The musical journey of singer-songwriter Sheyana Wijesingha led to a reunion with her father after 26 years apart – and now to a hit song in Sri Lanka. Based at Turners Beach near Ulverstone, Ms Wijesingha and The Sheyana Band have received widespread air-play in Sri Lanka with their song Keep the Change, recently charted as high as number six.
A Sri Lankan radio personality recently suggested that she “might want to” get back to Sri Lanka for an upcoming music awards evening. Regardless of what that might mean, the singer says she would love to go if just to see her father again who is unwell.
The interest in her music in Sri Lanka began when she travelled to the country for the first time in 2011, to see her father for the first time in a quarter of a century. “He contacted me — it had been 26 years — and said he’d like to catch up and meet my children,” Ms Wijesingha said.
“We did a little concert over there and made a video clip for a song. My son Orak played drums and guitars, my daughter Mahlah played keyboards and Lila did some percussion and backing vocals. It was quite surreal for me, I was very excited, this was like the missing piece to the puzzle.”
The visit also led to a live performance on Sri Lankan television and an enduring interest there in her music. For the singer, it is like her life has turned full circle. Ms Wijesingha’s mother is Tasmanian and her father Sri Lankan. They met on a ship bound for swinging 1960s London.
Leaving her father and moving to Tasmania
When her parents separated, an eight-year-old Ms Wijesingha left England with her mum. They landed back in Tasmania, to Latrobe, where she says “about 150 relatives were waiting”.
Her nanna, known to her as Nanna Parker, oversaw a family choir that performed at weddings and birthdays parties and so it was that Ms Wijesingha grew up in a world of singing and live performance.
“There’s a lot to be said about singing in choirs. Just learning the harmonies and learning to blend at the beginning of everything,” she said.
“I just did my best to get rid of the English accent so I could fit in and it was all good. My mother was always there for me, she has been amazing.”
Music a constant connection
A bit over a decade ago Ms Wijesingha released her first album Firehorse with guitarist Matt Groom. Soon after, another well travelled local musician, Scott Mainwaring, was very taken with a show he saw her do at the original Groovy Penguin cafe.
The pair have been musical collaborators for about 11 years, performing as a duo and at the core of bigger bands. The Sheyana Band also features bass player Dan Jeffries and drummer Taylia Valenti. They have become something of an institution on the North West Coast, releasing the EP Sweet Honesty in 2011.
Ms Wijesingha confesses that a lot of her songwriting has been part of the process of working through issues including the estrangement from her Sri Lankan father.
“There had been some hard to deal with feelings in the past where my father was concerned. You know, we hadn’t seen each other for so long and he hadn’t contacted me,” Ms Wijesingha said. “But at the point where we were reunited, I could just put it all behind me and move forward, you know. Songwriting has been my outlet.
“The new EP, Keep the Change, isn’t really related to any of that stuff much, although there is one song, Daddy, is about him and dedicated to him. It says it all really, it’s about him ringing out of the blue and making me very happy.
“It’s also about leaving England. I can remember flying out and I knew I had to be strong and let him go. But it was something that I held on to. “When we met and performed for him, I think he was a bit overwhelmed. I was too.”(ABC)