It sounds like a likely story. Young teenager gets into a musical genre that he has no cultural or musical connection to. He begins to make this music, generally churning out music that’s not quite as good or authentic as his forbearers. However, make no mistake—Sri Lankan reggae artist Dimitri Wijesinghe is the real deal.
Wijesinghe released his debut album, “Revolution,” this summer, after many years of honing his craft as a reggae artist. He produced it, sang and played all the instruments featured in the album. “I have the world’s cheapest recording studio in the basement of my house,” Wijesinghe said. “It’s literally just a computer, a keyboard and a few mics.” The process of making the album was a long-term project, and he pieced together and perfected the songs over a long span of time. “I’m always writing,” he said. “Music is an addiction for me. If I’m not writing songs I go into withdrawal.” He sometimes begins by writing a beat with his computer (he uses the music software “Reason” to get samples), and then writes lyrics over that. On other occasions he writes a beat to go along with a lyrical idea.
After finishing the album, Wijesinghe had his album processed and manufactured—he’s now selling his CD through CD Baby, an online music selling service. However, Wijesinghe is more concerned with “Revolution”’s content than with its price. “I partly made this album so that music lovers out there could see what I had to offer, not to make money,” he said. “If I ever get signed to a record label, I want to continue to make the music on my own terms.”
Wijesinghe also had some help with the album. He was in touch with local hip-hop artists and producers, who gave him tips along the way. As of now, the album has even received some airplay on Power 105.1 (the station randomly selected the song “Corrupt Society” to play), as well as many online radio stations.
“Revolution” is a sprawling 10-song set of tight reggae grooves and intense chanting. Throughout the album, Wijesinghe’s lyrics remain his major appeal. Despite the diversity of the topics discussed, a few common themes emerge. In many songs he combats the hypocrisy of society. In “Corrupt Society”, he chants “Set up all these rules, y’all not want to abide them.” And in “Politician”, he speaks out, claiming that “You walk like this, but you talk like that” and “You got your nice and fancy car, and chauffeur driver, red carpet wherever you go and arrive, some people starving and barely surviving.” Wijesinghe aims to show “how the other half lives, not just the people you see on TV,” he said.
Wijesinghe’s flow is another lure. Surprisingly, his unbelievably laid-back, calming voice complements his lyrical attacks on the excesses of society, encouraging the listener to concentrate on the message and enjoy the music, rather than frustrating audiences by bludgeoning them over the head. Lyrically, his rhythms seem influenced by Damian Marley, acclaimed reggae artist and son of Bob Marley, and his chanting is an effective rhythmic device. His voice is at its finest in the love song “Inna me Head,” in which his voice transforms into a lustful growl and propels the lyrics forward.
The album’s weakest aspect is probably its shoddy production. Wijesinghe clearly has an ear for catchy instrumental parts, but most reggae tracks mostly rely on authentic instrumentation. Wijesinghe would highly benefit from having studio musicians play with him. The instrumental tracks on the album are largely very simple, and are all in the same key of A minor. Nevertheless, Wijesinghe’s smooth reggae flow and lyrics more than compensate for this. Wijesinghe’s new album is more than a worthwhile listen. He has a very distinctive lyrical style and a flow that many reggae artists would dream to have. If Wijesinghe works a little on his production element, we could be seeing his name on the cover of music magazines one of these days.