3/12/2016

Danno Budunge­-A RESPONSE - By Prof. Susirith Mendis

කතෘ:යුතුකම     3/12/2016   No comments

Danno Budunge­-A RESPONSE
March 8, 2016
By Prof. Susirith Mendis

Related Articls
Kishani, ‘Danno Budunge’, night caterwauling and other stories – A personalised view
Prof. Susirith Mendis

Thank you, Dr. Laknath de Silva (LdeS) for your belated response to my article published in ‘The Island’ of 25th February.
Perhaps it is because of my medical training, that I always venture to question conscious and subconscious motivations that drive people to act in the manner they act - including, and most often, myself.
It was that curiosity, in the first place, which drove me to ask the rhetorical question in my article that LdeS criticizes- "But what happened on 4th February 2016?". Something unexpected and untoward happened after Kishani’s operatic rendering of ‘Danno Budunge’ that night. I ventured to give, what I thoughtwas a plausible explanation - from my point of view; with all my inherent cognitive biases naturally colouring my explanations. It’s a given. I firmly believe (and most psychologists agree) that no Human can utter one word in any given context without ‘colouring’ it with his/her own inherent, conscious and subconscious biases.

George Dvorsky, a Canadian bioethicist, and a secular Buddhist, goes to the extent of saying that there are at least 12 cognitive biases that prevent humans from being rational. He also states, on the other hand, that "Some social psychologists believe our cognitive biases help us process information more efficiently, especially in dangerous situations." We tend to be put off by individuals who make us feel uncomfortable or insecure about our views.Behavioural psychologists call this ‘cognitive dissonance’ and list it as one factor that leads to bias. There are many other biases that ‘colour’ our views and opinions (political or otherwise), our food habits, attire and clothing, our sexualityand determine our life-styles. But this is not the time and place to discuss that. We all ‘suffer’ from these biases. All I ask is that LdeS should be aware of this ‘truism’ before he ventures to point fingers at anybody hereafter about ‘biases’.

So yes, LdeS. I have my biases. You have yours. The ‘cognitive dissonance’ created in you was strong enough to compel you to write a response to my article.As LdeS now hopefully sees, that urge to respond, in itself, leads to a bias in him about what I have written. Whereas LdeS writes how my "hard nosed political bias slip in" and how "steeped" I am "in political bias" he seems disarmingly ignorant that he is exhibiting, uninhibitedly, his political and other biases! Here is his give-away that shows up his strong political bias;LdeS writes about a"…… Kurrakkan-eyed monster rearing its ugly head"! LdeS unwittingly exposed his ‘political undergarment’! His whole premise of his article is completely based on his political biases. See what I mean? No? If so, it’s OK. (PS: I have read clinical psychology for my medical degree and muchon it before and after.) But let that be.

How many ordinary Buddhists (when I say ‘ordinary Buddhists’, I mean the kind that go to temple on poya days, offer flowers at the feet of statues of The Buddha, go on pilgrimage to sacred cities like Anuradhapura to worship at the ‘Atamasthana’ and even to the non-Buddhist shrine at kataragama), will agree with me that the song ‘Danno Budunge’ evokes sentiments and emotions of worship? I am sure that the vast majority will. My dear LdeS, that is one reason why, as I explained, I believe that Kishani singing that particular song operatically, evoked the reaction it did.To their aesthetic and cultural sensibilities it was a violation of a ‘sacred song’. The operatic high notes at or above two octaves is to them an unfamiliarsound – like caterwauling. That range of sounds is not heard in the Eastern vocal musical tradition. One can either look down one’s nose withan elitist attitudeat the aesthetic baseness of the hoi polloi or understand that theiraesthetic/cultural experiences have been limited by socio-cultural-economic constraints.I went further to explain that context was of primary import. Were the circumstances different, the adverse reactionsto Kishani’s singing would have been muted, I said. This is a socio-psychological posit that I proposed.

