Known for her popular cover of ‘Manike Mage Hithe’, Sri Lankan musician Yohani talks about finally coming to India for a tour and her multilingual ambitions as a performer
In early September, as Yohani Diloka De Silva’s cover of ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ went viral in India, the Sri Lankan musician expressed a desire to tour India and interact with not just Indian fans but artistes too. Cut to October, Yohani is sitting in Hyderabad’s Le Meridien hotel in Gachibowli, during a busy tour with Zee Live’s newly-launched sub IP ‘Supermoon #NowTrending’ across India, having completed a set in Gurugram.
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The 28-year-old sports a small bruise under her right eye and she explains with a chuckle: it is an occupational hazard, received from the stem end of a guitar during a set the night before. “I slept in today thankfully, to help it heal!” she laughs. And what of pre-set rituals? Yohani keeps it simple, “I just train my voice beforehand.” But when she gets on stage, it is the ambience that gets her in the zone: “The lights, the band, the audience, the space, the stage itself — the whole package flips a switch.”
Originally performed by Satheeshan Rathnayaka, ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ is a Sinhalese ballad sung by a man to a woman, to express his admiration of her character and beauty. But more than the sweet lyrics, Yohani’s soprano tones and gazes into the camera give it a simple teen-pop vibe that enraptured millions. The cover also features Satheeshan rapping and — at the time of writing this — the video has crossed 139 million views. She has received shout-outs from Amitabh Bachchan and Sri Lankan cricketer Sanath Jayasuriya.
Since then, ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ has been used on TikTok and Instagram Reels; the hashtag #ManikeMageHithe on Instagram has close to 70,000 posts. For example, IndiGo air hostess Aayat Urf Afreen who, while donning PPE, danced to ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ in the aisle of the flight during a long stopover. Other videos see the song serving as a musical backdrop for makeup transformations, choreography and cinematic shots. Fans have also made covers of the track in Telugu and Malayalam as well as other regional languages.
Such videos make Yohani extremely happy. But she does not take the responsibility that comes with a viral track lightly, as she believes she has a culture to represent during her tour. “This is the first time a Sinhalese song has been viral to this extent, and I want everyone to be proud of its success so far. A lot of people didn’t even know that the Sinhalese language existed, so it makes me happy that the language has gone quite far,” she says, adding it has been overwhelming to be a sort of ambassador for the country, the language and the music.
Funnily enough, Yohani’s tour does not feature Chennai and Bengaluru even though she and her team put together a Tamil version of her ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ cover. “My producer is Tamil actually,” she explains, “and he taught me how to pronounce certain things.”
The tour is proving hectic and to recentre herself, she tunes into two acoustic albums by British electronic group Above and Beyond. “My first cover on YouTube was ‘Satellite’ by Above and Beyond; they’ve been a very big part of my music life,” she states. “I listen to a lot of languages and I always explore other genres. I don’t want to limit myself.” Growing up, she was surrounded by her parents’ love of music; they listened to the BeeGees, Spice Girls and Elton John and AR Rahman. These artistes informed a lot of her musical style and she often listens to them even today for nostalgia’s sake.
The musician is not driven by numbers as she talks about her next endeavour: her debut album Kella, to be released on October 9. The album, comprising 12 tracks including ‘Ithin Adare’, is her narration of what it means to be a young modern woman in Sri Lanka in terms of friendships, relationships, independence and the mundane (kella means girl or woman in Sinhalese).
Bollywood has also kept Yohani busy; she has just finished recording the female rendition of the title track for Kunal Deshmukh’s Shiddat that is currently streaming on Hotstar. “It wasn’t easy,” she recalls, “I had to record it about five different times mainly because my pronunciation was off; I was emphasising the wrong words because I didn’t know the meaning. So I had to sit down and write each word and its translation. There are still some issues with the pronunciation, but I feel I’ll sing better in Hindi when I am more comfortable with the language.”
Given Yohani’s determination to become more multilingual as most young musicians are expected to do in the industry, she says she is excited at the prospect of doing another tour in India that will hopefully include more cities such as Chennai, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Kochi. In the meantime, those curious about Yohani’s other popular songs can check out ‘Rawwath Dasin’ with Chanuka Mora, ‘Merry Christmas Baby’ and ‘Pana Senehasa.’