as I can, to make the audience feel what I’m feeling because I think that’s what’s special about being a musician because each person hears or feels something different about a song.

Amarsha: I think if I’m feeling what I’m singing and if I feel what I play I know they’ll feel it too. So it’s about me putting it into my performance for anyone to feel anything.

Q: Are there any other projects that you’re currently working on?

Tehani: there’s a couple that we’re working on; there’s Rendezvous by Pettah Effect on the 22nd of June, a big production coming up at the end of the year called Hamlet at Elsie’s bar, which we’ll be music directors for, again it’s something completely different. Feroze Kamardeen wrote the play and we’re performing in October so we’re in the midst of practising. Those are the current big projects that we’re working on and we’re also working on our originals and we play in the orchestra as well.

Tehani: We play in the symphony orchestra and the pops concert. We’ve been playing in it for a while, it’s a completely different field compared to an open mic but it’s amazing.

Q: Tell us about Pettah Effect

Amarsha: The founders are Dilanjan Seneviratne, he’s the CEO of Theewra, and Kamith Illangakoon he owns G Sharp Studios. Pettah Effect started a year ago and they celebrated a year in March. After auditioning for them we became Volume II. There were about 60-80 audition lists and from they picked 25. After Volume I, they tried to bring in different kinds of music and people from different backgrounds and people were coming from Matara and Kandy just to practice.

Tehani: Everyone brings their own flavour where each one would add something different, and when everyone comes together it’s beautiful and it’ll never be the same. Everyone would bring a different angle to the song, which is amazing because that’s also a form of self-exploration, you’re looking into what you’re good at. Music is a form of that because it makes you think, and you’re pushed, if you don’t identify what’s special about you, you can’t communicate that to someone else. And that originality just doesn’t come through writing a song but originality is the way you perceive music.

Q: Can you tell us about the process of composing music/ and what really inspires you?

Tehani: With regard to the songs I’ve written, and the third one in progress; I try to pass a message through them, for me it’s very important that the protagonist in my song: if you’re singing it or listening to it, I need you to feel the journeys or if it’s you’re starting broken, you have to feel uplifted at the end of it so I’d generally think of a storyline, I try to take all the emotion and when I do come to a solution I write about the process of it. I want that person to find solace in the song, if I can put into words what I felt and how I got through that, that’s an accomplishment.

Tehani: Don’t let your stereotypical thinking stop you.

Q: Can you tell us about your experience in theatre and directing musicals?

Amarsha: My Fair Lady was the first I’d done, and then The Greatest Shows, in October, then I worked for Jith Pieris, and I’ve been taking part in other plays. So theatre is not new to me, but musical directing and directing a musical is new to us.

Tehani: It’s interesting because we’re working with a live group of people it’s not just the songs. Fortunately, we have our playwright in the country, so we can understand what he really wants. If he wants the audience to feel scared, how do I make them feel scared and what kind of music can I write, what kind of keys can I use and the beautiful part is we have a lot of control over what we’re doing so it’s a different working process, working with actors means you need to understand them. How you find the middle ground, there’s a variety of voices, there are people who can sing the highest and lowest ground, so it’s interesting.

Amarsha: I think it’s interesting because it’s an original musical, with original lyrics and script, which makes us more aware of spitting out our words, making sure we emphasize and areas in which phrasing is needed and bringing that same emotion that the writer had for the character, it makes us more aware of how we need to learn. It’s so exciting, to be working with so many people and having that kind of creative freedom, to a great extent.

Q: Will you be continuing your career in music? And will you step into newer levels, perhaps even internationally?

Tehani: We never actually saw ourselves going into music professionally because we’re both law students, but now that we’re exposed to many new things we see that there are so many other avenues. Where we go internationally, I really can’t say right now, but definitely, in a local sense, I think there’s a lot we have learned that we’d like to give back as well.

Q: What words of advice would you provide for all those budding artists out there, still coming out of their shell, what would you have to say to them?

Tehani: I would say don’t let things that you’ve heard stop you. You need to push yourself and keep trying to constantly push yourself.

Amarsha: I think that it is perseverance and knowing what you want and it mostly means how you feel when you perform, it trumps everything else, about what everyone says and how they make you feel, I think you mostly do it for yourself.

Follow Amarsha and Tehani’s journey on Instagram, learn all the new and exciting ventures and explore what the Sri Lankan music talent has to offer!

ARTRA is Sri Lanka’s Art Magazine exploring curated content on Sri Lanka’s visual art, performance art, applied art and written art. Launched in 2012, ARTRA Magazine is a compact monthly art read providing a comprehensive understanding on Sri Lankan artists, art events, monthly art calendars and the Sri Lankan design landscape. In sum, all you need to know about art in Sri Lanka.

4th July, 2019 Performance Art