November 7, 2010

Premasiri Khemadasa - BIO

Premasiri Khemadasa - BIO

The thirteenth child born into a poor village family is not often noticed. Khemadasa Perera (later to choose his own artistic name of Premasiri Khemadasa) was no ordinary thirteenth child. He started making himself noticed at age 6, in 1943, when he walked many miles alone to enroll himself in school; all the other children came with their parents. Not Khemadasa, for his parents did not support his desire for an education they could not afford. This all happened in Wadduwa, on the coast 20 miles south of Colombo, the capital of Ceylon, still five years before it gained independence from the British Empire.
From the Perera’s small sliver of land, in Talpitiya, Wadduwa, it is still possible to hear and smell the sea. Khemadasa always loved eating fish, meeting with simple fishermen and hearing about their lives at sea. He never lost his roots.

When he was 7, Khemadasa lost his father, Simon, who died after a fall from a palm tree, where he had been tapping toddy. The family survived because Alan Perera, the mother, sold milk from her cow to other villagers, and his older sisters wove mats and baskets for small change. Khemadasa started playing the flute, the cheapest instrument you could buy in Ceylon. No one knows where this fascination came from, since the Perera family, for generations as far back as anyone knew, had never shown any talent for music or the arts.
As an old man, Premasiri Khemadasa always located the turning point of his life in the Sixth Grade. He was then studying at St. Johns College Panadura where he was one of the top students. When he was not awarded the double promotion he deserved, he went to the school’s principal and demanded to know why. Khemadasa was whipped then for impertinence, for the award had been reserved for a rich politician’s son instead of him. It was at that moment, he later claimed, that Khemadasa lost interest in his studies and really started playing the flute seriously.

Once again his family refused to support him, and his older brothers and sisters often burned his flutes, because they thought he could do better than become a musician. He spent a lot of time out of the house, playing down by the ocean, where he would be left alone. One of Khemadasa’s favorite stories was of how he would play the flute on the train from Panadura to Colombo. He brought joy to the harbor workers on the train and made small change playing for them.

Sometimes the ticket inspectors would come onto the train and fine people without tickets. Khemadasa as a boy never bought a ticket because, as he said, the workers would “surround me with their dirty sarongs, and hide me , and protect me from the ticket inspectors.”

Because the Perera land was adjacent to a small Buddhist temple with a few monks, Khemadasa’s family had the idea of turning him over to the monks to become one of them. He refused, and anyone who knew his hard-headedness and sensuality later in life would be amazed to think of Khemadasa as a monk. But when one speaks with teachers and fellow students from his childhood, they remember him as timid.
Knowing what we now know about Khemadasa, the only way to explain his timidity as a boy is to imagine him in those years before the Sixth Grade, before his angry disappointment at the whipping delivered at the hands of the unjust principal in Panadura. This anger, together with the anger the young boy must have felt at being bullied by his brothers and sisters, who kept burning his flutes, must have built up over the years into the towering willpower and temperamental ferocity of Khemadasa, a man who refused to bow before anyone.

Imagine how hard it must have been to overcome so much and to build up so much beauty and delicacy in music from almost nothing. Khemadasa never had any serious musical or compositional training. He is one of the few real examples of a self-made man. The one thing that seemed to keep Khemadasa from despairing, in his early years, is the great love he always had for his mother Alan. He spoke of her with great affection toward the end of his own life.

Khemadasa flirted with leftist politics throughout his life, partially because his older brothers joined the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and held meetings at their family home, partially because of his anger at being mistreated by the local elites as a boy. One of his first operas, “Rathu Mal,” produced in the mid 1960s, was commissioned by the party.

Nearly all music broadcast on Ceylon radio in the 1930s and ‘40s was Hindustani film music from India, but Khemadasa was also exposed to Buddhist chanting and drumming from the temple beside his home. Thalpitiya, like other coastal villages, was religiously diverse, so he would have also heard Christian hymns and Christmas carols, chanting from Tamil Hindu temples, and down the coast in Galle, the Muslim call to prayer from the large mosque there.