LdeS’ detailed extolling of the virtues of Kishani’s beautiful voice and rare talent is irrelevant and is not in question. It was a waste of column space. LdeS and I are in absolute and total agreement on that. The issue is not that, but- what triggered the ‘gut reaction’. Please LdeS, give a plausible alternate theory to that proposed by me, which is strong enough to reject my hypothesis.

It is serendipitous that Kishani’s very illuminative and sensitively written letter was also published together with LdeS’ in ‘The Sunday Island’ of 6th March. See what she herself says about the "over 500,000 (half a million!) e-mails" she received - " …it opened my eyes to what really bubbles underneath the surface of what otherwise might seem a benign and tolerant society." That is her expression of the enormity of the reaction she got. Consider the psychopathic reactions she refers to by some women. What caused half a million people to react for and against Kishani? That is THE question! I was trying to find an answer to that "gut reaction". What prompted those basest, primeval threats and unbridled venom as well as the analytical, polite, sober, scholarly essays critical of her rendering? One needs to look for some plausible explanations. That is what I was doing, LdeS. I gave a plausible explanation within the scope of my biases!

LdeS trying to copy my ‘entree’ to my article with his preamble showed some intellectual impoverishment. If he wanted to critique my explanatory theory, he needn’t have brought in ‘third parties’ as he himself has taken umbrage with me - his "girl-friend and now wife of Italian descent". That is an attempt to give irrelevant bulk to his criticism - not substance.

LdeS says that the "….. concept of ‘Buddhist Song is one entirely alien to me". Where has LdeS been during the past 30-40 years when during every Vesak and Poson, many students - including university Buddhist Societies –and other groups of Buddhist youthclad in pure white with candles lighting their young serene faces sing "Bakthi Gee"? That, no doubt is a relatively new tradition borrowed from the "Christian Christmas Carols", but it is well and truly part of our culture now. And it is a new and beautiful invocation of Buddhist worship too. It is a relatively recent addition to the vocal musical expression of Buddhist worship to the existing chanting of Pirith and the Gathas.It has been generally accepted that "Danno Budunge" has created that aura of worship.Only those who are intellectually obstinate and culturally blind will not see that. (By the way, the positive emotional impact of ‘Buddhist song’ -the ‘Bakthi Gee’ can best be seen in the serene, pious faces of university students singing ‘Bakthi Gee’ in harmony; at other times these same students are seen shouting blood-curdling slogans in front of universities and VC’s Offices! I have personally experienced these dramatic transformations personally many a time.)

LdeS says – that I am "so very steeped in political bias" that I am "unable to comprehend that in some instances, politics simply has no place and no bearing. Music is one of them". That’s an expression of complete and utter naivety, LdeS. I won’t belabor this point too strongly, because the literature on "Music and Politics" is so vast and voluminous. As a simple first reading on "Music and Politics" for LdeS and those uninitiated, I strongly recommend a few keystrokes on the Laptop/Tab - type ‘Music and Politics’ and go to Wikipedia. It gives an excellent historical summary on the subject. I quote a few sentences from it. Here is the opening sentence: "The connection between music and politics, particularly political expression in song, has been seen in many cultures." Has LdeS heard of these famous singers of ‘political songs’? For instance,Paul Robeson,Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Victor Jara, Bob Marley, Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez, Woody Guthrie and closer home, Nanda Malini in collaboration with Prof. Sunil Ariyaratne? Remember Nanda Malini’s two albums – ‘Sathyaye Geethaya’ and ‘Pawana’? Paul Robeson was driven to premature death by McCarthyism; Victor Jara was murdered by Pinochet in Chile; Bob Marley died mysteriously of a supposed malignant melanoma; Nanda Malini’s songs were banned from the State media for a long time during 1977-1994.

