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Stigmatized: What Stigmata Means to Sri Lankan Original Music

June 28, 2010

The following was published on Sunday Leader dated June 27, a day after Stigmata released ‘Psalms of Conscious Martyrdom’

Stigmatized: What Stigmata Means to Sri Lankan Original Music

By: Theena Kumaragurunathan

Stigmata. Image © Natalie Soysa, 2010

You are probably reading this because you know of the band Stigmata or because you have some awareness of the Sri Lankan rock and metal movement, and would like to know what a band could possibly mean – not just to that movement but original Sri Lankan music as a whole. Or perhaps you are reading this piece because you heard of ‘Psalms of Conscious Martyrdom’, Stigmata’s third album, released last night (June 26th), and were left wondering what the fuss was all about.

That latter fact alone would be sufficient for much praise. Before Stigmata not many Western bands in Sri Lanka envisioned composing their own pieces much less considered recording an album of original compositions. The fact that they’ve given us three albums in ten years, original music of increasing depth and compositional brilliance, is reason, in my mind, to celebrate.

But cultural legacy isn’t always in the obvious. Would the Bob Dylan fan measure his hero’s legacy in solely numbers and the tangible? I hope not. Dylan’s music converges at the crossroads where the intensely personal meets with the deeply cultural, a powerful place that exists in the hearts and minds of those of us who have been touched by the singer-songwriter’s music.

Stigmata find themselves walking towards this crossroads now. It is then a good time to look back and place them in the context of history. What do Stigmata mean to Sri Lankan original music?

When Stigmata released their first album ‘Hollow Dreams’ to a packed audience in a tiny club, this writer was there, completely unaware of the phenomenon called Heavy Metal yet drawn to the primal music for reasons I can’t still explain. Little did I, or the 200 or so who were there, realize then that a revolution was born that balmy August night in 2003.

I use the word ‘revolution’ because that is what it was. Without Stigmata daring to take the first step, young kids around Sri Lanka wouldn’t have dreamt of forming their own bands. The fact that Sri Lanka’s heavy metal scene is now garnering attention from around the world is a direct consequence of Suresh de Silva, Andrew Obeysekera and Tennyson Napoleon having the self-belief and making the sacrifices that life asks of pioneers. All of this is sometimes conveniently forgotten in the back of petty politicization that seemingly taints every sphere of Sri Lankan society.

But those with short memories have a cure. On the 20th, a week before Stigmata’s album release, I attended a show where a five-piece band, comprising of predominantly school going boys, played. It is only six months since this band formed – and some members of the band have only been playing their respective instruments for less than a year – but you wouldn’t know it after watching the verve and conviction with which they performed. They also reminded some of us of a young Stigmata circa 2003.

What does this mean? It means ten years on Stigmata’s legacy now has a direct lineage: much like it we continue to hear Black Sabbath’s blueprint in the myriad of heavy metal recordings that have come since their heydays, Stigmata’s influence is now beginning to be firmly imprinted in the souls of the next generation of Sri Lankan bands who compose and play original music.

I do not know of a greater compliment to any band. Congratulations, Stigmata. And many thanks.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 14, 2012 5:38 am

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  1. Psycho Martyrdom: Further Evidence Sri Lanka is Becoming the Newest Hamlet in the Heavy Metal Universe « Theena Kumaragurunathan: Poya Moon

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