When Shehara Jayatilaka Napoleon first reached out to us, we were excited to hear and learn about a female metal musician from Sri Lanka. No wonder why. Shehara herself was the first female soloist to release a metal album in her home country. And she didn’t stop there. After the challenging beginning as a soloist struggling to find her place in the industry and like-minded musicians to join her on her courageous journey, she finally found the right people for the band she proudly named after herself. Please, meet the vocalist and songwriter Shehara Jayatilaka Napoleon of Shehara and learn what it’s like to be a female metal musician in Sri Lanka.
MG: Shehara, let’s talk about your musical career in general first. Introduce yourself to our readers. When did your journey as a singer begin?
Shehara: Hi! I’m Shehara Jayatilaka Napoleon. I began my musical career as a solo artist in 2011. Music has been the most powerful and inspirational energy in my life from the early days. I wrote, released and performed originals at many shows and festivals in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, and in the central province, Kandy. Then recorded my debut album titled “Fountain of Memory” which was released in September 2019 and became Sri Lanka’s first metal album by a female.
I am a graphic designer, web designer, video editor and copywriter by profession. I own Sri Lanka’s only e-store for authorized Sri Lankan digital music and merchandise and I’m also a mother of two boys. I’m the frontwoman and vocalist of my self-titled Sri Lankan metal band ‘Shehara’ now, and we’ve been playing gigs and creating musical content together since 2019.
MG: Do you still recall your first encounter with heavy music?
Shehara: I was exposed to various genres of music through my father who is a music enthusiast and collector of vinyls, CDs and cassettes. I grew up listening to Live, Dire Straits, Elvis, Peter Cetera, Shania Twain, Pavarotti and it was through him that I first got to hear Metallica’s “Black Album”. That was the epiphanic introduction to metal.
MG: You claim to be the first and only female fronted metal band in your country, Sri Lanka. Is that true?
Shehara: I’m not Sri Lanka’s first female growler but, I AM Sri Lanka’s first female metal soloist. My album became Sri Lanka’s first metal album by a female and we are currently the only female fronted metal band in Sri Lanka.
MG: What do you think is the main reason for the metal genre being so little popular among female musicians in your country? Is it the culture, society, ignorance…?
Shehara: I feel cultural and societal judgement are two factors that all metalheads face but, becoming a musician of the genre is a choice that overlooks this judgement, so no, I don’t think it’s that really. If it’s the dress code or lifestyle, yes… The dream to be a female metal musician could be cut short by strict parents, but I think the root cause of the lack of female metal musicians here was the struggle to find like-minded musicians who could support, guide and help see a female metal musician’s dream to fruition. There’s a major shift in perspective and skill now though. So, I’m really looking forward to seeing more female metal musicians in Sri Lanka.
MG: When you first started out as a singer, was your family supportive or more sceptical towards your decision to dedicate yourself to heavy music?
Shehara: They were not ecstatic about every rebellious decision I made in my teens, but they never blamed the genre for my actions. Maybe their perspective was more positive because the music wasn’t my main job and because I balanced music with every other aspect of my life, like education, career and motherhood. I think this is one of the factors that warmed them up to my choices and helped them accept my lifelong decision to make metal music.
Overall, my family has been supportive from the day of my first live performance. Most of them have attended my shows and helped make the music videos. My husband helped me write and record my debut album, and my family is always there when I need someone to take care of the kids when I have recordings, practices, gigs or meetings.
MG: Coming from Sri Lanka and being the only female fronted metal band in your country, is it more of an advantage or the other way for you? Do you attract more international fans thanks to your uniqueness or is it harder to break through in general?
Shehara: It has been advantageous in terms of receiving opportunities to change perspectives about metal within Sri Lankan communities that aren’t exposed to metal. For instance, when I performed at Comic Con in Sri Lanka, being appointed as a judge for multiple esteemed local talent competitions, being invited as a speaker for a songwriting workshop for kids and award ceremonies for corporate leaders. Crowds responded to the genre with an open mind and eager ear when it was presented by a female. Even the extreme vocals were received well by those who have for years perceived metal to be “noisy”. It also helped me achieve the goal of releasing a gateway album to metal. In terms of breaking into the international scene, it has been good but I still feel like we have a long way more to go.
MG: In 2020, you transitioned from being a solo artist to a full band. Why so? Do you feel like you can accomplish more when you’re backed by band members? Or perhaps you just found the right people to form a band with?
Shehara: The initial plan was to form a band, but due to various lineup changes and the focus on releasing the album, it just didn’t happen. Which is why I continued as a solo artist with the support of Tennyson Napoleon (now my husband) on guitars and later my brother Rewan Jayatilaka till early 2019.
Towards the album launch concert, Rewan and I were joined by Izzy Wildchild who was one of the producers of my debut album and is now the lead guitarist. Ash Lanthra joined us on drums and Dimitri Cooray on bass. We have been playing gigs, making music videos and writing new songs since. The joint effort and shared goals manifested a family bond which resulted in a full band.
MG: Your debut album “Fountain Of Memory” came out in September 2019. When you look back, how would you evaluate your journey so far? What did you learn since the album came out?
Shehara: What I learnt the most was that the hurdles are nothing compared to the rewards of not giving up. The journey was challenging and in some moments heart-shattering, but I learnt many valuable lessons and met supportive people on the way. I also learnt the beauty of trusting my own process and saw that it was more successful than when I was trying to do things the predetermined way.
In doing this, I unintentionally inspired other women to follow their dreams and I’m thankful for that. The journey has led me to be more confident in my own decisions, given me an opportunity to have a voice as a woman in the Sri Lankan metal scene and use my talents and skills to help it grow.
MG: What do you want to focus on and improve the most in the future?
Shehara: I’ve progressed vocally but I want to be better. And what I’m really focussing on right now is keeping the momentum, rehearsing, digital content and breaking into the international scene. Most importantly, I hope we can tour overseas when it is safe. Till the time is right, we will be releasing more music and videos.
MG: You’ve recently dropped a fiery music video for your track “Fidelity” and it was your first time as a director. How was that experience?
Shehara: It was therapeutic in a way. I’ve always been very graphic minded so, when I write a song, a picture is painted in my head. The song is all about self-realization and conquering inner demons, and it was somewhat therapeutic to be able to express how I felt visually and document a promise I wanted to make to myself; a promise of stepping out of the vicious cycle of anger and hate, which is what made me write the song in the first place.
It was also an emotional and amazing experience to work with my family and friends to bring the ideas to life, in the very garden I grew up in. There is nothing more beautiful than teamwork.
MG: What’s next up for Shehara? Are you guys working on more material? Can we expect something new in 2021?
Shehara: We most definitely are. Please join us on Instagram or sheharamusic.com because we will be releasing more music videos and a second album.
MG: Thank you so much for your time, Shehara. All the best!
Shehara: Thank you!