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Tales Of Sri Lanka

Monday, 09 March 2015 10:29

Tova Kardonne is the multi-instrument composer and vocalist who’s written an entire suite of music, The Tamil Suite, about her recent experience visiting Sri Lanka for the first time.

Now, when you hear about someone visiting Sri Lanka, what comes to mind? We know that it’s been the centre of political strife for decades – it’s not a place that comes across as a tourist destination. If you live in Toronto, you’ve probably seen demonstrations by Tamil protestors - you may have wondered how safe the situation is in the country even after the civil war ended in 2009. But picture this: singing Tamil songs on a train with a stranger. Seeing the beauty of the inside of a crowded bus against the war-scarred landscape outside. This is Tova’s Sri Lanka, a breathtaking and welcoming place filled with meaningful connections. She went there in 2012 with her Sri Lankan partner, Nilan Perera, on a particular mission. They’re both diasporic artists – she’s of Eastern European Jewish heritage by way of a few different countries, and he didn’t live in Sri Lanka during its brutally drawn-out civil war. Nilan and Tova went both so she could learn about his background and family, and to interview artists who had stayed in the country during the war. But it ended up being more than a sightseeing, family, or even a research trip for Tova – it became a meditation on sharing, kindred spirits, and community that affected her deeply. First, it was the visuals and the sounds of a remarkably new place:

And it was also the people. Tova had a couple of encounters with ordinary folk, travelling around the country, that made her not only think about the ways that we need to connect in order to be creative and fulfilled, but provided a stark contrast with the evidence of war she saw around her. Here, she tells me about the inspiration for a part of The Lanka Suite called “A9 to Jaffna”:

Tova was struck not only by how natural this all seemed, but how generous the other travelers were with her. It created warmth among the passengers that touched Tova.

But the atmosphere inside the bus was vastly different from what Tova saw when she looked outside:

These sort of happenstance meetings with people occurred a few times on Tova and Nilan’s trip. She recounted another story to me where the pair were on their way to the highlands of Sri Lanka, and they ended up faced with a six-hour trip on a crowded train.

But they ended up meeting a large family of cousins, one of whom was particularly excited that Tova and Nilan came from Canada.

The conversation evolved into a musical exchange:

It would be dismissive to reduce Tova’s adventure in Sri Lanka to either a musical influence or a realization about people. Both things are true, and both have made their way into The Lanka Suite.

In the end, The Lanka Suite isn’t Tova’s attempt to teach us about Sri Lanka. It’s not an explanation of its political history or an attempt to provide a cross-section of all of its musical traditions and styles. In fact, it’s not so much about Sri Lanka at all, as Tova said at the beginning of this story. It’s about her, and what a trip she took to learn about her partner and his background and culture meant to her. And I asked her whether Nilan hears HIS Sri Lanka, his ancestral home, when he listens to the suite:

The Lanka Suite’s a multimedia performance at The Music Gallery on Saturday, March 14th. You can find tickets at

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