Khemadasa’s most important decision as a young man came when he had to choose between continuing his education or taking up a career in music. On the same day in year 1954, he had to choose between sitting his final examination in high school and travelling north to Colombo to audition for the SLBC (Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation). There wasn’t time for both. He chose to take the exam, but while sitting there he became frustrated and started humming a tune. The angry supervisor rushed to silence him and Khemadasa abandoned his exam papers, tucked his flute into his pocket, rushed out of the exam hall, jumped the school wall, barely caught the train to Colombo, and made his audition at the SLBC.

Early Career: 1955-1960

During the 1950s Khemadasa played the flute and accordion as a part-time musician at the SLBC. He also started using the harmonium in his private time to work up the melodies for his earliest serious compositions. By about 1955, Khemadasa had learned all the instruments in a small orchestra, either by playing them himself, or by listening to them at the SLBC. He often spent time at the radio’s library, listening to new music. Khemadasa had friends at the Polish embassy and through them he became exposed to Western classical music and harmony, which was alien to the Indian tradition he had grown up within.

Disappointed with the leading music masters of the late fifties in Colombo, Khemadasa set up his own music school. Founded on January 3, 1959, it was called Sangeetha Manjariya and was beside the noisy railway station in Maradana. Life was so tough then that Khemadasa started other businesses just below the music school to raise cash to support his music. First he started a barber shop, but his only customers in the rough neighborhood of Maradana were poor men who came to get their armpits shaved for one penny each. Soon his barbers ganged up on him, stole the equipment, and ran off. He then started to supply lunches to office workers, but this too ended in a fiasco.

Working late nights to keep one step ahead of his music students, Khemadasa often learned the instruments he was teaching at the same time as his students. His school, Manjariya, though barely making money, quickly became a cozy bohemian hangout for leading artists and young politicians. His opera “Kala Mal,” 1960, was the first in Sri Lankan history and was so experimental that he could find no financial backers. He borrowed money from money lenders to stage his early works. One day an insistent money lender forced his way into Manjariya to collect his cash, and Khemadasa, who was broke then, rushed out to his balcony and threatened to jump off and commit suicide. He was held back by an artist friend. Shocked, the money lender vowed never to come back to collect his debt and wished Khemadasa good luck with his music.

“Bari Sil,” his second opera, was plagued by poor attendance and rain. Usually the orchestra members outnumbered the viewers. And then one day Khemadasa’s luck changed. Another outdoor performance of “Bari Sil” was scheduled, and, as always, the sky started darkening hours before. Khemadasa made a plea to all the gods in the heavens to stop the rain and show him that his musical vocation was a worthy cause. All of Colombo was pounded by rain that day except for the Vihara Maha Devi Park where his opera was shown. Considered a miracle by many, this dry performance also brought Khemadasa his first contacts in the Sri Lankan film industry (through screenwriter Dharmasri Kaldera who introduced him to film director Sirisena Wimalaweera), in which Khemadasa was finally able to make a financially viable career in music.

Career from 1960-1980

Sri Lankan film music in the 1950s and ‘60s was dominated by Indians. The musical style was closely modeled on Hindi films; the music was usually recorded in India; often Indian composers were used. Premasiri Khemadasa was the pioneer of a new style of film music for Sri Lanka, based on folk melodies and his own inventions, sometimes inspired by Western classical pieces. He was able to create film songs that became huge hits on the radio, while also scattering bits of melody throughout each film to tie the film together into an emotionally developing story. Critics were surprised and impressed by how totally he had rejected the Hindi film music model. His music emphasized the core themes of each film and became as important as the visuals in creating emotional depth.

His first big success came with K.A.W. Perera’s film, “Sanasuma Kothanada,” which premiered on February 17, 1966, coincidently the same day Khemadasa married Soma Latha, who remained his wife until his death and bore him two daughters, Anupa in 1969 and Gayathri in 1976.

By the late 1960s Khemadasa was in huge demand to compose film music. His most brilliant work was done with director Lester James Peiris in his two internationally acclaimed films, “Golu Hadawatha” and “Nidhanaya.” Everywhere you go in Sri Lanka people still recognize the music from these films, produced in the 1970s.

