“It’s honestly humiliating how viral this coverage has gone.”

Yohani on the dazzling success of Manike Mage Hithe

The Internet is a wonderful thing. Although it is not really a physical entity, we can experience it, and the things that we can experience on the internet are truly breathtaking. And most of the time, our minds are blown away in a positive way.

The internet in Sri Lanka was taken by storm last week with unique content featuring the vocal styles of Sri Lankan rapper Yohani. Posted by Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan, this track (highly consumed content) was a mashup of Yohani’s cover of the Sinhala song “Manike Mage Hithe” with footage of Bachchan dancing from his 1981 Bollywood film Kaalia. Set up by his granddaughter, Naavya Naveli, Bachchan first shared the video on his Twitter, stating: “Amazing Sri Lankan song ‘Manike Mage Hithe’ .. and edited here on my song KAALIA by the genius of home, granddaughter NAVYA NAVELI … But honestly Manike .. plays on repeat all night long .. can’t stop listening to it .. SUPERB. (sic) “

Now, this has broken the Internet for various reasons; On the one hand, Bachchan’s star power and his recognition of a Sri Lankan song and artist is very exciting. On the other hand, it shows what Sri Lankan talent can do and how they can compete in any market. He also drew attention to Manike Mage Hithe like a breathtaking piece of music. Not that he needed extra attention.

Composed for the first time by Sri Lankan music producer Chamath Sangeeth in 2020 during the first lockdown, Mankike Mage Hithe was originally performed by Sri Lankan singers Satheeshan Rathnayaka and Dulan ARX. After listening to the song, Yohani ended up creating an official cover of Manike Mage Hithe, creating the version of the song that has gained such popularity.

Released by Yohani in May 2021, Manika Mage Hithe was an instant internet sensation, and within three months of its release, had received over a million streams on Spotify, trending in Kerala on YouTube and Spotify India, as well as in the Maldives. And that was before Bachchan’s stellar cry. As of now, the song is officially viral in every way, having surpassed 50 million views on YouTube, and has become a worldwide hit, especially in India, a notoriously difficult market for young musicians to enter. Its popularity in India led to the Sinhala song dubbed into Tamil, Hindi and Malayalam for Indian fans to understand the song better. A multi-faceted musician and performer, Yohani is a singer, songwriter, rapper and multi-instrumentalist (she plays piano, guitar, trumpet and ukulele). Although known as a rapper, her musical style is varied, as she experiments between rhythm and blues, hip hop and alternative genres with great local success.

Yohani began his music career as a YouTuber in 2016, gaining recognition for his rap cover of Deviyange Nude and keep releasing a lot more rap covers. Discovered and represented by the Sri Lankan label Pettah Effect, she has collaborated with many artists and platforms, and working in her home studio in 2020, released her first single Aaye a song about how she entered the music industry.

Against the backdrop of all this hubbub, Brunch contacted Yohani herself for her take on the past two weeks.

Tell us a bit about the story of Manike Mage Hithe and why you chose to cover it. What does the song mean to you?

It’s quite interesting really. I have always been a fan of Chamath Sangeeth’s music and I was lucky that he produced one of my originals called Sitha dawuna, which I released last year.

When I heard the song for the first time Manike Mage Hithe, which was originally sung by Satheeshan and Dulan ARX, who is also the lyricist, I fell in love with it. That’s when I decided to do a TikTok on it, with just my voice and a piano. Chamath saw this one minute clip on TikTok and immediately called me up and asked if I would like to do the full version. And here we are!

I really didn’t think much about it then, but it’s definitely a big part of my career now.

Manike Mage Hithe has a million streams on Spotify. How did it happen? And how does it feel to have a piece of your music released to this point on a global music platform?

It’s honestly humbling how viral this coverage has gone. It’s almost four million streams now. All credit goes to my team at Pettah Effect and the man behind the scenes on my entire trip. It has been a wild ride so far and I wouldn’t be here without their support.

On the Amitabh Bachchan, shout did you know before? How does it feel to know that Amitabh Bachchan recognized your work and was happy with it?

It’s a funny story. I was sound asleep when my manager woke me up to tell me this, but me being me, I fell asleep again without even realizing the impact of what just happened. So finally, when I woke up the next day, my notifications had exploded and my first reaction was, “Wait! Have my nudes come out? Because the last time I got so many messages was when there was a rumor that my nudes were out.

It took me a while to figure out what was going on and it’s still sinking. But I’m really grateful for this brilliant video.

Manike Mage Hithe got over 50 million views on YouTube. How does this make you feel?

I am so grateful to every viewer; not just for this song, but for all the opinions my songs have on my channels. It was overwhelming and humiliating… Mad love!

You are also a rapper, and Manike Mage Hithe is very different in terms of style. How do you balance working on different styles of music?

I have always worked on different genres. I love to explore and enter new genres and also listen to music in different languages. I never intended to lock myself into one style of music. So if I like a piece of music, I take that inspiration and try to make a song out of it.

How does it feel to be a Sri Lankan rapper in terms of the Sri Lankan music scene and audience? What would you say to other creators who want their content to be taken up internationally?

As in any industry, there are challenges to being a rapper in Sri Lanka. Fortunately, Pettah Effect supported me every step of the way. I don’t have an equation for reaching an international audience because I’ve tried so many different things and I won’t stop trying. I just focus on enjoying the process, being consistent and not paying attention to the naysayers. Believing in myself keeps me going.

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