Internationally famed drummer Tyronne Silva was back in the motherland for a series of performances and workshops on the fine art of rhythm. A few of us were privileged to have met him and talked with him over the past few weeks Here’s my take on it as published in the Sunday Times today.
The Cymbal of Sri Lankan Rhythm
Internationally acclaimed drummer Tyronne Silva visits his motherland
Words and Pics by Natalie Soysa
Since childhood, Tyronne Silva has been obsessed with being a drummer. So much so that at the age of 9 he decided to build his own drumkit; a wooden tea box for the bass, a pedal made of wood, a tennis ball for the kick, toms made with varied sizes of plastic buckets, a metal bucket representing the snare, empty cola cans for percussion and cymbals cut out of sheet metal. He insists it worked perfectly fine.
Fast forward a few decades and I walk into one of this famed drummer’s workshops in Colombo and am gobsmacked. Instead of your standard drumkit I see what could only be described in laymen’s terms as a battle tank. Sponsored by Pearl Drums, Tyrone’s behemoth is a head-turner – even for non-drummers like me. If you have a chance to flip through their catalogue or browse Pearl’s website, you will find Tyronne among the myriad A-list international drummers featured there.
The journey from his DIY drumkit to his Pearl drumkit has been long and hard, but art, any art, demands dedication – Tyronne wouldn’t have it any other way. Venturing far from his hometown of Naththandiya, Tyronne made it to Germany in 1992 at the age of 18, where he began to search for a coach almost as soon as his feet touched German soil. Years of hard work, which included a 12-18 hour daily practice routine, part time work and an unquenching penchant for this rhythmically inclined field brought him to where he is today; a drummer who now plays with bands he once idolized, one recognized not only for his work with these bands but also and moreover, as an independent master behind a drumkit. Tyronne’s daily routine hasn’t changed much – he still puts in as many hours as he possibly can into perfecting his art form. This is a man who spent four months practicing the drum arrangement of a Dream Theater song, composed and played by Mike Portnoy, his idol.
He feels that any musician who wants to make it needs to take their art seriously if they want to get anywhere. He recognizes and acknowledges local bands like Stigmata and Paranoid Earthling as some of the few metal bands who he has had the privilege of listening to, who have taken their music seriously. It has nothing to do with young music lovers who embark on a ‘hey let’s start a band’ mission if they want to get anywhere in an industry that’s already saturated in terms of numbers internationally.
What brings him back to his motherland? Tyronne is eager to share what he has learnt during his studies in Germany. ‘There are people who learn, keep everything they learnt to themselves and die with that knowledge. Ultimately, what they’ve learnt has only been of use to them and no one else – I don’t think that’s right. As artists, you should be able and willing to share what knowledge you possess.’ Using his sponsorship with Pearl drums and Zildjian cymbals to bring his drumkit to Sri Lanka in order to perform and teach free to anyone who is willing to learn. He has been conducting a series of workshops and performing to audiences across the country from the military to school kids and a host of Sri Lankan musicians. From being an audience member at some of his sessions, I can safely admit that anyone paying close attention to this man will stand to learn a lot more than they ever knew about the fine art of rhythm. When teaching, he wears a perpetual smile on his face, opting to conduct his sessions here in his mother tongue rather than in English.
He knows how to recognize talent when he sees it, telling workshop participants that one can spend a lifetime trying to perfect a single style of drumming but not be able to know everything there is to be learned. The few who have are the true masters of their art. He motioned to the Sri Lankan traditional drummers who were part of a joint performance with him on the day and cited them as an example. It was heart-warming to watch both parties in awe of each others’ specific techniques and achievements.
Tyronne also spoke of the petty politics in the Sri Lankan metal scene he has been hearing much of and shook his head, dumbfounded as to how it could be possible. He referred to music festivals he had played at where audiences flock in the thousands and bands number the hundreds. He smiled at the sense of brotherhood he feels with those bands backstage albeit them all vying for attention from the very same audience. An industry as small as the Sri Lankan metal scene, he says, cannot afford such luxuries as politics and backbiting, when they should be busy making music. Owing to this fact, Tyronne plans to bring musicians together and will be part of a full-on gig – Colombo Deathfest which incidentally goes on the boards today, 1st August 2010 at Clancy’s Pub in Colombo 7. The performance will feature Tyronne along with some of the finest metal bands in the country under one roof.
Afford yourself the pleasure of listening to this genius at play and drop by from 3pm onwards.
While you’re at it, also check out Theena Kumaragurunathan’s article in the Sunday Leader – http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2010/08/01/drum-roll-the-tyronne-silva-story/