Although Khemadasa soon came to dominate Sri Lankan film music, he had many troubles getting his more “serious” music recognized by the Sri Lankan music establishment, the pandits and the professors. He fought many verbal battles with them in the media, as they attacked him for not following the rules of “Oriental Music,” and he attacked them for being provincial idiots who understood nothing about the larger musical world and about true creativity. His mantra was “more music, fewer myths.” He spoke often, at the end of his life, about how all these supposed leaders of Sri Lankan music were just “bluffing.” Khemadasa always said the “people” loved him and his music, and it was their support which kept him going .

On May 1, 1966 Khemadasa conducted his opera “Rathu Mal” in Beijing in front of Mao Zedong. In the same year he composed the first symphony written by a Sri Lankan, “Sinhala New Year,” a minimalist piece with fascinating harmonies, blending together Western classical, Indian, and Sri Lankan instruments, including the bamboo flute, rabana, and sitar. Loved by Western music lovers in Colombo, the symphony was rejected by leading oriental music pandits, such as the dean of the College for Aesthetic Studies in Colombo, who mocked Khemadasa’s conducting, writing “Why is he up there? He doesn’t even have an instrument.”

During the early 1970s Khemadasa went to the USSR for an international composers’ conference, where he performed “Sinhala New Year.” He came in contact with many new musical trends which influenced his future works, especially his first choral work, “She,” a haunting lyrical piece twenty minutes long. In 1978, he wrote his last symphony, “Mother of My Time,” a tribute to Alan Perera, his mother, who was then 93. His program notes at that time read: “A mother lives through her son’s life like a fire. Her love, compassion, and expectations are trapped in the flow of his life. May you, my mother, live another ten years to see your dreams come true in me.” Unfortunately, Alan Perera died three days before the symphony premiered. Khemadasa conducted the symphony as his mother’s funeral pyre was still burning down to ashes.

Khemadasa established the Khemadasa Foundation in 1993, and his Institute gave free schooling in music and performance to Sri Lankan youths, especially from rural and underprivileged areas of the country. The youths came to Colombo and formed the chorus which performed Khemadasa’s symphonies, operas, and other major works. Many of these singers became the country’s top vocalists, and many still perform Khemadasa’s works in Colombo even two years after his death.

November 1, 2010

Sonic canvas of Premasiri Khemadasa

Premasiri Khemadasa was not only Sri Lanka’s best known composer but also the founder of the greater tradition of Sri Lankan music. His creativity penetrated almost every aspect of modern music from academic compositions to popular film music.

Although his influence should be immense there is none to absorb it due to lack of talent and philosophy of music among the new-comers. This is the poverty of the musical scene in Sri Lanka.

His latest opera, Agni has already changed the direction of the musical creations and offer a big challenge to the popular concept of music. In a country where the popular mode is the simple song, his music has to change the audience’s relationship to the musical experience.

In the Agni opera you can listen to one-and-half hour musical performance giving the impression of a gigantic epic theatre because of its huge sonic canvas. Each new melody, harmony and rhythmic change is monumental and there is nothing to compare with it in the contemporary musical scene.

It bravely generates superb voices of Indika Upamali, Krishan Wickramasinghe, Subuddhi Lakmali, Sumudu Pathiraja, Wagesha and Thisari who could easily dismiss the entire catalogue of popular singers along with their musical scribblings.

Khemadasa was no doubt Sri Lanka’s foremost composer of classical music who had an intellectual monopoly on this field.

It is very interesting to note that the birthday of Premasiri Khemadasa and Phillip Glass, the American composer who wrote Einstein on the Beach, Mishima, Satyagraha, Glassworks etc., fall on the last week of January.

Perhaps the most salient features of Khemadasa’s music is the use of Western classical music with increased use of folk rhythms. No composer’s music is dramatic than that of Khemadasa’s.

There are many pieces that can be considered as dramatic symphonies with narrative elements and revolutionary additions of notes as an elaboration and sponge-like absorption of the folk colours thought to exist between the sound and rhythm and beyond the reach of the existing codes.

