As I prepared for my interview with Ranidu Lankage ’05, I placed my reporter’s notebook and pencil in my bag and was on my way. But then I stopped. Should I have brought a separate sheet of paper so I could get his autograph? After all, if I were a teenage Sri Lankan girl, I would be sending him fan mail and screaming at his very sight.
I decided the extra sheet of paper was unnecessary, but I couldn’t help wondering what to expect from Lankage, the chart-topping Sri Lankan pop star.
As soon as I met Lankage, however, he completely put me at ease. Clad in baggy sweatpants and slightly fatigued from what he confessed had been a late Friday night, Lankage began to tell me about his career.
On Jan. 16 of this year, Lankage released his first album, Oba magemai. But the album was not his first experience in the entertainment industry. Before it was released, Lankage had toured with a group in Sri Lanka, composed a chart-topping song in 2000, and given over 100 live concerts.
He is an icon in Sri Lanka, and he admitted — with a smile — that he would indeed be recognized while walking on the street.
But Lankage was always interested in music. He sang in the school choir and played in his school’s junior band but said he really became involved when his mother bought him a piano.
“In the beginning, no one taught me anything,” he said. Fooling around on the piano and getting a sense for the music, he taught himself much of what he now knows. But in order to learn more technical aspects such as computer sequencing, Lankage said, he worked with professional musician Dilup Gabadamudalige.
Soon after his work with Gabadamudalige, Lankage spent two years touring Sri Lanka as a member of “Bathiya and Santhush.” The group performed on many different occasions, including opening for the Venga Boys. Though he admitted such performances could be nerve-wracking, he seemed to thrive on the energy and the adrenaline.
“It’s a rush that I can’t explain,” Lankage said. “It’s fun when you get on stage and forget about all the nervousness and you just let loose. You connect with the people, and there’s just a lot of energy there.”
Of course, not every performance is flawless. Lankage, like any other performer, has had his share of less-than-perfect moments.
“I was playing in an arena last summer,” Lankage said. “And I was standing on a platform on the left side of the stage, but I had to walk to the center. I fell on stage in the process. Luckily, since I was on the left, only the people on the left really saw. But for a few seconds, it was still pretty embarrassing.”
Lankage’s music could be categorized in a number of different ways, from slow R&B to beat and “club” music. He pointed out that in Sri Lanka, unlike in the United States, listeners would be disappointed if an album contained only one type of music. On Oba magemai, Lankage sings in English while a woman sings in Sinhalese.
Although he loves the music and the entertainment lifestyle, Lankage said he recognizes the downsides of being a pop singer in Sri Lanka.
“It’s not like the U.S. where a singer is a ‘rock star,'” Lankage said. “The older generation doesn’t look at it as a ‘real job.'”
Despite this prevailing attitude, Lankage devoted much time to his music and said he was grateful that his family was behind him.
“My parents always supported me,” Lankage said. “If not for them, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. They always told me, ‘Whatever you do, just do it to the best of your ability.'”
But Lankage recognized the importance of education, even as his popularity increased. Lankage ranked fourth in the nation on the exam seniors must take in order to graduate high school. He said he wanted to go to college either in the United States or in England.
At Yale, Lankage has been part of several cultural events and says that he tries to perform whenever he can. Although a cappella is “not his thing,” he does play on the varsity squash team.
Lankage said he plans to release a second album and hopes to begin performing in India and America. But he also has more local aspirations.
“There’s a lot of talent at Yale,” Lankage said. “I think we can do more together in the future.”
His advice to Yale’s rising musicians?
“Be true to yourself, and try to be unique,” he said. “If you sing exactly like Mariah Carey, you won’t get in, because there is already a Mariah Carey.” n