Here is one on ‘political’ classical music that must be closer to LdeS’ heart: "Verdi's chorus of Hebrew slaves in the opera Nabucco is a kind of rallying-cry for Italians to throw off the yoke of Austrian domination (in the north) and French domination (near Rome) - the "Risorgimento". Following unification, Verdi was awarded a seat in the national parliament" (Wikipedia).

Here is another interesting tit bit:

Woody Allen quipped that every time he heard Wagner, he was overcome with the urge to invade Poland. The positions of most others are less clear in their work, although we can hear the difference between the assertive nationalism of Wagner and the gentle folk nationalism of Dvořák or Grieg. In the case of opera, of course, there are more clues. Mozart's, for example, dealt with class war (The Marriage of Figaro) and the liberal values of the Enlightenment. Biographies often provide helpful political information as well. Some composers, like Bartók, were known to have championed the underdog and sometimes clashed with the authorities as a result. Others, like Stravinsky, Mascagni and Puccini, enthusiastically embraced fascism.

(http://www.politicalcompass.org/composers)

I hope that is more than sufficient to make my point that music and politics are intimately connected and that LdeS stands badly exposed for his uninformed views on it.

LdeS writes that my article was "A politically motivated attempt to use something as beautiful as music and twist and distort it into something disgusting and distasteful." Now how did LdeS come to that conclusion? Can LdeS quote any specific reference to such an idea in any of the sentences I had written? It is a clear case of preconceived notions and biases completely clouding and blinding his reading of my article.


Kishani herself makes indirect reference to the questions I posed. Music is never music alone. Place any music in its context and the ‘political nature’ of the song or the music becomes apparent. She writes:

"Sri Lankans far and wide were discussing the pros and cons of everything ranging from Politics & Culture; Western influences & Eastern traditions; Inherent prejudices & Open mindedness; Operatic style & Folk song; Island mentality & Evolution; Nationalism & Internationalism; Freedom of speech & Responsibility of the media; Feminism & Gender equality and of course that Beloved Song - Danno Budunge - which will now always identify my musical journey and be irrevocably linked to my life forever."

That says it all. My theory that it is the context that caused the ‘froth, fire and the fury’ post February 4th, is inherent in Kishani’s admission. There is no ‘Music’ devoid of "contextual politics". Art cannot be Art in a vacuum. It has to be contexualised to give it meaning.

To my last point. Let me reiterate. I posed a theory that tried to explain why there was this ‘gut reaction’ to Kishani (i) singing Danno Budunge, (ii) operatically, (iii) on Independence Day, and(iv)in 2016. I posed a theory that covered all 4 of the above conjunctions. But LdeS doesn’t offer any counterpoint to the hypothesis I proposed. LdeS did not come up with any alternate hypothesis to explain the ‘gut reaction’ of a significant percentage of the 500,000 who e-mailed Kishani and abused and threatened her. All LdeS did was do a "Kohedayannemalle pol" stunt.

In conclusion, let me quote myself from my original article in ‘The Island of 25th February, lest LdeS’ response leaves some readers with a wrong impression:

"I have heard Kishani singing. I went to one of her recitals at the Lionel Wendt somewhere in 2014. It was an inspiring wonderful experience. I marveled all over again at the indescribable beauty of the human voice. I felt proud as a Sri Lankan that she had scaled the heights of the world of opera and succeeded. I exalted that Kishani had transcended the parochial boundaries of her own culture and reached the heights of supreme natural talent."

Finally, let me thank LdeS for subconsciously acknowledging the validity of my closing sentence in my piece of 25th February. His feeble attempt at repudiation ofit by paraphrasing me (Thanking Kishani for singing the right song, in the right style, in the right place and at the right time)without any logical argument to support it was pathetic. It was just a desperate statement floating aimlessly without anchor, without context.

Since LdeS did nothing of the sort, I stand by my closing statement- "It was extremely unfortunate that Kishani sang the wrong song in the wrong style in the wrong place at the wrong time" until a better hypothesis is put forward to explain the "Gut Reaction".

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