It enhances the spectrum of the code as the Impressionist and Post-impressionist painters such as Degas, Renoir, Monet, Gauguin etc. opened up a vast range of new colourism unimaginable to academic painters.

His music has a significant cross fertilisation with oriental music. He was one of the few musicians in the world who could work in both genres. In this particular sense of argument, he always voiced against the splitting of the audience into Oriental and Western, Traditional and Avant-garde, Bourgeois and Proletariat etc.

The performing of Agni not only in Colombo but also in Negombo, Chilaw, Panadura and Anuradhapura with full-houses has blurred the borders of that distinction and discrimination. The maestro was fortunate enough to find a welcome audience for every performance sometimes even amidst adverse security situations and parking arrangements.

His creations presented a radical basis for music and change the fundamentals of aesthetics of music and also its pedagogy. He fully embraced the use of folk music, sometimes its rare and esoteric categories such as Punam Gee to give a greater rhythmic and harmonic variety. He had a Levi-Straussian fascination for the repositories of the folk life available in their work-songs.

From the very beginning of his musical career, he endeavoured to create a tonality totally different from the traditional signing. In Sri Lankan music, the modernism should be the name appropriate to his trend of thought and philosophy in music.

There only we can experience how the refrain or ritornelle works effectively fascinating the heart of the native within the context of a larger creation and complex musical procedures. Modern music-blenders, fusion-experts and sales-rep singers would never reach this apex of musical creation.

They all want to replace the Muse with the computer and its fusion software.

According to Jonathan Harvey, Muse the Greek counterpart of Goddess Saraswathee is the crucial symbolic feminine figure in the composer’s life.

As the etymology of the words suggested, Harvey says, the idea of the Muse has always been central to music.

The word Music is derived from the Greek meaning of the Muses, suggesting that it was the art form most associated with the particular inspiration that only a Muse could bring.

I am sure that the Muse of Khemadasa dwells in his simple refrains or ritornelle. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, two Post-modern French philosophers who wrote on the philosophy of music in their landmark philosophical project, A Thousand Plateaus; Capitalism and Schizophrenia, admit that the Refrain or its Italian counterpart category, which means ‘the little return’, i.e. recurring part of a musical creation usually appearing again and again, creates the core and spirit of music.

When we evaluate the contribution made by Khemadasa for the musical world, we can easily witness that he has been able to fill a serious gap hitherto prevailed not only in the Oriental music but also in the Western classical tradition. Blissful moments of his music brighten the darkness and chasm created by that lack up there as the hegemony of the Western music and the complacence of the Oriental tradition. Even Western music, although it is a great musical language, still needs to acquire something from Non- western cultures.

Here we should appreciate the fact that the Western music has accommodated and absorbed many elements and moods from African and Latin American music in terms of codes, tempo and tonality. In fact, accommodating the sonic qualities of other cultures is a moral responsibility of the art of music.

Pierre Boulez argued that he was struck in a violent way by the beauty of the Far Eastern and African works.

He said that although this beauty was so far removed by his culture it was so close to his temperament.

Khemadasa was no doubt one of the pioneers who endeavoured to include the Oriental musical sensibility and its own elements in the Western tradition.

He has been successful in accommodating code additions, new rhythms and new sentiments hitherto unknown to the West, in his creations.

For him music was a way of life, a way of being in the world and become an integral part of the modernity and the post-modernity.

He has been brave enough in sustaining new codes or extending the existing codes. He was a winner at a particular point where the disciples of Western music fail.

Let me quote a very good example from the modern history of painting to prove my argument on the success and failure of the Western masters. John Berger, a famous American Marxist critic describes how Pablo Picasso failed in the later part of his artistic life due to the limitations of the European art world.

“Picasso should have left Europe, to which he has never properly belonged, in which he has always remained a vertical invader ..... He might have visited India, Indonesia, China, Mexico or West Africa. ....., I am suggesting that outside Europe he would have found his work”.

Khemadasa’s contribution should necessarily be understood in this paradigm, which is about to be shifted.

