Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Posted: 01/23/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0
Last Modified: 01/23/2014 8:43 AM | Updates
For RasTamils' vocalist/guitarist Franklin Fernando, reggae has been more than just music. It's been a lifeline.
Five years ago, Fernando, then a 17-year-old newcomer from Sri Lanka who dabbled in folk music and not much else, met Rasta percussionist Martin Valach at a late-night outdoor drum jam. "He had these crazy long dreadlocks and I just went up to him and started chatting," Fernando recalls.
It was Canada Day 2009, and Fernando's life changed. Valach took him under his wing and turned him on to reggae, educating him on the history of the genre and the nuances within it.
For a kid struggling to find an identity in a new country, the sense of community reggae offered was invaluable.
"People know as far as Bob Marley and Shaggy, but there's so much more out there that people don't know and miss out on," says Fernando, now 23. "I'm grateful Martin showed me that."
Right around the same time Fernando was getting into reggae, he was getting increasingly involved in social and political activism. "The best way I can put it is this: I went from working at Walmart to Mondragon," he says.
Fernando was moved to learn more about Sri Lankan civil war, the conflict that displaced him. The ethnic tensions between the Sinhalese and the Tamils that erupted into a war that raged from 1983 to 2009 didn't just divide a country; it divided households.
"My mom is Tamil and my dad is Sinhalese," he says. "In school, I was ashamed to be a Tamil. I was told not to talk about Tamil issues in school."
Indeed, Tamil people were heavily persecuted; kidnapping was commonplace and, because he had family members involved in Tamil activism, Fernando's mother feared for his safety and sent him to Canada. In 2010, Amnesty International reported that more than 80,000 Tamil civilians remained detained in military-run internment camps.
Canada provided a safe space in which Fernando could get to know a part of himself that was so repressed. "Here is this strong culture -- my mother's culture -- that I never learned about."
He recalls watching the documentary Sri Lanka's Killing Fields with "anger and tears in my eyes," he says. But it was an op-ed article penned by Lasantha Wickrematunge -- a prominent anti-government Sinhalese journalist who was assassinated in 2009 -- that shook him to his core.
"In this article, he expressed himself so truly. He was standing up for the Tamil people. I thought, he's not even a Tamil and he can stand up? I have to stand up."
Shortly after his arrival to Canada, Fernando and Valach formed the reggae/soul outfit RasTamils, its name a hybrid of the two cultures Fernando connected with after coming to Canada. The band offered an outlet to not only play the music he loved but also to publicly stand in solidarity with the Tamil people.
On Friday night at the West End Cultural Centre, RasTamils -- which now counts bass player Christian DeVoin among its ranks -- will record its debut album live in front of an audience. In addition to yielding an LP, Fernando hopes the event will unite Winnipeg's Tamil community and raise awareness about the human-rights abuses Tamils have suffered as a result of a decade-spanning war.
"For me to be here, and not bring awareness, it wouldn't be right," Fernando says. "There are so many Tamil people here in Winnipeg. This will be a chance for us to get together and build a community."
Fernando plans to return to Sri Lanka for a visit in 2015. His parents were finally able to join him in Canada last year. "I'm so glad they're here."
If Fernando hadn't discovered reggae, he might not have found a part of himself.
"It's so important to know your roots," he says. "It helped me understand myself."
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 23, 2014 C7
Updated on Thursday, January 23, 2014 at 8:43 AM CST: adds photo
Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories? Please use the form below and let us know.
Having problems with the form?Contact Us Directly
Review: Eubanks, Jordan display special chemistry on new CD
Grammy Gallery coming to Nashville
Spotify's Top 10 most viral tracks
'American Idol'-like talent competition app launches
'To Pimp a Butterfly' tops HMV Canada CD sales chart
Spotify's Top 10 most streamed tracks
Which way will One Direction go after Malik's departure?
Probation for man who crashed into Jennifer Lopez's car
List of 25 sound recordings preserved by Library of Congress
Call: David Crosby repeatedly asks for ambulance after hit
New direction: 1D says Zayn Malik has left the group
Gordon Lightfoot delays shows after food poisoning
Oak Ridge Boys, Browns, Martin join country hall
'To Pimp a Butterfly' top album on iTunes in Canada
Celine Dion to return to Vegas on Aug. 27
Interview: Dustin Hoffman not immune to career fears
Carlile's music captures her life changes
McCartney, Metallica to headline Chicago's Lollapalooza
'Stand by Me' among 25 records being preserved at US library
Possibilities are endless for cutting-edge festival
Celine Dion says she has to feed ailing husband
Marcus Miller explores his African roots on new CD
The Guess Who will be concert headliners for the Red River Ex
The top 10 songs and albums on the iTunes Store
Oak Ridge Boys, Belinda Carlisle announce Winnipeg concerts
David Byrne joins his tribute concert
'To Pimp a Butterfly' among new CD releases
CHP: Rocker Crosby hits jogger with car on California road
Danny Michel, van stopping at WECC
Cancer Bats flying to Park
Oowatanight it'll be with April Wine in May
Review: 'Balas y Chocolate' equal parts emotion, style
Sarah Polley on Glenn Gould Prize jury
Review: Van Morrison breaks mould in diverse duets album
Q&A: Chilly Gonzales on why we fear classical music
Barry Manilow giving piano to NY school district
Twisted Sister drummer dies of apparent heart attack at 55
Shia LaBeouf's case to be dismissed if he avoids arrest