Can one man make a change in the war torn context of Sri Lanka through music? Ajith Kumarasiri believes he can, and is showing that he can make a difference through his work. Ajith is a musician who travels with his guitar in the war affected areas of the country, singing freely for humanity. He traces his activism to 1980’s. This decade witnessed two of the most appalling humanitarian crimes in Sri Lanka: Black July in 1983 in which there was mass killing of Tamils and the 1989 insurgency, where a significant number of young people were arrested and killed after the attempted Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna rebellion against the state. Ajith lost many of his friends – both Tamil and Sinhala – in both these events. As Ajith says, this was the ‘turning point’ for him, veering him towards making a statement for peace through his life and career, using his one passion: his music.
The changes in Sri Lankan politics towards the war made it obvious that war was only a political game to the decision makers. There was no space for humanity: children, mothers, fathers and brothers die. And this is what I voice in my music, in my songs.
During the war, Ajith travelled through the worst affected areas. Places where the shelling continued on a daily basis. Walking through the army posts carrying only his guitar. In public spaces of the North and East, where there were a handful of people around, he sang John Lennon’s ‘Give Peace a Chance’ in all three languages used in Sri Lanka: Sinhalese, Tamil and English. People gathered around him to sing along. For them, he was a ray of hope, a touch of humanity that penetrated their strict isolation with its daily experiences of tension and fear. His music, his songs speak of co-existence and the sensitivity of human beings, irrespective of ethnic definitions. They describe the futility and the horror of war for those who on the front lines. He has collaborated with many different organisations and groups working for peace and reconciliation, including the Centre for Peace Buillding and Reconciliation, and Fict. Ajith also directed music for the film ‘Alimankada Sita’ (The Road from Elephant Pass) on the futility of war.
However, his music is not to be found in the mainstream: popular media has no space for Ajith Kumarasiri. He refuses to sell his music arguing that it is the voice of and for people and therefore has to be freely accessible for everyone. Ajith is categorized as a radical artist, who stands strong for peace and love among all Sri Lankans during and after war.