The complex cross-breeding of his musical heritage, the intense political basis of his art and very nature of his genius should be duly respected as he has been imaginative enough to become an artist of an emerging musical world.

The musical genius of Premasiri Khemadasa

The musical genius of maestro Premasiri Khemadasa flowered without any university "input". At a time when the only way Maestro PK can look at a university from the splendid pinnacle he has reached by self-effort is down, the University of Ruhuna has decided to recognise his genius. It will confer on the maestro an honorary doctorate.
As it happened in the case of another self-made giant of our time Martin Wickremasinghe, if other universities in the country emulate the worthy example of the University of Ruhuna, the maestro should soon have more doctorates that he knows what to do with. But that will be his problem. At a time when the University of Ruhuna has aspirants for degrees who are capable of kicking pregnant women reportedly "to save free education", the university should go out of its way to award degrees to outsiders like Maestro PK the musical genius.
Why do I call him a genius? A genius is a highly talented creative or intelligent person. Maestro PK hasn't taken a university course in music. Long ago, on the very day he was scheduled to commence sitting the Senior School Certificate Examination, Radio Ceylon had summoned him for an interview for selection as a flutist. Without a moment's hesitation, he had cheerfully abandoned the SSC Examination and attended the interview and had been duly selected. Quite clearly, very early in life he had made up his mind what he wanted to be. He pursued his objective single-mindedly against all odds. He broke new ground in the field of Sinhala music. His creations have touched the hearts of millions. He has spread the treasure of his talent over the whole range of music from art song to opera. In some genres such a symphony, cantata and opera he is the sole exponent in the world of Sinhala music. And some of his creations have merited the serious attention of and occasional accolade from our world class orchestral conductor and pianist Rohan Joseph.
And Rohan Joseph is a genius who cannot be bought for a mere song. So, I infer that Maestro Premasiri Khemadasa must be highly talented and innovatively creative. Therefore he must be a musical genius. Magic creation
If Maestro PK is a genius, why has he not been duly celebrated and honoured in this country for so long? Several possible explanations suggest themselves. The first is the state of underdevelopment of Sinhala music. As of now, the highest level Sinhala music has reached is the art song. And those who are celebrated and honoured are those who can sing art songs perfectly, wonderfully and definitively. PK cannot sing, or at any rate, he does not sing. He composes the music of songs that others sing and thereby become famous. The music of the most ravishingly romantic song I have ever heard in a Sinhala film was created by Maestro PK. It is the song called "Sulang Kurullo". The exquisitely romantic music of this song has the unfailing power of fleetingly transforming at least me from senility to a state of emotional adolescence. But few know that it was Maestro PK who created the magic. So he is not as widely acclaimed as those who sing the song.
Another reason why the Maestro is not as celebrated as he should be has to do with the fact that he is way ahead of his contemporaries in the world of Sinhala music. In that world, the state of the art if the realm of vocal music is the plain, straightforward, melodious singing of an art song. In such a world the kind of sophisticated singing Maestro PK has encouraged fails to elicit sympathetic resonance in most listeners. So he is dismissed as a misguided imitator of Western music, if not, indeed, as a positive force for musical evil.

Volatile temperament
Yet another reason why he is not widely popular is his temperament, shall we say, his volatile artistic temperament. By all accounts, he is incapable of suffering diplomatically those whom he regards as musical lameducks. And he has perfectly the art of demoting current heroes with a single phrase or act of mimicry.
It has been said of Woodrow Wilson, who was regarded by some as the most intellectual and scholarly man to have become President of the United States, that he failed to achieve his grand vision because he broke with friends, quarrelled with associates and alienated people. So a supreme genius became, at best, a magnificent failure. Maestro PK's ingrained irreverence and perverse love of sailing close to the wind of the laws of libel is surely one reason why he has not been widely celebrated.
Believe it or not, one of his musical creations produced in 1982 was titled: "The king of our country has sprouted horns". Our country being republic at that time, we didn't have a king. Nevertheless the performance was promptly and predictably banned.
Finally, the eternally valid reason why Maestro PK has not been sufficiently honoured in the land of his birth, was articulated by Jesus Christ: "A prophet is not without honour save in his own country, and in his own home." Maestro PK is a musical prophet in this country because he has been the harbinger of the shape that Sinhala music will take when it liberates itself - as it must - from the tyranny of the traditional art song. And he has been honoured, not only by Rohan Joseph but also by the likes of Lakshman Joseph de Saram, Valentine Basnayake and Lalanath de Silva who though born in this island, have been fortunate enough to live and move and have their musical being in foreign lands.
When they acclaim Maestro PK, they are bearing witness to the truth of what Jesus Christ said in the quotation just cited. In this era of rapid globalisation, however, when geographical boundaries between one's own country and other countries are becoming irrelevant, the University of Ruhuna deserves praise for honouring the musical prophet in our own country, Maestro Premasiri Khamadasa.

