Kapila Ranasinghe

Over the Hills, to Portland’s multi-cultural present

The energy at Portland's ethnic community events is great, and so are the performances

by MARIA CHOBAN

“You come every year!”

I do not recognize this observant Sri Lankan woman in a peacock blue sari, who’s obviously proud of the show we’re both attending.
“Yes, I‘ve been here since nearly the beginning,” I reply.

Last month, I was at a Sri Lankan event feting the community’s children with dance, drama and song— the fourth annual Pipena Kekulu (Blooming Buds), and I’ve attended all but the first. This time, Oregon state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian presented one of the three welcoming speeches, with touching thanks to the community for allowing him and his wife to participate once more in the sharing of children’s arts/entertainment activities, his own children having left the nest, both happy successful artists/entertainers.

Oregon Buddhist Temple in Portland, USA celebrated the Vesak Festival last May with Sri Lankan Buddhists living in Portland.

Oregon Buddhist Temple celebrated the Vesak Festival last May. Photo:  ceylontoday.lk.

I attended the first such event in 2013 because I feel part of this community whose many children I have the privilege of teaching piano. I keep going because these events are ebullient. In fact, I’m stepping it up this Saturday, catching Sunil Edirisinghe and Neela Wickramasinghe in concert at PCC Sylvania (see listing at end of this story). Sri Lankan pop stars as popular on the island as Lady Gaga, but they are so underground outside of the culture that you have to call several numbers to secure tickets. Portland is the smallest city they’re playing on a tour which includes London, New York (where they drew 1,200) and Los Angeles (where they drew 1,000). Sri Lankans from Seattle and Vancouver BC will be making the journey to catch this show. In addition, performers from Pipena Kekulu 2015 will be opening. That’s like Bethany elementary school kids opening for the Rolling Stones. And yet, when I search the web for them, no website or Facebook page or Twitter or ANYTHING comes up. Promotions and marketing are as baffling to some of these ethnic communities as they are in the classical music milieu. In fact, Oregon Arts Watch might be the first Oregon arts/entertainment publication starting to cover and preview events like this when we find out about them.

These community and professional shows are part of a world of “ethnic” arts unknown to many Portlanders, especially those east of the West Hills. These events are worth knowing about — not just for their own joy and beauty, but also for what they can teach us about restoring Western classical music’s connection to the larger community.

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