From learning to play the guitar by watching videos online to becoming an overnight sensation with her rendition of Manike Mage Hithe, Yohani has come a long way indeed. Recently, the Sri Lankan music artiste toured multiple Indian cities and even made an appearance on the reality show hosted by Salman Khan for her popular track. In an exclusive interview with Bombay Times, the 28-year-old Sri Lankan singer-composer talks about how Amitabh Bachchan’s tweet about her song changed things overnight, her music, being a sportsperson and more. Excerpts:
You were in a band when you were in school. Tell us about your foray into music…
I was in the Western brass band and I played the trumpet and French horn, but back then, I was more into sports. I tried my hand at polo, swimming, synchronised swimming, Wushu and many other things. My parents pushed us to do many extracurricular activities. My mother enrolled me for piano classes, and that is how I got into music. Then, I picked up a guitar and learned how to play by watching videos online.
You created Manike Mage Hithe during a lockdown at home... Yes, we were all quite frustrated with the pandemic, and I was experimenting in my studio with my instruments. Manike has always been a favourite of mine and I thought of making a TikTok video of it. Chamath came across this and invited me to do an official cover of it.
It was originally sung by Satheeshan Rathnayake and Dulan ARX and was written by Dulan. In your version by Chamath Sangeeth, there is a mix of traditional and contemporary instruments – how did you plan the soundscape and what did you have in mind when making it?
I changed the chords on my piano when I sang the tiktok version and Chamath used the same in the version we did subsequently.
When did you realise that the song had gone viral?
I think it happened in stages. When the song first reached 25 million views, we were all very excited. Then one day, Amitabh Bachchan tweeted about my song, and things changed overnight.
How are you handling the sudden fame?
I am still adjusting to it. I’m humbled by the love and support. I’m also very grateful that we could tour India and perform for a live audience. They loved the music we played. Even though I was introduced to many people with Manike, I’m proud that I have a repertoire to perform for a live audience. I hope people like my upcoming music as well.
You have spoken about your love for Hindi film music many times. Recently, you debuted in the Bollywood music industry with the title track of Shiddat. How has that been?
We watch a lot of Hindi movies in Sri Lanka. We grew up watching Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan and often sing songs from Hindi films, too. I can’t describe what I felt when I got the opportunity to be a part of Shiddat’s new track. I had to learn the words and pronunciation in a day. I think I have to learn the language a lot more, and I am working on it. I look forward to doing singing more Hindi songs.
Which Indian musicians do you admire?
I admire AR Rahman a lot. The music that he created even a decade or two ago still feels fresh. I was listening to a playlist of his songs the other day, and each composition is so complex and beautiful. I grew up listening to his music and I still listen to it. It would be a dream come true to work with him one day. I also like Badshah, Divine, Honey Singh and Neha Kakkar; I feel a certain connection with them. I guess you could say that their vibe is great.