About Master

Dr. Premasiri Khemadasa Master
Dr. Premasiri Khemadasa (January 25, 1937 – October 24, 2008) also known as o “Khemadasa” or "Khemadasa Master" is one of the most influential composers of Sri Lankan music. Exploring the various styles of music around the world Khemadasa endeavored to develop a unique style of music. He combined Sinhala folk tunes, Hindustani music, Western music and many other streams of music in his compositions while adapting them to fit contemporary music.
Early life
Khemadasa grew up in Talpitiya, Wadduwa and attended Sri Sumangala College and St. John’s College, Panadura. As a teenager he became a gifted flautist. Khemadasa was asked to come to the Radio Ceylon for an interview on the day he was to sit for his Senior School Certificate examination. He finished the examination much ahead of time and went for the audition. He passed the audition and became a member of the Radio Ceylon.
As a composer
Khemadasa's debut as a film composer is Sirisena Wimalaweera's Roddie Kella. With his score for Bambaru Ewith he introduced a style of music that was knew to the Sri Lankan cinema. He then began collaborating with acclaimed director, Lester James Peries, handling music for films like Golu Hadawatha and Nidhanaya. Critics praised his film scores and he was honorably called "Khemadasa Master”. Khemadasa's signature in film music is carved by the use of elements from Classical Western music and other sources to heighten the emotion suggested by the picture. Some of his compositions are influenced by Western composers of opera such as Giuseppe Verdi and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Lately Premasiri Khemadasa contributed to films such as Agnidahaya and very recently he contributed to Ammavarune, the last film by Lester James Peiris who announced his retirement after it.
Other scores written by the Master for films such as Hansawilak,Thunweniyamaya, Paradige, Yasa Isuru widened his acclaim in the field of cinema. He has also composed music for films which were produced outside Sri Lanka (Thousand Flowers).
Dr. Khemadasa's contribution to teledramas also brought outstanding masterpieces to the public. His collaboration with director Jayantha Chandrasiri has turned out remarkable products whereas the themes he created for Chandrasiri's television series Dandubasnamanaya have shown his unprecedented power to mesmerise his audience. A repertoire of scores written for teledramas including Chandrasiri's Weda hamine, Sathara denek senpathiyo, Akala sandhya, Dharmasena Pathiraja's Gangulen egodata, Ella langa walawwa, Pura sakmana and Bandula Vithanage's Asalwesiyo bestowed the public with unforgettable musical experiences.
He also contributed to stage dramas such as Jayantha Chandrasiri's Mora, Ath, and Dharmasiri Bandaranayake's Makarakshaya & Dhawala bheeshana.
Furthermore, he has composed symphonies like Muhuda, Mage kale mavni and Sinhala Avurudda. His cantata named Pirinivan Mangalya, probably the only Buddhist cantata ever composed, was based on the passing away of Lord Buddha and it was played at his funeral by the students of the Khemadasa Foundation.
The presence of operatic and harmonic vocals in his music is explained by his vast knowledge of opera and harmony. In his lifetime he made many experiments with techniques of singing and playing, which include the use of asymmetric patterns of beats, revolutionary harmonies and novel techniques of playing musical instruments such as the sitar.
Khemadasa is the only known Sri Lankan musician who practiced and created opera. He has a large group of students many of whom were derived from rural milieus and trained for performing in his operas. His famous operas include Manasawila, Doramandalawa and Sondura Varnadasi. Recently he created the opera Agni which is about early civilization. His operas, written in Sinhalese form, can be recognized as Sinhalese opera. Khemadasa and his pupils have conducted shows in several countries. After a layoff following a kidney transplant he returned to the field of music, even in his 70s, trying to secure the future of Sri Lankan music. At the time of the maestro's demise on 24th of October 2008, he was 71 years old.


