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Rebel Song Journey

One man’s struggle to keep singing despite losing everything in the Sri Lankan civil war.

On the last days of the civil war in Sri Lanka, in 2009, surviving in a bunker with what was left of his family, the only thing Santhan wanted to do was to sing. He lost his son and daughter in a shell attack. The other son was arrested. All was lost including his music. Santhan’s music was completely erased.

After the defeat of the Tamil rebels, no one dared to hum a tune of one of his songs, even privately. He was the voice of the rebellion. Tapes of his songs were buried under the blood soaked red sand of the backyards or discreetly burnt in small bonfires. He had lost all the glory, mansion with ten rooms, all his instruments, his dignity was lost the day they lined up all the men at the refugee camp, naked in front of their elders and younger relatives.

Then they asked him to sing again. He kept on singing - like a nightingale with broken wings. The winners of the war gave him different lyrics, some other tunes and different heroes to sing about. He sang whatever was given to him. “In the end, I am a singer!” he convinced himself.

Was it the only sane thing to do in the days of the apocalypse? For survival and to keep singing, he began to sing devotional songs in Hindu temples and pop songs in children’s birthday parties. In the chaotic post war atmosphere of uncertainty and loss, he found solace in alcohol.

Priyath Liyanage tells Santhan's story - a story of the music that was lost and the tragic consequences of war.

(Photo: Santhan (left) and his wife)

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27 minutes

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