At one point around September this year, you couldn’t swipe very far on social media without stumbling upon across an unassuming soothing Sinhalese pop ballad.
That song was ‘Manike Mage Hithe’, which was released by Sri Lankan artist Yohani and Satheeshan in May 2021. The romantic track, a cover of a 2020 song, quickly spread across the globe in part thanks to people on TikTok and Reels who used it to create choreography that would be replicated by others.
There was no escaping the soothing melody or 28-year-old Yohani’s youthful vocals that have made her one of the biggest breakout stars of the year.
The singer-songwriter hasn’t been able to rest much since finding the spotlight and has gained a special kind of love in India.
She did a run of appearances on TV shows there, even teaching superstar Salman Khan how to sing her song on ‘Bigg Boss 15’. She even got a shout out from movie icon Amitabh Bachchan. “Manike.. playing in loop whole night .. impossible to stop listening.. SUUUPPEEERRRBBB,” Bachchan tweeted in August.
Yohani, whose full name is Yohani Diloka de Silva, has already made her music debut in the neighbouring country with Bollywood track ‘Shiddat’ for the Sunny Kaushal-Radhika Madan romance of the same name. She’s also set to sing a Hindi version of ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ for upcoming Bollywood comedy ‘Thank God’, which will star Ajay Devgn, Sidharth Malhotra and Rakul Preet Singh.
Back home, the Sri Lankan government has awarded a plot of land to Yohani in acknowledgement of her global achievement.
IANS reported Minister Dulles Alahapperuma as saying that the cabinet awarded the land to her on a proposal made by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in his capacity as the Minister of Cultural Affairs.
“This is in gratitude to the contribution made by Yohani bringing glory to this little island,” Alahapperuma said.
It seems like this is just the start for Yohani, who caught up with Gulf News in December ahead of a performance in the city.
How does it feel to be in Dubai after gaining this viral fame?
It’s amazing to be here once again because I was here last year for a show with Colombo Music Festival... That was my first show ever out of Sri Lanka. So being here again means a lot to me and I’m really excited for it.
Have you processed the virality of your song?
I don’t think I have yet [laughs].
What did it feel like when everything picked up and the song became viral on Reels and TikTok?
So if you talk about Reels, we don’t really have Reels in Sri Lanka yet. So we didn’t know how far the song had travelled until it was very late. The song went out of Sri Lanka to so many other countries and that was amazing for us. That’s the first time for us as well so I think I’m still processing it.
Could you tell me about your start as a musician and your background?
I started music when I opened my YouTube account in 2016. At that time I was doing my Master’s and my Bachelor’s — Bachelor’s in logistics and Master’s in accounting. And in 2019 I was like, ‘you know what, let me just finish all that, come back to Sri Lanka to start music as a career’. That’s when everything happened and here we are.
What kind of music do you want to create?
I like to explore everything. I don’t want to be stuck to one genre... maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t sometimes. But I want to explore more music, more languages, more genres. My process is — if I like it I’m gonna do it.
Your song is going to be part of a Bollywood movie as well. What was it like singing in Hindi?
I recorded it, I think twice. [Laughs] But I have to go back again to re-record it because I got the pronunciation wrong.
That’s so cool that you’ve crossed borders with your music. Do you feel a sense of pride at a Sinhalese song going all around the world?
Yeah, of course. A lot of people haven’t heard the language so it was really amazing to see. Especially for example, in India, we went last time to Hyderabad and Delhi and people just started singing it. And that was a really amazing experience to just listen to it and see.
What plans do you have for the future? Do you have any interesting music coming out that we should know about?
My Sinhalese album is coming out in July, but I’m also working on some Hindi, Tamil, Hindi, Urdu and English music.