Premasiri Khemadasa

Premasiri Khemadasa is the leading composer of serious contemporary music in Sri Lankan history.  Over fifty years of composing, Khemadasa fused Sri Lankan folk elements, Indian ragas, and Western classical forms into a beautiful melodic music that captures the deepest longings and sufferings of the simple folk among whom he grew up.  Khemadasa believed that all people are "deep," not just the educated elite.

Born the thirteenth child into a poor rural family on the west coast of Sri Lanka , Khemadasa started with nothing. There was no musical heritage in his family.  He was self-taught.  Khemadasa  learned how to play music on cheap wooden flutes, when he was only 6 years old.  His elder siblings kept burning his flutes, trying to steer him towards "more productive" pursuits.  He persisted nevertheless. In all his life, Khemadasa  would never receive formal training in music.

Recognition of Khemadasa's music as a legitimate art form was slow in coming in Sri Lanka.  Some of his early work was banned for being politically incendiary.  He was also denounced for attempting to destroy the country's heritage because, among other things, he used the french horn in a musical score.  At the premiere of his first symphony, the first ever written by a Sri Lankan composer, one prominent newspaper commented on his conducting in this way:  "why is he up there?  He doesn't even have an instrument."  He was mocked for aping the ways of the West, though in fact his lifelong task was to create bold music that drew on Sri Lankan folk melodies, on what he always called the "voices of the people."

Despite these enormous obstacles and against all odds, Khemadasa never stopped making music; his output was prolific and diverse.  His large-scale operas have been some of the most commercially successful ventures in Sri Lankan culture.  He wrote groundbreaking musical scores for over 150 films, including many of Sri Lanka 's classical films, some honored at the Cannes International Film Festival.  He also wrote music for an award-winning BBC documentary and experimental music for German television, fusing a soulful flugelhorn with a viola to play a raga.  He conducted his music in Beijing , Paris , Prague and Vienna .  He received dozens of awards for his contribution to the music of his country.

Khemadasa takes his rightful place among such contemporary international composers as Chin Un-Suk of Korea, the late Takemitsu of Japan, and China's Tan Dun, all of whom transformed their cultural heritages into striking classical music, music which has done as much to enliven the "Western" classical tradition as any music written in the past half century.

When he died in 2008, Khemadasa was given a state funeral in the center of Colombo , and thousands of Sri Lankans from all religions, ethnic groups, and classes came to pay their respects.  The recognition Premasiri Khemadasa hungered for most was the "love of the people."  And this he always had.

As a philanthropist and educator, Khemadasa started the Khemadasa Foundation to train

young adults in music free of charge. His students came from small villages all over the island.  The foundation continues its work through the leadership of Khemadasa's wife, Latha, and his two daughters, Anupa and Gayathri.  Khemadasa considered his teaching of Sri Lankan youths as important as his most complex compositions.  He wanted to give back to the people.  He never forgot his own impoverished childhood and refused to accept a world in which the poor had no opportunities. As Ben Okri, the great Nigerian novelist, wrote:  "he felt that his powerlessness, and the powerlessness of all the people without voices, needed to be redeemed, to be transformed."  Premasiri Khemadasa's music and his teaching of poor youths redeemed his country and transformed his society. He will be greatly missed, yet his music lives on.

Chrises suggestion on Para 2
In spite of this, Khemadasa began teaching himself to play music on cheap wooden flutes, when he was only 6 years old.  His elder brothers kept burning his flutes, trying to steer him towards "more productive" pursuits.  In all his life, Khemadasa would never receive formal training in music.  But he kept playing.