De-coding Shailesh Waingankar: The Island Said She Will Not Let Him Go

Originally published on HOMEGROWN:


The Island said she would not let him go…

Last year an Indian boy came to our little island. And for a minute there, he found himself.

Lost somewhere between alternate rock and what I suspect must have been commercial house, I doubt that Mumbai-bred Shailesh Waingankar knew what Sri Lanka’s underground movement of post-conflict creativity and consciousness was about to do to him. I don’t think he was even here for the music and the art in the first place, having arrived here to head media planning for a multinational ad agency and possibly run away from home for a while. He was about to have his imagination arrested, spun around, danced with and left reborn. Little did he know.

He moved to Mount Lavinia, moments away from our beautiful beaches and into the same building as the Bludge ( duo, a couple of creative souls who both quit their jobs in advertising and immersed themselves in the arts scene, using t’shirts as their canvases to create art that spoke of island life and a higher state of being. They took him along with them on their journeys where he was privy to a whole new breed of music with some of the islands hottest underground DJs, people who connected with each other on a whole other level and artists who were exploring their many crafts to their extreme.

As a nation, Sri Lanka had 30 years of pent up creativity waiting to explode. With the end of the conflict a few years ago, seems to have come an era where it is possible, where a new artist or new genre of art constantly seems to manifest itself out of thin air. This is a good thing – a very good one. Our very wide and open circle of creative people, I feel, have a special story to offer the world on what war and peace can motivate a nation to become. Sri Lanka has a lot more going on these days than new harbors, airports and highways, you just need to look hard enough. And listen.

Which is exactly what I think Shailesh Waingankar did, because something in the music began to stir his soul. Suddenly he was learning to produce, installing software on his laptop and racing home after work to make music. I listened skeptically at first to this ‘Psy Jester’s first few psy-trans inspired tracks, raised an eyebrow and probably smirked a little. What I came to realize over time however, was his unwavering draw to a strange combination of sounds. Very real ones. Doorbells, footsteps, traffic interspersed with sick bass lines, mad rhythms and quirky melodies. Somewhere along the line, I think the skeptic in me become a believer. I couldn’t at any point doubt that there was something different in the way he heard things; in the way his listened and expressed that sense of sound in his music. Yes, it’s a little strange but that’s what makes his music all the more interesting and all the more unique. The best part is that he keeps getting better.

Shailesh may have discovered how to use his gift on this inspiration filled island, but his understanding of noise must have always been there, dormant and waiting to be awakened. It takes a little longer for some of us to discover what we were always meant to do because the paths we’re made to journey on don’t give us many other options. The thing is, once you are awakened to that possibility, at whatever point in your life, there is no going back. His strangely beautiful music is testament to that fact.

A mistaken assumption about most electronic music producers is that they only create for the party. Having observed the lengths of what electronic music can do, combined with other art forms, I am tending to think that he and his music have a different journey ahead. He works best in a team environment and the arts themselves are leaning towards a fusion of all things. Music is combined with visual and performing arts to create phenomenal work around the world and our South Asian counterparts are not far behind, innovating our own unique forms of expression on so many fronts these past few years. The Goethe Institut in Sri Lanka ( for instance has been turning old torn down buildings and dirty marketplaces into site specific experiences that immerse the audience in the art itself, combining electronic music, installation art and projections. Listen to Psy Jester’s music and it’s easy to imagine the possibilities of how far he too could go along this massive wave that seems to be pushing the art world forward.

I haven’t only observed him from an outsiders’ perspective. In a little community like ours, we’re all friends on some level and knowing him as a one has also been an experience in itself. For someone who had always prided herself in having a keen sense of sound when it comes to music, he has since taught me otherwise. He watches my baby son one day and tells me to observe his behavior – Shailesh notices that he is constantly imitating the sounds he hears. What I assumed was random garble thus far, has now become a bird singing outside my window or traffic passing by. Mothers don’t like to be told something about their children they didn’t know themselves and I asked myself why I didn’t notice this fact before. But I realize that it takes a certain kind of gift to be able to be that intuitive – and Shailesh my friend, I know you are gifted.

The Indian boy has left our little island for the moment, heading back home. He quit that advertising job of his eventually; I don’t think he was able to continue to thrive in a corporate environment once the music had reached his inner recesses.

The island wishes him well on his adventure ahead, hopes that he will always find a reason to use the gifts he discovered here and wants him to know that she will never let him go…

Check out Psy Jester’s tracks :


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