Rathnayake Arachchilage Victor (Sinhala:වික්ටර් රත්නායක; born 18 February 1942), popularly known as Victor Rathnayake, is a Sri Lankan singer, composer, lyricist and a renowned musician. He was the first Sri Lankan musician to hold a live one-man concert; His concert known as “SA” was first performed in 1973, and was an instant success. Rathnayake credits his success to his “fitting blend of Western music with Ragadari classical music.” His songs deal with diverse themes that vary from love, to patriotism and Buddhism
His first music teacher was D.A.D. Dharmadasa. Under the guidance of school music teacher K. M. Sugathapala, Rathnayake performed first in both the 1958 and 1959 solo singing competitions of the All Island Inter-School Musical Competition. Victor got his first instrument at the age of nine when his father presented him a harmonium for his birthday. He studied singing and various instruments under musician Cyril Perera at the M.G.P. Institute in Mulgampola in his teens. In 1963, he began attending the State Music College, now known as the Institute of Aesthetic Studies. He wrote his first song, an ode to Lord Buddha, in 1964; it received play on radio stations run by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation.
In 1969, Rathnayke joined the Ministry of Education as a music instructor, and was assigned to a post at Eththalapitiya Maha Vidyalaya in Bandarawela in 1966. He would later look back to his days as a teacher in his song “Sihil Sulang Ralle,” which described the beauty of his surroundings that he noted as he travelled on the train to the school. The lyrics were penned by Sena Weerasekera on Rathnayake’s recollections.
Rathnayke first recorded a song as a singer for the radio play Manichora by veteran lyricist Piyasena Costa. The song was Devangana Paradana Komala Katha. The first radio disc in Victor’s name was in “Pancha Madhura” program produced by Madawala S. Peiris. The song Hade Susuman Pathitha Weemen was composed by the musician DR Peiris, written by Dalton Alwis. Then veteran lyricist Arisen Ahubudu wrote two songs for Rathnayake, Sende Binde Mohaduru Paapa and Golu Muhude Muthu Aete. He sang two songs in his maiden musical show as a professional artist. Mahagama Sekara was the first person to introduce Ratnayake into playback singing. Rathnayake sang the song Sara Sonduru Mal Patali with Nanda Malini for the film Hanthane Kathawa.
By 1973, Rathnayake was a trained musician and noted that there were no one man concerts. The closest was “Shravanaradhana” a joint concert by Amaradeva and Nanda Malini. On the urging of his friends Premakirthi de Alwis, Sunil Ariyaratne, K.D.K Dharmawardena, R.R. Samarakoon, Chintana Jayasena and Bandara K. Wijetunga, Victor decided to attempt such an event. The first Sa concert was held on July 20, 1973, at the Lumbini Theatre, Havelock Town. It is widely considered a turning point in Sri Lankan music.
The name “Sa” came from the root or tonic note sa in the Indian music scale and was suggested by Chintana Jayasena. Jayasena pointed to the fact that no Sri Lankan drama, film or work of art bore a name of just one syllable at the time and believed that it would bring luck.
“Sa” was highly popular, and Rathnayke’s gained many fans following its inception. One female fan wrote “Do you know that I treasure 49 hairs of yours?” in a fan letter, expressing how many times she has seen Rathnayake’s show. Critics described the show as “exquisite insanity” and a “melodic lunacy” because of the fervor shown by Rathnayke’s fans, who would sometimes attack auditoriums where he was playing when they couldn’t get in.
Rathnayake’s style was influenced by musicians like Sunil Shantha, Ananda Samarakone and C. T. Fernando who he considered “pioneers in the music field” for their use of “classical Ragadari and Hindustani music” as their starting point.