Deities, Demons, and Sumudi Suraweera

As part of Arts Centre Melbourne’s Meeting Points Series, Baliphonics and the Australian Art Orchestra will perform a colourful and cultural explosion of Sri Lankan music and dance.

Sumudi Suraweera

Meeting Points Series is a collaboration between Arts Centre Melbourne and the Australian Art Orchestra, which brings together musical styles from artists and groups around the world in a glorious multicultural showcase. Baliphonics will be presenting Of Deities and Demons, drawing upon the Bali Ritual, an astrological healing practice in which deities are invoked and deities exorcised. Fronted by Sumudi Suraweera, Baliphonics was established in Sri Lanka in 2009.

Sumudi is a composer, drummer, and music producer. He obtained his doctorate in Ethnomusicology from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand in 2010, with his research focused on Low-Country Sri Lankan traditional drumming. In addition to Baliphonics, he has started several other groups including the Serendib Sorcerers and the Musicmatters Transcoastal Collective. I had a quick chat with him ahead of their Meeting Points Series performance at The Pavillion next month.

Can you tell me a bit about your performance experience? When did you start playing your instrument?

I started drumming at age 13 when my family moved to New Zealand. Before that, my musical learning consisted of voice training and playing harmonium in the North Indian Hindustani tradition. The Sri Lankan community in Wellington, NZ, provided me lots of opportunities to organize music and perform for community events. After high school, I studied at Christchurch Jazz School and followed on to the University of Canterbury in Christchurch to pursue my interest in Sri Lankan drumming. This was through the ethnomusicology department.

Susantha Rupathilaka and Prasanna Rupathilaka | Photo by Bartek Muracki and Shehan Obeysekara

From about 2000 – 2010 I was playing with various local artists, playing in small clubs, festivals and touring around NZ. Around 2010, I moved back to Sri Lanka as a consequence of me travelling back and forth (between NZ and SL) from 2007-10 for my PhD research on Sri Lankan drumming. Since moving back to SL, I have been performing with my own projects (Baliphonics, Serendib Sorcerers and various others with the Musicmatters Collective) locally and around the region (Singapore, Malaysia, India). In 2018, Baliphonics toured NZ and performed in Europe for the first time, which was a significant experience for us.

What drew you to music as a career?

I’ve always been interested in making music a big part of my life. Coming from a South Asian background, and no musical family background as such, it was a huge decision! Growing up in NZ definitely had a huge impact. Even after high school, my studies at the Christchurch Jazz School took place in parallel to a computer science degree at University of Canterbury. But in my mid 20’s, it just became clearer and more obvious that taking on music as a career was what I wanted to do.

What is your favourite piece to play in your free time?

Coming from an improvising background, more than playing a piece, I prefer to improvise in the drum language I’ve spent a lot of time with over the past decade – which is Sri Lankan Low Country drumming. So my favourite thing to do is to improvise in this style.

Susantha Rupathilaka | Photo by Bartek Muracki and Shehan Obeysekara

How has it been collaborating with other instrumentalists? What have the highlights been?

In terms of Baliphonics, my collaborations with the traditional musicians (Susantha and Prasantha) is something I treasure very deeply. Working with them has been a huge learning experience on many levels and it still continues. This collaboration was a main mortivating factor for me to move back to Sri Lanka 10 years ago and looking back,  I’m very happy about that decision. Studying and associating musicians in New Zealand, Australia and other parts of the world, I equally treasure oppertunities to work with them. Isaac Smith, Reuben Derrick, Misha Marks have a been some New Zealanders  who I have continued to work with since my move back to SL. Brian Allen (US), David Six (AUST), Roberto Blanco (MEX), Sebestian Gramms (GER) are some musicians I love to work with from other parts of the world. Most importantly, members of the Musicmatters Collective in Colombo, including Isuru Kumarasinghe and Sarani Perera – we share a collective vision to establish an alternative music scene here in Colombo, and the collaborations and performances we do here on a regular basis are things that I really drive on.

What can audiences expect from the Meeting Points Series?

This is the first time that Baliphonics as an ensemble is collaborating with another collective of musicians. Therefore it is an exciting experience for the performers and this should translate to the audience! Baliphonics performances are generally full of energy and often described as transforming the audience during the concert’s space and time. With the addition of members from the AAO, this effect should be multiplied many times!

Arts Centre Melbourne and Australian Art Orchestra present

Meeting Points Series: Of Deities and Demons

The Pavilion | 5pm | 8 December

For tickets and more information please visit the Arts Centre Melbourne website.

Gabi Bergman

Gabi Bergman is a Melbourne-based performer and educator, and is the current Deputy Editor-in-Chief of She holds a Double Arts degree in Theatre Studies and Film/Screen Studies and a Master of Teaching (Secondary Education). Gabi has always been an avid lover of theatre, specifically musicals, and spends way too much money than she’d like to admit on tickets. Her most prized possession is her crate of theatre programs.

Gabi Bergman

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