Early life & Music
Victor Ratnayake was born and grew up in a small village near Kadugannawa. The hills, streams, forests, and paddy fields of his childhood have left a lasting impression on Victor and his music. Victor becomes whimsical when he recalls this cherished childhood: “We can enter the gates of our childhood only through words of a lyric. We can touch and feel that era through a melodious tune. I grew up in rural Kadugannawa where “weli bath” (sand pies) was not such a distant concept as it is to the present day youngsters.” He adds, “we had free time and most importantly the encouragement of our parents to explore the hills, to take a dip in the river, all of which have enriched our creativity and imagination”.
Having observed his musical talents, Victor’s father, Rathnayake Aarachchilage Don James (who sang “Noorthi Gee” as a pastime), presented him with a harmonium on his ninth birthday. In his teens, Victor studied singing and various instruments under Cyril Perera at the M.G.P. Institute in Mulgampola, Kandy. In 1963, he began attending Heywood (now known as the Institute of Aesthetic Studies) where he mastered the violin in addition to receiving voice training.
Early on, Victor noticed a void between classical and popular songs. While H. R. Jothipala and Milton Perera, who sang popular music mainly to Hindi tunes were popular, classical artistes such as Amaradeva and P.V. Nandasiri had fewer listeners. Ananda Samarakoon and Sunil Shantha, who sang folk music, also did not have many followers. Determined to fill this gap between popular and classical music in Sri Lanka, Victor created his inimitable style, a blend of both Western and Eastern music, with heartwarmingly simple lyrics and music to match. In fact, he has composed the music for about 80% of his songs.
In 1966, Victor joined the Ministry of Education as a music teacher and was assigned to Eththalapitiya Maha Vidyalaya in Bandarawela. He recalled life among the salubrious hills in “Sihil Sulang Ralle”, one of his first hits. Another early hit was “Soka senasum wedana”. After more than 40 years, these songs are still in demand today.
By 1973, Victor noted the absence of one-man concerts in the Sri Lankan music scene. The closest was “Shravanaradhana”, a joint concert by Amaradeva and Nanda Malini. Chintana Jayasena and Bandara K. Wijetunga, Victor decided to stage one.
The maiden “Sa” concert was held on July 20, 1973, at the Lumbini Theatre, Havelock Town.The fans who had broken down doors to enter the theatre became absolutely silent when the concert began, enthralled by the music and the musician. The first “Sa” concert is widely considered a turning point in Sri Lankan music. To date, “Sa” has been performed about 1,500 times in Sri Lanka and abroad.
Marriage & Family
When he first met Chitra Rathnalatha, Victor was 14 years old. She was only 10. A romance which blossomed through letters ended in marriage in 1966. True to Victor’s simple, unostentatious lifestyle, their marriage was without the usual invitations, poruwa ceremony, Jayamangala Gatha, bouquests of flowers, or gifts. There wasn’t even a wedding photograph.
Victor and Chitra began life on his monthly salary of Rs. 200/ living in rented homes. The four children-Jayantha, Chandani, Manjula, and Lelum-came in quick succession. Victor says that Chitra was took care of the household and children, alowing him to devote all his time to music. She was a tower of strength, sharing life’s ups and downs and supporting him all the way.
Sadly, Chitra passed away a few years ago.
Philosphy and Lifestyle
According to Victor, no other song conveys the enjoyment of a love song. He derives the most enjoyment and satisfaction from singing because he creates multiple thoughts and mental images as he sings. Victor says that he sings from the depth of his heart, absorbing each song’s sweetness to the utmost. This sweetness is beyond comparsion and has no match.
Victor says that language is no barrier to enjoying good music. “Music is the universal language and what is important is to identify the cultural ideologies of one’s land of birth. The test of a successful piece of music or song is when people will embrace it like a parent, a sibling, or a friend. If an artiste does not appeal to the pulse of the nation, he or she becomes a foreigner in his own land, as Jawaharlal Nehru once said”. Victor adds that “in any form of art, subtlety is vital. An artiste should not forcefully impose his work on the listener or viewer. Even delicate issues such as sensuality and human passion can be discussed with subtle beauty”.
Victor leads a simple, minimalist lifestyle. He is close his children and a grandchildren. He is a teetotaler and a near vegetarian.